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 news release.
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.