Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sophie's world

I have just added Sophie's blog to my links. I found that she wrote an article together with her parents, and here is what her parents said:

When Sophie was five or six years old, we noticed that when explaining something, she appeared at times to be unable to get words out quickly enough -- as though her brain were racing ahead of her ability to say what she wanted. At first, this happened only occasionally but, as the weeks and months went by, we noticed it more frequently. Friends we talked to said it was a common phenomenon at Sophie's age, and probably she would grow out of it.

She didn't; rather, it happened more often, until we came to see that Sophie had developed a "stutter"of some sort. Inevitably, Sophie herself soon became aware that sometimes she couldn't say sentences smoothly, and this frustrated her. However, she talked fluently enough if she didn't think about her speech, and so it seemed to us that the less we drew attention to it, the better.

These statements drive me insane because I have no good explanation why stuttering got more and more frequent. Now, if there is a defect or default, it should just be noticable right away with the same frequency or intensity, or be less because the brain gets used to it. I can think of three possible modes of explanation: some chemical imbalance getting worse over time, a virus infection spreading slowly and then stopping, and some adaptation mechanism that escalates the situation (like you have a little spot on your face, you open it, wound gets infected, bigger spot, and so on).


Anonymous said...

(on a related note)

Although his hypothesis sounds a bit bizarre at first, William Parry may be onto something: "Puzzled about stuttering? If so, here is a book, written in clear, every-day language, that fits together the pieces of the stuttering puzzle as never before. The key to its approach is the Valsalva Hypothesis. This exciting new theory proposes that stuttering blocks may result from a neurological confusion between the voice and the Valsalva mechanism (which normally assists us in exerting effort and forcing things out of the body). The book demonstrates how physical and psychological factors may interact to stimulate and perpetuate stuttering through a "Valsalva-Stuttering Cycle."

The book sheds new light on virtually every aspect of stuttering behavior - its causes, its paradoxes (e.g., why it's worse in some instances but not others), and its many forms of treatment. Finally, it suggests an experimental self-therapy program, called Valsalva Control, aimed at controlling the Valsalva mechanism, breaking the stuttering cycle, and freeing the stutterer's inherent fluency." (from 'Understanding and controlling stuttering')

I've read the book and a lot of it makes sense. Especially the part about the nonsense reaction of trying to squeeze out the words with force (which in fact is a self-defeating reaction).

I'd recommend it.

Luciano said...

I think the first explanation has more sense: "chemical imbalance getting worse over time". D2 dopamine receptors seem to be the great villains of the story.

Anonymous said...

I think your last option that it is some sort of adaptation mechanism is very possible. I am certainly not someone who thinks stuttering is a psychological problem, but I don't think psychology can be ignored. Isn't it possible that we get caught up in a "vicious circle" in which our negative thoughts trigger the underlying flawed neurology and vice versa?

Tom Weidig said...

I heard about the Valsalva mechanism. I cant remember the details. I am a bit skeptical, but it could well be part of the symptoms when blocking. So it would be a secondary symptom. I'll read more about it and write a post.

Unknown said...

I think the chemical imbalance increasing over time is the best theory...though the Valsalva Hypothesis sounds interesting. Yesterday I had a horrid block when my son called down and asked me the name of the current male pop singer I listen to (Josh Groban)...NOTHING worked in getting over the block. None of my tricks worked. All the while, my kid is yelling down, "Dad?! Can you hear me?? Hello!!"

Closet Stutterer said...

Hi Tom,

I'm honored you decided to write about the paper I wrote with my parents.

I don't know if this helps at all, but here are a few additional facts.

No one else in my family stutters. And I didn't start stuttering until I was five years old.

My mother remembers me being very fluent when I first started talking. My father remembers that my stuttering started after a head injury. When I was five, I stood up underneath a table and knocked myself unconscious.

Now, over thirty years later, I find that I only stutter when I think about it beforehand. I do not remember since childhood ever having my stutter take me by surprise.

My guess is that the head injury did some minor neurological damage that caused me to be disfluent in the first place. My desire to speak smoothly like everyone else made my speech more choppy (or worse). Then somewhere along the way (maybe by mid- to late-teens), the neurological defect corrected itself, but my fear of stuttering caused the disfluencies to continue.

But that's just a guess, and that's just how I feel about my stutter.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

in my opinion, the valsalva thing is definitely a secondary symptom (like tom said). I mean, just try to speak without that (valsalva) force...what will happen? you will stutter, but without force, hehe :-)!

For me its interesting, that i speak fluent - like a non-stutterer - when i am alone, reading or talking to myself and so on...As soon as somebody gives attention to me,can hear me, i start to stutter (or the symtoms start). The big question is "why"?