What afflicts four times as many males as females while affecting roughly three million Americans overall? Stuttering. Among the five percent of children who stammer for six months or more during early childhood, the majority naturally outgrow this communication disorder while others continue to struggle with this problem long term. A person is considered a stutterer when their fluency or flow of speech is broken by repetition (ma-ma-ma-maybe), prolongations (ffffor real), or unusual stops in the middle of a phrase or sentence when no sound is produced at all. In the struggle to communicate, some people may make odd faces or move their bodies in a strange way.

Experts believe genetics may contribute to the condition since nearly 60 percent of those who stammer have a family member who does as well. Children with a developmental delay or some other kind of language learning problem are also more likely to stutter. Other more subtle issues may also contribute to the development of this communication disorder. Recent neurological research, for instance, has revealed that the brains of people who stutter may be wired slightly differently and for this reason they may have trouble planning speech. Some believe that family dynamics may impact a child’s ability to communicate fluently yet, according to the Stuttering Foundation, those who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than those who do not. One recent study found that stuttering preschoolers did not have innately different temperaments than those who did not stutter. Emotional trauma, then, should not be considered a root cause of stuttering.

According to speech experts, the best prevention is early intervention yet as the story of the English king, George VI, which was dramatized in the movie, The King’s Speech, even late treatment can be a life-changer --- the king was in his 40s when he met the famous speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

A beautiful story well-worth repeating is that of the voice of Darth Vader, otherwise known as James Earl Jones. Few people know that Jones was once a stutterer and from early childhood through high school, he found it difficult to speak. Yet he calls one man, the poet Donald Crouch, “the father of my voice.” A former college Professor and contemporary of Robert Frost who retired to a farm near the Michigan town where Jones lived, he discovered there was a need for educators in the area so he decided to teach at the nearby agricultural high school.

Within his classes, Jones often remained as silent as possible until the day Crouch discovered his student liked to write poems. “One day I showed him a poem I had written,” Jones wrote in an article about his teacher, “and he responded to it by saying that it was too good to be my own work, that I must have copied it from someone.” To prove his authorship, Jones recited the poem in front of the entire class and somehow made it through to the end without forgetting a word … and also without stuttering. With Croach’s help, Jones continued to practice speaking aloud and over time his confidence grew.

Jones’ story makes clear not only that a later intervention worked well but also that stutterers often overcome their speech issue through unusual means. It has often been claimed that no one stutters while they’re singing, as Carly Simon and B.B. King, both stammerers, certainly prove.  Meanwhile some actors, including Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, claim that adopting a foreign accent or another persona is what helped them past their communication difficulties.

Just because some people, famous or not, have improved their abilities, is learning how not to stutter truly within everyone’s reach?  Unfortunately, not. A review of more than 100 studies on adults concluded that 60 to 80 percent of all cases show significant improvement as a result of treatment. “My only regret on my long journey is that I courted that fickle mistress called fluency for too long instead of simply searching for a voice with which I was comfortable,” wrote Vince Vawter, 67, a lifelong stutterer and writer. Acceptance, rather than change, is key for many.  “To be honest, there is still a small part of me that has not accepted my stutter – that is trying to fight the stutter,” wrote Dhruv Gupta. “And if I stutter at all today, it is because of that part.”

“Dealing with our stuttering, managing it and eventually thriving in spite of it, necessitates speaking about it openly and honestly,” wrote Hanan Hurwitz, who learned that encouragement from others mattered more than figuring out which treatment worked best. “In a world that still largely does not understand stuttering or the experience of the person who stutters, the safe environment of a support group is a lifeline.”

Although support was key to others, they found it lacking in the ready-made groups. “I felt uncomfortable when I attended stuttering support groups where I was the only woman, or one of only two women in a group dominated by men,” wrote Pamela Mertz for the International Stuttering Awareness website.  “I often felt that the men were focusing on finding fluency, or trying techniques, or looking for a solution, where I was more interested in talking about how I felt. Talking about how it felt to feel less attractive, talking about how my self-esteem had been affected, talking about my confidence being eroded, talking about how it felt to try and hide my stuttering for so long and slowly coming to terms that trying to hide it wasn’t working anymore.” In search of a women-only group, Mertz went on to host a podcast catering to women wanting to share their stories.

For more real life people discussing this problem, watch the YouTube video below: