Overview of Stuttering
Stuttering can be described as a disturbance in the flow or rhythm of connected speech. It is usually characterized by repetitions of syllables (e.g., buh-buh-balloon), prolongations of certain sounds (e.g., fffffeather), and occasional cessation of airflow (i.e., air ceases to flow through the vocal folds and the vocal folds cease vibrating; thus, no sound is produced). In advanced cases of stuttering certain secondary phenomena occur. Extreme tension in the musculature of the vocal folds, tongue, lips and face cause “struggle behavior” – grimaces, tics, head jerks, etc. Most stutterers develop fear of certain words or speaking situations as well, and try to avoid these.
For centuries the cause and treatment of stuttering has puzzled both stutterers themselves and those who have attempted to treat them. Of all the speech disorders, stuttering is both the most researched and the most baffling. In the last 50 years particularly, medical and paramedical journals have been filled with scientific studies and case histories. As a result, vast amounts of facts about the physical dimensions of stuttering have been collected. However, the knowledge gathered has not resulted in any consensus regarding the etiology or treatment of stuttering.
There are literally hundreds of theories about the cause of stuttering – each theory is supported by some research, and each has generated a specific treatment approach. However, these theories can be grouped into four ma or categories:
- The organicity theory. This group of theories has been most prevalent throughout the ages. Basically it states that dysfluency is due to some physical defect in the stutterer. Since connected speech requires intricate timing and coordination of many simultaneous movements (including action of the lungs, vocal folds and surrounding musculature, soft palate, tongue, and lips), a breakdown in the function of any one of these can disrupt the rhythm of speech. Virtually every organ involved in speech production has, at one time or another, been viewed as the defective one-including a “frozen” tongue, enlarged tonsils, specific nervous dysfunction and brain lesions. In light of the information contained in the readings of Edgar Cayce, one theory – that of Seeman (1934) – is particularly interesting. Seeman felt that the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system became hyperactive due to emotional stress or lack of inhibition from the cortex. This “oversupply” of energy produced a disturbance in all the fundamental processes upon which speech is based.
- Neurosis theory. After Freud’s time it became fashionable to view stuttering as the result of some deep-seated emotional or psychological problem. According to this specific school of thought, stutterers were felt to be “stuck” at the oral or anal level of emotional development, or experiencing deeply inadequate personal relationships. At present, many therapists still view stutterers as being basically neurotic.
- Learning theory. Historically many observers have viewed stuttering as a bad habit. Research in the ’60s showed that approximately 80% of all preschool children go through a brief period of “normal non-fluency,” which can easily be confused with stuttering. According to learning theorists, this non-fluency can be turned into stuttering by the reactions of the child’s parents, friends, teachers, etc. The child learns to fear speaking because of others’ reactions, and this fear disrupts the intricate coordination pattern required for fluent speech, resulting in increased dysfluency.
- Disturbed auditory feedback theory. We all rely on sensory feedback to monitor our speech. If a person is deprived of kinesthetic (sense of touch) feedback by local anesthesia of the palate, his speech becomes slurred. If auditory feedback is delayed (by use of a tape recorder with a delay built into it), normal speakers suffer fluency breaks very similar to those produced in stuttering. This has led to the theory that stuttering is due to some distortion in the auditory feedback system used to monitor speech.
Each school of thought has produced methods of treatment related to supposed etiology. Organicity theorists suggest treatment of the underlying physical defect – ranging from wine to unfreeze the tongue, to removal of the tonsils, to training the central nervous system through patterned exercise. Adherents of the neurosis school of thought use psychoanalysis, group therapy, and systematic desensitization to overcome non-fluency. Learning theorists try to change parental reactions to the young stutterer and extinguish specific stuttering behaviors. Other therapists try to mask disturbed auditory feedback with “white noise” or further delay the feedback. (When stutterers are placed on delayed feedback their fluency improves.)
Edgar Cayce gave readings for 10 individuals who regarded themselves, or were regarded by their parents, as stutterers. However, two of these individuals,  and , were told that their problem was not one of stuttering; rather it was a difficulty in choosing the appropriate words, or in putting thoughts into words. (These are language formulation problems, not the motor speech difficulty seen in stuttering.) A 21-year-old, , was told in a life reading that his stammering – as indeed any situation – could be dealt with “if [the body] trusts in the ideal manner. Not in self … but in Him…” (3245-1)
These three readings have not been included in the Circulating File. Also excluded was a reading for a two-year-old, , in whom stuttering was secondary to a major illness. Very little information was given about the stuttering, other than a statement that her speech would improve as her general condition improved. A recommendation was given for spinal massage.
Of the remaining six cases, only three had stuttering as their primary problem – ,  and ; of these, only  had follow-up readings about the stuttering. In the remaining three cases stuttering was a relatively minor problem of overall disturbed body function. A 33-year-old, , was presented with vertigo, imbalances in the blood, problems with the spleen and liver, a lesion of the cardiac plexus, and problems with the digestive system. A five-year-old, , had a disfiguring skin condition due to disturbances in the glandular functions (specifically, the thyroid and adrenals), unbalanced body salts, nervous system incoordination due to subluxations of dorsal six and seven, and a lesion in the coccyx. For a nine-year-old, , stuttering was secondary to blindness in one eye and a disturbance of kidney functioning. In these three cases treatments for the conditions must be separated from treatment specifically recommended for stuttering.
According to the readings, the “sense of speech is the highest developed vibration in an organism,” for it depends upon input from all the other senses and thus is heavily dependent upon the coordination forces in the body. These “coordinating forces” include sympathetic nervous system (which is linked to the unconscious mind or imaginative body), the cerebrospinal nervous system, and the neurological connections, which “register impulse in [the] brain.” (146-1) In other words, fluent clear speech depends upon coordination of impulses from both the sympathetic nervous system and the cerebrospinal nervous system.
When specifically asked what causes stuttering, Cayce responded: “The connections for the auditory as well as the vocal forces of the body derive their impulse from the 3rd cervical, as well as the 3rd, 4th and 5th dorsal.
“Hence it is necessary … to reduce … those tendencies of the body to oversupply energies to the vocal cords.. .” (1788-13) According to the reading, subluxations of these vertebrae, which produce pressure on the nerve, can cause nervous system incoordination, leading to disturbance in auditory functioning (ranging from a buzzing or humming in the cars to deafness) and vocal functioning (including stuttering, mutism and “unclear speech”). Other readings present disturbances in the spinal ganglia as causative factors in language disorders (some of which may resemble stuttering, but appear to be related more to word retrieval problems).
These six readings clearly implicate pressures and subluxations in the upper dorsal and cervical areas as the causes of stuttering. In five cases stuttering was specifically linked to a problem in the upper dorsal region. The third dorsal was always involved and the fourth and fifth dorsal were frequently involved. Problems with the second dorsal are mentioned in two readings. In a sixth case, , no specific problem in the upper dorsal was pinpointed. However, an osteopathic coordination of the upper dorsal and cervical vertebrae was advised once the corrections suggested for specific lower dorsal vertebrae had been made. (The subluxations in the lower dorsal were related to the child’s glandular deficiency, not stuttering.)
In three cases the readings specifically mentioned the third cervical vertebra as a causative factor. In a fourth case pressure along the cervicals was mentioned; and, of course,  was told to have an osteopathic coordination of the cervical vertebrae along with the dorsal.
In two cases the overt stuttering was accompanied by a humming or buzzing in the ears. In another case the subluxations had caused an unspecified “deflection” in the auditory force; this was presented as a causative factor in the stuttering. In a fourth case an auditory perceptual problem was noted; the child had normally acute hearing, but there was a slowness in perceiving and reacting to auditory stimuli. Therefore, in a total of six cases, four had some specific problem with hearing.
In three cases the spinal problems had caused a hindering or slowing of blood circulation through the affected areas (throat, larynx, tonsils and adenoids) – and in one case blood had accumulated in these areas. Poor eliminations was a contributing factor in three cases.
In summary, then, the material in the readings falls primarily into two of the common theories on the etiology of stuttering. Clearly the speech problem is organically based, as it is caused by subluxations or pressures in the spinal column which “prevent[s] the normal flow, the normal impulse, the normal nerve activity through the bronchi, through the throat, through the vocal box, through the organs of the head and throat.” (605-2) Another reading further defines the lack of normal flow as including an “oversupply [of] energies to the vocal cords. . .” (1788-13) In addition, the readings support the theory that disturbances in auditory perception are a causative factor.  clearly had delayed auditory feedback, while  had a “deflection in the auditory forces – which is indicated in the speaking voice.” (2015-8) Two other cases had “head noises” – a humming or buzzing in the ears – which may have affected auditory perception. Concerning the learning theories, one set of parents was advised, “Do not curb or make the body aware, by anxiety, of too much difference of opinion.” (1788-13)  was told to “be mindful that the body overcomes that tendency of becoming frustrated; and this lisping and stammering will disappear.” (605-3) Clearly the readings indicated that anxiety and frustration cause stuttering to worsen.
II. Rationale of Therapy
The primary treatment, recommended in every case, was osteopathic or chiropractic adjustment of the affected portion of the spine. Most frequently a regular series of adjustments was advised; e.g., two or three a week for several weeks.  was advised to have more intensive treatments, as the dorsal subluxations were particularly difficult to correct. For the three youngest children (including , whose reading is not included in the file), spinal massage with peanut oil was also recommended – preferably on a daily basis. Massage throughout the dorsal and cervical areas was also recommended for [6051. (Please note that the type of massage recommended for  was specifically related to her skin condition, not stuttering.)
In many readings, attitudinal factors were considered almost as important as physical corrections.  was told that “in meeting these [conditions], there must be made first in the mental body that determination that it will carry on in normal activity … that the hindrances will be removed … [for] without the activity of the mental body … even with the [osteopathic] changes, these would only make for partial corrections.” She was also told to be “careful – painfully careful – in being mindful of the expression. . .” (605-1) Two years later, when she had a recurrence of stuttering (due to having an incomplete series of treatments),  was advised to be mindful of frustration. ’s parents were told to foster an attitude of expectancy regarding the positive results of the therapy: “Do keep the body (though young as yet [41/2] … ) acquainted with that being done, and why, and the expectancy the body may have with the use of the treatments suggested.” (1788-13)
Because the third and fourth dorsal have neurological connections to the digestive organs, three of the six cases had problems with overacidity or poor eliminations. For two of these cases an alkaline-reacting diet was recommended, with the further recommendation for one child of the use of Glyco-Thymoline to purify the alimentary canal. In two other cases a general body-building diet was recommended.
Other recommendations for treatment are to be found in these six readings. However, most of these are specifically related to a condition other than stuttering; e.g., Atomidine doses and use of the wet cell appliance were recommended for  to overcome her glandular deficiencies. [991 was given a prescription to correct the imbalances between white and red blood cells; deep electrical vibration therapy was also suggested. Various other forms of electrical therapy were recommended, but only one appears to be related to the stuttering problems: [6051 was advised to have diathermy to coordinate nerve impulses to improve blood circulation through the throat and head.
In summary, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments sufficient to obtain a permanent realignment of the dorsal and cervical vertebrae were the primary recommendations. Attitude was also very important in achieving fluent speech. An alkaline-reacting diet was often recommended; the readings generally presented this diet as the optimal diet for good health as well. Other therapies appeared to be specific to other conditions and were not recommended for stutterers in general.
A word of caution: The readings for  warned against giving only partial adjustments (i.e., not having enough adjustments to ensure lasting spinal realignment). Apparently  did not have a sufficient number of adjustments and her stuttering symptoms recurred with greater severity two years later.
Note: The preceding overview was written by Lesley Laraby Boykin, DSPA, CCC-SP and is excerpted from the Physician’s Reference Notebook, Copyright © 1968 by the Edgar Cayce Foundation, Virginia Beach, VA.
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