Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tom's answers

Here are my answers:

1) Who was the first stutterer?

No-one. You need to look at human evolution. Stuttering can only exist within human speech. So the question to ask is when did human speech evolve. There is no concrete date, but a gradual development from the ability to produce sounds to the ability of verbalising thoughts using rules of grammar. The key is grammar, I believe. This is a far far more complex and complicated process, that takes a lot of brain power. I would speculate that the first humans that moved towards verbalising thoughts had dysfluent speech per se, but not relative to their fellow humans. They were all hesistant in their speech.

2) Who was the first fluent speaker?

The first fluent speaker in the sense that they were the majority and more fluent than a small minority came much later. Evolution "found out" that being more fluent that others actually increased their social status and increased good communication. So the fluency genes won against status quo genes over and over again over hundred thousands of years constantly and patiently increasing fluency of its human hosts, except for a pocket of stutterers that have not been given fluency genes yet.

3) Did the ratio of stuttering versus fluent people change over the course of history?

Yes, here are the stages:

Stage 1: the ratio does not exist because no-one could speak!
Stage 2: 100% stutterers in absolute terms (as of 2006!) but 0% in relative terms.
Stage 3: ...
Stage 4: 5% stutterers in absolute terms (as of 2006!) but 5% in relative terms.
Stage 5: ratio goes down further due to better treatment
Stage 5: the ratio does not exist because speech is not needed anymore.

4) Does stuttering affect your probability of having off-spring?

My bottom line is that stuttering certainly does not help. It certainly never helped me with the girls! :-) I am not exactly sure how the probability is decreased, but it will certainly not increase! My guess is that verbal communication became more and more important during human evolution, and by consequence the evolutionary pressure increased the more social and verbal humans became.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The history of stuttering

Here are a few questions for you to think about:

1) Who was the first stutterer?

2) Who was the first fluent speaker?

3) Did the ratio of stuttering versus fluent people change over the course of history?

4) Does stuttering affect your probability of having off-spring?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Meeting you.

I am currently in San Diego, and on Monday I will meet up with Tony, who is one of your fellow readers. It's quite cool to go somewhere in the world, and meet up with someone that has read / is reading my blog. I already met people in Zuerich (Gruezzi! (=greetings in Swiss-German), New York, and now San Diego. Now I remember that I also have readers in Madrid, and I was never there. So I should go there, too.

How to get out of breakdowns?

My last post was on breakdowns. How best to handle them? Here are a few solutions:

- Take it easy and just try to stutter with less effort.

- Talk less. Just realise that you have more difficulties at this moment, and talking a lot will just make it worse. So this might be the time to shut up.

- Keep business as usual.

- Read aloud to increase the proportion of fluent moment.

- Practising your fluency shaping techniques.

Any more suggestions?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Complete breakdown

Sometimes stutterers experience a complete breakdown in their fluency: not just stuttering but suddenly loosing complete control and struggling for words. When does it happen? Does it come randomly or for a reason like emotional stress? Not sure about my own fluency. I have the impression that the more important the message and the more I want to show that I have an important message the less fluent I am. So you should consider yourself lucky that I write about stuttering and science rather than talk to you about it! :-) But a breakdown can also happen in very ordinary situations. The worse is when I talk to someone in authority, not that I am scared of him/her on the contrary! I love to talk to them and challenge them a bit. Presentations can also be challenging for the same reasons.

What is your experience?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why kids start stuttering when their sibling is born.

I often hear people who stutter, family members, and therapists say that s/he started stuttering when their younger sibling was born. The same happened to me. So does this mean the birth of a younger sibling causes or encouraged stuttering. Should I blame my brother?

The solution is relatively simple: it's a statistical illusion but it is true!! A significant number of people who stutter started stuttering when their sibling was born. However the reason is rather mundane. Kids start to stuttering around 2.5 to 4 years of age when they start using grammar instead of just words. AND at the same time the most likely age difference between you and your younger sibling is about 2-3 years! Babies take 9 months to produce (as you probably know?), then parents are busy feeding the infant, and don't think about you-know-what-I-mean. After 2 years, they kind of forget what trouble and pain you were as an infant, and just remember your cute smile. And then your younger sibling comes along.

To summarise, due to the accidental fact that both the onset of stuttering and the age difference is three years, there is a high probability that stuttering kids have a younger sibling when they started stuttering!

Another way of looking at this effect is to ask: So if a younger sibling causes stuttering, why did not all the million other kids that have younger siblings start stuttering???

The answer is: They don't because there is no casual relationship. (At least not to first order, I still leave the option open that the arrival of a younger sibling and the "relative" neglect of the older child might aggravate stuttering and but not start it.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My US-Trip: Wanne meet up?

I will be in the US from January 16th to February 4th for holiday, meeting people and business. I will be mostly in San Diego and the last weekend in Washington.

In terms of stuttering research, I will meet up with Jerry Maguire (pharmacology - UC at Irwine), Dennis Drayna (genetics - NIH), and Soo-Eun Chang (brain research - NIH). Should be very interesting!

If you read my blog regularly and are located in/near San Diego or Washington, let me know and we can meet! My email is my first name dot family name at physics dot org.

Monday, January 01, 2007

1 million dollar donation for stuttering research.

Good news for stuttering research in general and Jerry Maguire's pharmaceutical research! Ludovich points to this article on a $1 million donation. Here is an excerpt:

A Newport Beach man who suffers from a speech disorder has donated $1 million to UC Irvine to support the work of a researcher who does pioneering research in stuttering, the campus says.

Granville Kirkup, who founded the telecom company Telmar Logistics, donated the money to UCI's Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. It will endow a professorship to be held by researcher Gerald A. Maguire, who also has experienced periods of stuttering.

Maguire has been using old and new drugs to attempt to control stuttering, an affliction that affects about 3 million Americans, or 1 percent of the population.

UCI says in a release that Maguire has treated Kirkup, which allowed him to "go on and build and later sell Telmar Logistics, a multimillion-dollar distributor of telecommunications products."