Now that summer (at least over here in the the northern hemisphere) is over, life is getting back to normal and I want to get back to my efforts to explore the validity of my theory about stuttering. Central to this theory is my belief that there is interaction between speech planning, beliefs, emotions, and the pre-motor and motor programs involved in speech execution. Speaking is meant to happen automatically, but when there is over control of planning words and how to say them, the result might be feelings of anxiety, as well as the wrong signals being sent to the mouth and vocal folds that need to keep vibrating if the speech is going to flow.
Now the question is can this hypothesis be validated through research? Not being a researcher myself, I was very excited to attend a lecture at the NSA Applied Research Symposium by Dr. Jennifer Kleinow of LaSalle University. Kleinow’ et al.’s research related to Smith and Kelly’s Multi-factorial Model of Stuttering, a model that I have referenced many times. The study she presented was designed to see if something in the internal monitoring system of people who stutter is different than in people who speak fluently. What Dr. Kleinow and her colleagues found is that stutterers showed heightened peaks in looking for errors, regardless of whether an error was actually committed. This supports the vicious cycle hypothesis that says stuttering results from over-monitoring the speech plan.
In addition, Kleinow explained that the part of the brain that tells you to stop and start all over might be the anterior cingulate caudate (ACC). This area is a kind of switchboard between the premotor, linguistic, cognitive, limbic system. It is active during speech production, apparently overactive in some people who stutter.
So here we have some support that stuttering is not just a linear problem of blocks, rate of speech, breathing or voice production. It is most likely a problem of system function and is effected, at least in part, by over control of speech planning. There may be other areas of control as well, but this study related to the monitoring of phonological errors before they happen. It is my hope that learning about this connection might encourage those of you who stutter to be aware that planning what you are going to say gets in the way of what you want – the ability to speak without effort.