Intermountain Healthcare

Early Intervention Means Stronger Results in Speech Therapy


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 11/01/2021 --For roughly one percent of the population around three million people in the United States — stuttering is a uniquely frustrating condition of wanting to communicate a thought but struggling to get the words out.

"Stuttering is largely neurological," said Stephanie Lister, Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital speech language pathologist. "It's about getting everything to coordinate."

Although experts still can't point to the cause of a stutter with 100 percent certainty, Lister said that those who struggle to verbalize without involuntary prolongation, cessation or repetition of sound generally fall into two categories: developmental stutter or neurogenic stutter.

"It's pretty rare for adults to develop a stutter unless they have a significant neurological event, like a stroke," Lister said. "With children who stutter, they're generally born with a developmental stutter which a percentage of children may grow out of, however, most will need speech therapy."

Up to the age of 5, children who stutter are largely unaware of the problem, Lister said. "The brain skips over the stutter, so they don't notice it themselves. But around age 5 or 6 they become more self aware, or others will point it out to them, and it starts to bother them."

Unlike some other aspects of children's speech-related issues, Lister said that a child's parents are actually very good barometers in determining when a case of stuttering is severe enough to warrant treatment.

"Parents are correct about 80 percent of the time," Lister said. "They generally know when it's becoming a big enough issue that it is affecting their child's life."

The sooner a child can be referred to for treatment, the better the outcome.

"The younger we can get them the better," Lister said. "If they're young enough we an actually use contingency-based feedback programs to literally help change their brain chemistry so they'll stop stuttering, or greatly reduce the severity of the stutter. If we can get that done before they become self aware, we can have great outcomes."

As the child gets older, Lister said they try to give them enough information to empower the child so they can decide whether they will choose to suppress the stutter, or embrace it as a part of themselves.

"We give them the tools to suppress it when they need to," Lister said. "Most people get so used to suppressing it that they don't even think about it. But there are those with are OK with embracing it. We try to support that decision."

Roughly 80 percent of Lister's patients opt to suppress the stutter as they get older.

Lister said one of the reasons she loves her career is the opportunity speech therapy provides to individuals to enhance their relationships with other people.

"Communicating with people is how we form connections," Lister said. "Whether we communicate with words, or with our hands, or with devices, all of us need communication to form attachments with the people around us. When we don't learn to do that as a child, it takes away our opportunity to really relate to the world around us and with our families."

"I just want to help children be able to love their families and love their friends and reach their highest potential," she said.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Located in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, the Intermountain Medical Group with some 2,700 employed physicians and advanced care practitioners, a health plans division called SelectHealth, Homecare, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Healthcare or the Intermountain Healthcare Blog.