See Inside October/November 2006

Verbal Bottleneck

People who stutter sometimes suffer from mistaken notions about their intelligence or emotional balance, but the problem is the neurophysiological process of speaking itself

Greg K. was only three when the problem began. During a family vacation he saw two crashed cars burning. Soon after that, his parents recall, the boy began stuttering. Even today, at the age of 40, Greg is more likely to order lasagna in a restaurant and forgo his favorite pizza, capricciosa, because he cannot manage words that begin with explosive sounds like the letter "k."

Speaking is precision work, yet most people merely have to open their mouths and a well-ordered flow of words pours out. In scant milliseconds, the brain coordinates our speech apparatus so that it makes all the appropriate sounds. The muscles of the larynx, tongue and lips work in unison, while air is metered out in exactly the right amounts. But for the approximately 1 percent of all individuals who stutter, verbal communication requires more than a little willpower.

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