It has been proven in research over the past fifteen years or so that speech therapy can improve the speech of people who stutter. The use of brain imagery through PET scans and other methods by researchers has shown that there are changes in the brain’s activity directly after therapy, and stuttering behaviour has been reduced. But a recent study has shown that there is a change in brain patterns even after just one week of treatment.
The study was done by researchers at Beijing Normal University. Participating were 28 people who stuttered and 13 non-stutterers who acted as a control group. Brain scans of all participants were done before and after the study.
15 of the PWS underwent therapy for one week. The treatment consisted of three sessions per day in which the subjects repeated two-syllable words and then read aloud words from written text. None of the exercises were timed. After one week, physiological changes had taken place in the brains of those involved in the treatment. Parts of the brain that are overactive in those who stutter, in the cerebellum region, had reduced neural activity to the levels of those who did not stutter. In the language production area called the pars opercularis, part of what is known as Broca’s Brain, interactions that are weaker in those who stutter had not changed. The study did not investigate how long the positive effects of the therapy lasted.
The Stuttering Foundation of America responded to the findings. While they welcome all research into the causes and potential treatment of stuttering, they caution not to place too much stake in the study.
"It is our experience that a competent therapist can help a person who stutters become fluent in one week," Jane Fraser, The Stuttering Foundation spokesperson, said. "That is not the challenge; the goal in stuttering therapy is staying fluent – taking what you learn in the therapy setting and transferring it into the real world and maintaining that level of fluency over time."
“A week of therapy can make changes but the key is having it last, and to us it won’t have any value unless we can see results three months later. What's exciting is that it gets out to the public that when you work on this with therapy, there really are changes to the brain.”
The concept of the “neuro plasticity” of the brain and its ability, not just in children but in adults, to reorganize itself and create new neural pathways, is a relatively new discovery in the field of neurological science. These findings were presented a few years ago in the bestselling book, The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, MD. While this book does not address stuttering per se, it did present the new findings in layman’s terms.
The fact that the effects of speech therapy on stuttering were even more dramatic than earlier believed is encouraging. However, like the Stuttering Foundation warns, it is not to suggest that there is any "quick fix" to stuttering.
Stuttering Foundation Press Release
Abstract in Neurology