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Question : The movie, The King’s Speech, dramatized stuttering. Was the portrayal accurate and is treatment available?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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May 29, 2013
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People who stutter were generally happy with how The King's Speech was represented.

In stuttering, the normal flow of speech is interrupted. The speaker may repeat or prolong a sound. Long pauses may come at the beginning of words. The speaking rhythm may be unusual.

Often, there are signs that the person is "struggling" to get words out. Breathing or voice quality may change. Body movements may become pronounced. The person may purse the lips or grimace.

A person who stutters may avoid certain feared words, and search for word substitutes or talk around a word.

Circumstances may make symptoms worse. Telephone calls, job interviews or speaking to groups can be especially hard. 

As many as 1 in 100 adults are affected. It is more common in children. As many as 5% will stutter at some point. Most —75% to 80% — are boys.

Stuttering improves for most children as they enter adolescence. The problem becomes harder to treat if symptoms continue after puberty.

Many stutterers feel that the problem significantly limits their life choices. Work and school performance can suffer. Many stutterers socialize as little as possible to avoid talking to people.

Stress or trauma is usually not the cause. The problem runs in families. Scientists have identified genes linked to the disorder. And there is evidence that brain function is changed in people who stutter.

Many treatments help. Getting help early in childhood may limit difficulties later in life. Goals depend upon a person's age and what he or she needs or wants to communicate.

Here are some useful approaches:

  • Practicing strategies for overcoming barriers in the mechanics of speech
  • Learning techniques that help with managing the fear of speaking
  • Replacing critical and negative thoughts about oneself with more positive ones
  • Teaching parents to contain their anxiety about the problem

As of now, there are no medications approved to treat stuttering. Support groups can be very helpful. You can find many online.

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