After centuries of misunderstanding, research is finally tying the speech disorder which affects millions of people around the world to certain genes and brain alterations – and new treatments may be on the horizon.
Gerald Maguire has stuttered since childhood, but you might not guess it from talking to him. For the past 25 years, Maguire – a psychiatrist at the University of California, Riverside – has been treating his disorder with antipsychotic medications not officially approved for the condition. Only with careful attention might you discern his occasional stumble on multisyllabic words like “statistically” and “pharmaceutical”.
Maguire has plenty of company – more than 70 million people worldwide, including about three million Americans, stutter. That is, they have difficulty with the starting and timing of speech, resulting in halting and repetition. That number includes approximately 5% of children, many of whom outgrow the condition, and 1% of adults. Their numbers include presidential candidate Joe Biden, actor James Earl Jones and actress Emily Blunt. Though those people and many others, including Maguire, have achieved career success, stuttering can contribute to social anxiety and draw ridicule or discrimination by others.