Thursday, May 09, 2024

Breakthrough in understanding stuttering OR NOT?

A team in Göttingen has done real time scanning to show the mechanism of stuttering in every single gory detail. And the first author Daniela Ponssen explains their work in this YouTube video.

It's fascinating to see how a person stutters, i.e. how the muscles and associated body parts moved by the muscles are producing dysfluent speech. Congratulations!

BUT to be honest, I am far from enthousiastic of this type of research when it comes to understanding stuttering, because understanding stuttering is not about understanding what the muscles do, but why the brain has sent those instructions to the muscles.

It is like showing in scans how a person pulls the trigger on a gun and the bullet hitting its target. In a sense, it's cool but in another way very dull, because what we really want to understand is why did the brain sent the instructions to the muscles to pull the trigger.

The brain pulls the trigger, and not the muscles. And the stuttering brain is messing up speech not the muscles involved in speech. 

Prof. Martin Sommer, who has done ground-breaking imaging work before and is actively involved in self-help, is convinced that: "By showing us the mechanical origin of the symptoms, real-time MRI improves our understanding of stuttering and will be an important tool in further research. And by enabling us to directly see where the internal speech muscles and organs make "wrong" movements, this method will also assist us greatly in the treatment of this multifaceted neuromuscular disorder."

In the video, they propose to put stuttering in the domain of neurogenic movement disorders. They also say that real-time biofeedback from these scans help in treatment, i.e. in the acquisition and reinforcement of new fluent speech patterns.

I am not convinced yet. I would like to see more real-time scanning up-stream, i.e. on the brain itself.

And even then, I am not convinced it will truely make us understand stuttering: we might see what the brain does, but why the brain does it is an entirely different question.



m-ga said...

There's been a PhD project at University of Southern California doing this for a few years now. And there's a precursor publication from Kate Watkins group in Oxford.

I was a participant on the USC project, and wrote about it here:

Later on, I joined the USC group for a three month placement and worked on the data. It is very rich! Lots happening. Very difficult and time-consuming to interpret though. The therapeutic applications described by the Martin Sommer group sound as if they could be worthwhile, however this may not be immediately available since the scanners are expensive. But, maybe doing the initial work using MRI could eventually lead to application using a more affordable technology such as ultrasound.

Tom Weidig said...

Thanks for the link!

So what is your conclusion? Is it helping us to understand stuttering? I believe it just shows us how the muscles do stuttering but not why.

And regarding treatment, how would that look like? Using it in fluency shaping or stuttering modification?