Stuttering Is in the Genes

It's physical, not psychological: researcher
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2011 10:58 AM CST
The King's Speech Has It Wrong: Stuttering Is Genetic, Says New Research
In this film publicity image provided by The Weinstein Company, Colin Firth portrays King George VI, left, and Helena Bonham Carter portrays the Queen Mother in a scene from, "The King's Speech."   (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Laurie Sparham)

Stuttering has long been considered a psychological issue, something born of anxiety or trauma—but new research suggests it’s in the genes, the Telegraph reports. “The brain actually looks different in people who stutter compared with those that don’t,” says a scientist. Certain gene variations often appear in stutterers, particularly in a part of the brain tied to muscle control. The gene can kill cells, and that cell death may "block" the stutterer from pronouncing some sounds, he says.

The cell death occurs at a young age, when kids are learning to talk, he notes. That often prompts observers to question such children’s intelligence or ability to speak, and it can cause frustration in children—leading others to assume they have psychological issues. In the King’s Speech, King George VI’s stutter is chalked up to things like his strict upbringing. But “this is not a disorder of social functions. It really is a disease like any other,” says the scientist. However, the Telegraph notes that the three gene variations the scientists discovered account for only about 9% of stuttering cases. (Read more stutter stories.)

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