Stuttering: Is It in Your Genes?


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – About three million people in the U.S. have a chronic stutter including President Joe Biden, and actors James Earl Jones, and Bruce Willis. Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases. There is currently no cure, but a recent discovery is putting researchers a step closer to one.

Communication, socioeconomic status, and even employability are some challenges that people who stutter face.

Some believe those who stutter have lower intelligence or the stutter is a result of a childhood trauma.

“This has all been proven to be false. The one thing we know about stuttering is that it is absolutely genetic,” associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Jennifer “Piper” Below, PhD, reassures.

(Read Full Interview)

Now, researchers have been able to pinpoint some genes that are associated with stuttering. These include genes linked to a dopamine pathway.

“Suggesting that there might be something about how the brain is processing and signaling that could be disrupted in stuttering,” Professor Below adds.

Professor Below and colleagues imputed these set of traits in a databank with 100,000 genetic samples.

Professor Below explains, “We were able to identify almost 10,000 people who our algorithm predicted might stutter.”

One of those 10,000 people include co-author of the study, Professor Robin Jones, PhD.

“The stuttering that I had; it began at four years of age. For people who stutter, they know exactly what they want to say, but they are not able to say it,” Professor Jones exclaims.

Now, this may be the first step in giving them that voice.

Professor Jones adds, “Communication is a quintessential aspect of the human experience. Hopefully, by doing this work, we will be able to develop treatments.”

The researchers have a partnership with the genomics company, 23-and-me, where they look at the DNA samples of more than 100,000 people who self-report they stutter and a million who say they don’t to identify any additional genes that are associated. Professor Below says children who stutter are roughly half boys and half girls. However, girls are more likely to recover from their stutter as they hit their pre-adolescent years.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #5047

BACKGROUND: Stuttering happens when someone has a difficult time with the natural flow of their speech.  Stuttering is also known as stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder. Stammering is common amongst young children, ages 2- 5, but it can become chronic and transfer into adulthood. Some symptoms of stuttering include difficulty saying words, sentences or phrases. Another is repetition of sounds, syllables or words, and tension of the face or upper body. These symptoms can be accompanied by rapid eye blinking, tremors, facial tics, and clenching fists. Just because you may have some of these symptoms you should not automatically assume that you have a chronic stutter. Causes of a stutter can be motor speech control issue or genetics. Some risks that are involved in a stutter are childhood development issues and excessive stress. It can also lead to low self- esteem, being bullied or teased, loss of motivation to socialize or participate in large group activities.


DIAGNOSING A STUTTER: To diagnose a stutter you should get an evaluation from a specific type of medical professional called a speech- language pathologist. These professionals are trained to listen and see the specific indicators that can be a chronic stutter. If the patient is a child the most likely questions they will ask are about the patient’s childhood, and how the stutter affects the child’s life.  If the patient is an adult, the speech-language pathologist will first want to rule out all other underlying health conditions then get in to question about how much stress that individual is under and treatments that have been tried in the past. There is no cure for a stutter, but there are treatments to cope and help improve speech. The treatments include speech therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. The best course of action is to communicate with your speech- language pathologist and figure the best course of treatment.


NEW TECHNOLOGY:  SpeechEasy is a device that is molded to fit the wearer’s ear. This device looks a lot like a hearing aid but instead of making noises louder it puts the users voice on a time delay. The time delay allows for something called the “Choral Effect.” This effect is when the stutter is lessened or eliminated when you speak or sing in unison with others.  The University of California is in phase 2 of a clinical trial, developing a drug that treats stutters and Tourette’s syndrome. This study examines the safety of using the drug called ecopipam. It’s estimated that more than 3 million people in America stutter, and over 70 million worldwide. This drug blocks the actions of the neurotransmitter dopamine D1 receptor. This receptor may be responsible for the repetitive and compulsive behaviors that are affiliated with stutters and Tourette’s syndrome.



Camilla Travia

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Jennifer “Piper” Below, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine

Read the entire Q&A