Stuttering's causes have eluded researchers for years, but now a
new study sheds some light on a genetic mutation that has been
linked to the disorder. This study's findings may lead to new
treatment possibilities while also validating the biological
origins of the disease.
"People need to understand that this is not a social disorder,"
says Dr. Dennis Drayna, lead researcher on the study and geneticist
with the National Institutes of Health. "This needs to be viewed as
an authentic, basic biological disorder."
The study has identified three genes as a source of stuttering.
Researchers estimate that roughly 9 percent of those who stutter
possess mutations in one of the three genes, according to an NIH
Finding these mutations "opens avenues to treatments," Drayna
says, but those treatments are still in the future as understanding
of the disease increases. "Even though our findings only explain a
small amount of the disorder, they open the door to many studies
that we think are going to tell us a great deal about the
underlying problems that cause this disease."
Probably the biggest additional benefit to the study's finding
is that it relieves parents of the guilt, says Jane Fraser,
president of the Stuttering Foundation of America. "It makes a huge
psychological difference for the families. So many have carried the
burden of guilt. I think that's one of the hardest burdens if you
think you're the one who caused it," she says.
But having a genetic mutation doesn't doom children to a
lifetime of stuttering, Fraser says.
"We've known that a family history of stuttering is the biggest
risk factor, so the risk factors haven't changed. This has just
brought them to the forefront." What it does is reinforce that
children with genetic risk factors should be identified and treated
as early as possible.
"If it's in your family, jump on it because you can do something
early on," Fraser says.
For information on the study, visit www.nih.gov. For more
information on stuttering, visit stutteringhelp.org.
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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