Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: Porky Pig, I’m Looking at You

Hey, Houston area skeptics, don’t forget that tonight is the first installment of Houston Skeptics in the Pub for 2010. We’ll be meeting at Ernie’s Pub in the museum district at about 6:30-7:00pm. Game on! So brave the rain, because we’re gonna skeptic that pub harder than we ever have. People will have to roll up their britches to wade through all of our skeptic juice . . .  just like in the old days. Be there!!

Okay, so according to a new study, the speech impediment we refer to as “stuttering” may actually have a basis in our genetic make-up.

The study, which appears in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found three gene variants on chromosome 12 in Pakistani populations that appear to correspond with stuttering, as they appeared in afflicted individuals but not in others.

The same gene was later found in people of European ancestry who stuttered.

Interestingly, according to the findings, not everyone who possesses the “stuttering gene” stutters. And the vast majority of those people are women, which suggests women may be better at overcoming the anomaly.

But the study has positive implications for helping all sufferers overcome their stuttering. 

Thoughts? Have you suffered from a speech impediment yourself, or know anyone who has? How did you/they overcome it?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I was in speech therapy when I was little. “S” came out as “Eth”.
    My mom used to have me say “Luke Thkywalker” to demonstrate.
    That was in the early 80’s.
    It got all better and thankfully that was one less thing that I got made fun of about while in my 9 years of Catholic school super-happy-fun-time.

  2. I grew up with a studdering problem. I had it up until I could get some proper speech therapy. I came out of it with a process called “Deliberate Phonation”. The way that worked was I had to talk REALLY slowly, then, over time, I would have to talk really slowly less, then I could pick up to normal conversation speed.

    It still flares up with I’m stressed, as a matter of fact, it was often really bad as a child when I was emotional.

  3. My son, who just turned 5 has speech difficulties and works with a speech therapist. (He may have developmental verbal dyspraxia but we all agree that a formal diagnosis was unecessary because we get speech language therapy for free anyway).

    It has been extremely difficult for him trying to communicate with other children. He’s very sociable and loves playing with kids his age but they don’t understand a lot of what he says and he gets left out of games and conversations because of it.

    He also has problems talking with adults. Adults are less patient than children too. Often strangers like to make snotty comments about my parenting skills because my child doesn’t speak as well as theirs does. Or they will say he’s “naughty” because he gets frustrated after trying to explain something for 10 minutes and being ignored.

    In conclusion, we haven’t overcome our difficulties yet, but hopefully we will.

  4. @infinitemonkey:

    It still flares up with I’m stressed, as a matter of fact, it was often really bad as a child when I was emotional.

    The article speaks about those exact instances.

    I’ve often wondered about the stress/emotion tie-in with stutterers. A teammate on my high school basketball team had a horrible stutter in normal conversation, but when we were on the court, he spoke perfectly fine. Certainly the stress was higher on the court, right?

  5. @Sam Ogden: It may have less to do with stress and more to do with self-confidence. I bet he felt far more at home on the court than off — his confidence levels were probably much higher. Also, he was probably super focused on the game/practice, which probably lessened certain stresses.

  6. I have a stutter that comes out when I’m highly emotional in any way, but since I have an A.D.D. brain to begin with, it always seemed more like a buffer overrun problem than anything . I slow down, blank my mind and start again.

    Also, my Texas accent is almost non-existant unless I’m mad. The more annoyed/upset I get, the more pronounced the drawl. Related? ;-)

  7. My son stuttered for about a year when he was three/four. I have no idea where it came from or where it went. I sometimes stutter on the golf course, but that’s an artifact of to many swear words trying to get out of my mouth all at once.

  8. I have experienced mild stuttering on occasion. More frequently I spit out a word that is a combination of two different words for a similar concept. I’ve long felt that the problem is due to my brain working faster than my mouth can keep up with, so sometimes I jam the buffer.

  9. I’ve stuttered since I was little. It was very bad as a child but over the years it’s gotten better during casual conversation. It’s still rather bad when I read aloud, give prepared presentations, or answer familiar small-talk questions (“So, where’d you grow up? What do you study?” etc.) which makes conversation with new people a bit uncomfortable. As the conversation becomes less rigid it’s not a problem though.

    Speech therapy in grade school did nothing for me. My parents took me to a speech and language clinic where it was decided that since: (a) my vocabulary was advanced (I was a 12-year-old with the vocabulary of a college graduate), (b) I generally talk very quickly, (c) and since the stuttering isn’t limited to just my speech – I also “stutter” when I write (usually capital letters at the beginning of sentences, especially Ss and Ws, and I always stutter when signing my signature) and play music (especially at the beginning of phrases of pieces I’m very familiar with), the problem is that my brain is working more quickly than my body can physically keep up with, and the stuttering is the consequent reaction of trying to get me to slow the fuck the down. This was not a very helpful diagnosis.

    And now I stutter as badly in foreign languages, even in casual conversation, as I did in English as a child. ::shrug:: This didn’t stop me from getting a BA and MA in Arabic language studies though.

    So I haven’t gotten over it, I just stopped caring about it. It is what it is, and that’s okay. When I have to give presentations I politely let the audience know that, yes, I have a stutter, so just bear with me, and people are very respectful of that. That way they know it’s coming so it’s not as distracting for them and I don’t have to worry about trying not to stutter (trying not to generally makes it worse). I’ve also found that this type of ‘fearlessness’ gets a lot of respect from my professors.

    On the occasions that it comes up unexpectedly in casual conversation the vast majority people are good about not pointing it out to me, though a few do feel the inexplicable need to repeat my stutter back to me. In which case I think, “Thank you for mocking my speech impediment; I’m much more comfortable now.” It’s just disheartening sometimes because, growing up with it, you’re always told that kids are just mean and eventually they grow out of such things, but then as an adult you realize people don’t actually grow out of it. Not for stuttering anyway.

    Basically I just try not to make a big deal of it or allow it handicap me in any way.

  10. I babysat for a 3 year old when I was in high school and he had trouble with the letter t- he pronounced it like an f. Every chance I got, I pulled out the dump truck for him to play with- it cracked me up to hear a little kid saying “dum-fuck”. In retrospect, it was probably a little mean- although he did outgrow it quickly.

    I’ve known a few people who have overcome stuttering. Most of them worked with speech therapists once or twice weekly for years. One teaches now and every so often he has to pause while he’s lecturing and sort of swallow the stutter (that’s how he describes it). I’ve heard him lecture and if I didn’t know better, I would just think he was pausing to think about what he was about to say.

  11. Like SJBG (with whom I share many similarities) I too have just stopped caring about it. Since I was 5 I’ve had one form of another of a “stutter” or “stammer” (take your pick). At one point (mid-teens to early 20s) I would “block” so badly that communication with anyone I didn’t already know was nearly impossible. But after 35 years of this (with near-perfect fluency for the past 10 or so) I still couldn’t tell you if it related to stress or confidence or anything other than some random synapse that zigs instead of zags when I open my mouth. Nine times out of 10 I don’t even mention it; when I do, it’s matter-of-factly, and then, to be honest, any issues with it aren’t mine, but the other person’s. It’s just a part of me as much as my blood type or my eye color. *shrug*

    As for overcoming it, speech therapy worked briefly in my childhood, but from about age 12 on it had no effect. Basically I’ve just waited it out, and the older I get the greater my fluency becomes. Not the ideal solution for everyone but it’s worked well for me.

    I also refuse to let it handicap me in any way…however, anyone so indelicate as to point it out to me (or, my personal fave, claim they’ve ‘caught’ it from me) gets to see just how fluent I can be. One HUGE positive outcome of a lifetime of stuttering is that I’ve amassed a vocabulary that would shame Webster himself (including all the bannable nasty words, too). ;)

  12. I have a rhotacism – I can’t pronounce the letter “r”, especially after vowels. I say something between an “l” and a “w”. (So I’m a less exaggerated version of Elmer “You wascally wabbit” Fudd.) I’m about 90% sure it’s my orthodontist’s fault – I had a huge appliance in my mouth from ages 8-12, which is around where kids’ accents settle down (if you move somewhere where they speak another language before that age, you’ll pick up the local accent). I spoke with a speech therapist once when I was younger, she looked at my appliance, and said she couldn’t help. I keep meaning to find a speech therapist now that I’m an adult (and I’m majoring in Linguistics! I should know one!), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe it’ll go away on its own one day. Or I’ll learn enough in my Linguistics classes to fix it myself.

  13. Apologies for the tangential question, but being in Austin…where does Texas fit in with the categories for event sign up?

    Are we Southern or Western? Because I always think of Texas as being on the edge of the Southwest.

  14. My brain constructs a sentence, then leaves it to my mouth to figure out while the brain moves onto other things. It usually results it me saying half a sentence clearly then assuming that everyone around me can figure out the rest from the blur of syllables that may or may not form words.

    Not a medically legitimate “speech impediment,” but close enough.

  15. I had a doctor who stuttered. Learned to greatly reduce it with breathing/speech speed control.

    I’m not sure if it was mentioned, but stutterers generally start blinking a lot when they stutter.

  16. Drink less.

    At the races I regularly have to speak in front of a crowd. Just concentrate and speak slowly. It help if you’re friends with everyone too!

  17. I’ve had two problems: First, I tend to blank on words in mid sentence. I just can’t remember the right, usually common word, and it’s usually the subject.

    Second, I’ll sometimes have difficulty deciding between two words that mean the same thing, and when I speak I end up combining them. similar to president Bush.

    Every now and then, at the end of a sentence, I come out with the wrong fusebox.

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