Stuttering is a speech disfluency that may have multiple causes. Researchers associate neurodevelopmental disorder with structural anomalies in multiple regions of the brain associated with speech processing and production.
A study by CA Kell states that spontaneous recovery from stuttering during adulthood may be rare, but it opens up the possibilities of brain repair outside the scope of developmental plasticity.
What Processes Of The Brain Contribute To Stuttering?
Imaging studies of the brains of people who stutter (PWS) show that the regions responsible for speech function anomalously.
Two such areas include the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the left motor cortex. The left inferior frontal gyrus is responsible for the planning of speech and the left motor cortex is responsible for executing the speech movements.
According to Nichole Neef, a leading neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS),
“when speech movement planning and execution are sporadically interrupted or inhibited, the person cannot speak fluently.”
MRI studies of the brain activity in adults who stutter show significant hyperactivity in the right hemisphere of their brains.
As per studies by Chang et al 2008, children who stutter show anomalies in the Broca's area and noticeable disorganization in the white matter in the region of the left rolandic operculum.
These structural anomalies persist in the brains of adults who stutter. In adults who stutter, neural activity is higher in the right frontoparietal regions of the brain and the basal ganglia.
Who Can Recover Spontaneously From Stuttering?
Publications on the research work conducted by Ambrose and Dworzynski respectively show that, just like stuttering, spontaneous recovery can be heritable.
It is impossible to predict who will recover without assistance and who won’t. Therefore, almost all speech-language pathologists (SLPs) recommend early intervention for children who have been stuttering for more than 2 months.
The heritable nature of an individual’s ability to recover without assistance makes room for the hypothesis that spontaneous recovery must engage strong, reproducible neural mechanisms in the brain.
What Brain Structure Changes Are Key To Stuttering Recovery?
Data from the study by CA Kell et al shows that unassisted recovery is accompanied by the activation of the part of the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. It is adjacent to the area where an anomaly of white matter distribution is noted in the case of people who stutter. However, the same area is normalized in subjects who recover without assistance.
The structural differences between the brains of adults who stutter and those with fluent speech show that stuttering depends on the anomalies in the left inferior frontal region. The recovery process depends significantly on the posterior orbitofrontal site.
In the cases of adults who stutter, hyperactivity was noticeable in the right hemisphere. The regions of hyperactivity were contralateral to the structural anomalies. The over-activation of the right hemisphere is inversely related to the stuttering severity.
Behavioral and speech therapy can abolish the over-activations in the right prefrontal and parietal regions. Fluency shaping shifts the hyperactivations to the corresponding regions in the left hemisphere.
Therapy can reduce the compensation attempt by the adult brain and prevent the over-activation of the right hemisphere. Therapy can normalize the function of the perisylvian regions.
Can You Induce Changes In The Brain Structure and Function?
The brain has high plasticity. Even in adults, the brain undergoes changes in neural connections, depending on external factors including habits, daily practices, lifestyle, medication, and more.
It is hard to believe, but it is possible to train your brain to revert the anomalies in structure and function that may contribute to your stuttering.
A new study published by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) proposes that one week of speech therapy can reorganize the structures of the brain responsible for stuttering. The reorganization of brain structure can reduce stuttering.
The researchers conducted the study on 28 adults and 13 people who don’t stutter. Out of the 28 adults, 15 received a week of therapy with three sessions per day. The control population and the remaining 13 people who stuttered didn’t receive any therapy.
The team used brain scans to measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex at the beginning and end of the study. The team measured the interactions between the different areas of the brain while at rest for all participants.
For those who stutter, the interactions within the cerebellum were stronger as compared to the fluent speakers.
After a week, the PWS who received therapy exhibited the same level of functional connectivity in the cerebellum as those who don’t stutter.
The author of the study, Chunming Lu, Ph.D. states
"therapy can prompt the brain to reorganize itself even in the cases of adults who stutter. The changes in the interactions of the cerebellum show that the brain compensates for stuttering".
Research also proves that differences in the structure and function of several regions of the brain contribute to stuttering and stuttering severity.
CA Kell, MD, Goethe University, Frankfurt states that these findings should help speech therapists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in their work. They can further gain an insight into how speech therapy works in reorganizing the structure of the brain.
Neuroplasticity Is Good News for PWS
These studies are proof that it is never too late to begin speech therapy.
It is important that you find the right speech therapist who can provide you with the correct exercises and speech therapy tools that can help stimulate your brain.
If you have never thought about or opted for speech therapy, you can start right now with Stamurai. Give this state-of-the-art speech therapy a try.
A good speech therapist or speech therapy app can help you master fluency shaping strategies and stuttering modification and apply them effortlessly while you are speaking.
However, you need to be patient. If you have been stuttering for years, you need to give speech therapy at least a couple of months before you can sense a significant difference in your speech.