Because of her speech impediment, Diane Tijerina (left) has
often relied on daughter Valerie to speak on her behalf.
Although she felt guilty doing
it, Diane Tijerina admits she often used her children to do the talking
she was too afraid to attempt.
she did try to talk, the stammering and sputtering elicited looks that
humiliated the young San Antonio woman. Instead, she asked her three
young children to speak to the grocery clerk, waitress or other
strangers encountered during everyday life.
which affects 2.5 million Americans and 60 million people worldwide, has
been a part of Tijerina’s life since she was 4 years old. In hopes of
preventing future generations from suffering as she has, Tijerina is
participating in a novel study being conducted
at the Health Science Center’s Research Imaging Center (RIC).
live with a constant fear of talking,” said Tijerina, 38. “You worry
about talking every day. I hate the way people look at me when I start
talking and they see that I have a problem.”
up as a stutterer is especially difficult, she said. “My teachers just
accepted the fact that I had a speech problem. I never wanted to read in
class and I never raised my hand, even when I knew the answer. I just
tried not to talk at all.”
a child growing up on the West Side of San Antonio, Tijerina said speech
therapy was not available during her early years. She took her first
therapy session two years ago at Southwest Texas State University in San
said she learned techniques in San Marcos that sometimes help her control
her stuttering—and gained
The lives it
Matt from Ohio
I am an 18-year-old student who has stuttered for as long
as I can remember. I plan on entering college and someday becoming a
doctor. But, my stuttering gives me many doubts about myself and my
Linda from Virginia
I would love to hear from anyone who stutters.
I stutter and life is lonely.
Ravi from India
I am a 30-year-old male with a stuttering
problem since childhood. Recently my 3-year-old daughter also has
started stuttering. I need help.
Marc from California
I’m a 43-year-old white male and a recently
divorced single parent of three boys. My ex-wife left me and one of the
reasons was that she wanted to be with someone fluent and she “tolerated”
me for 17 years. Now I’m alone (my biggest fear) and am having a hard
time in the dating field.
Meredith from South Carolina
I am getting married next year and I want to
say my vows without stuttering. I have trouble saying my fiancé’s
name when I am talking about him but not when I am talking with him.
Greg from New York
I am 47 years old, married with three sons, and
work as a computer operations manager. I have stuttered most of my life
and had come to terms with it. A bad work experience a few years ago put
my fluency into a nosedive.
Katrina from Colorado
Every generation of my mother’s side of the
family has a lot of members who stutter. Now five out of seven of my
mother’s grandchildren stutter, including my 4-year-old daughter. What
can I do to help my child with this speech deficiency so she won’t go
through as much pain and suffering as I have?
Gary from New Jersey
I’m a 47-year-old M.D. who stutters. I’m
available to discuss with anyone who stutters the fact that it is
possible to stutter and still have a highly successful professional,
educational and personal life if you learn to accept that you stutter
and then ignore it after you learn whatever techniques help you minimize
Alicia from South Africa
I’m 18 years old and I’ve had a stammer
since birth. The severity of it seems to go in cycles. Some-times it’s
not very often and sometimes it’s all the time. I hate it with a
passion! It is a major embarrassment and I wish it would go away.
Thomas from Texas
I’m 17 and I’ve stuttered since I was 8. I
am currently in high school, and I would like to talk with anyone who
can relate and tell me more about stuttering. I have been to many
therapists and nothing seems to work. It only gets worse. Is there
anything I can do to control it?
Kimberly from Wisconsin
I’m a business writer and editor who stutters
severely. Language is both my greatest joy and my most loathed and
damaging affliction. I’m a 41-year-old divorced female. I’ve had
intermittent years of fluency, but now I seem to be “locked”
Steven from Arizona
I am a 21-year-old married male who has
stuttered for many years. I have stuttered ever since I can remember. My
stuttering has lessened since my youth but it is still a hindrance. I
get so nervous before I use the phone that I shake all over.
I am 22 and have been stuttering since the age
of 3. Right now I’m pretty depressed because
of this problem. It has become quite severe, but I still believe
with a little help from the pathologist and my efforts, I will overcome
above comments are from the Stuttering Science &
self-confidence to enroll in a physical therapy technician
program. She previously worked at a
baseball cap factory where her position in trimming and inspecting
required little verbal communication.
her new job, Tijerina must greet patients and help them with their
treatment and exercises. Although she still has problems answering the
telephone at work, she said she has become comfortable and stutters less
with her patients.
said she is fortunate to have
family: husband, Juan, and children, Valerie, 20; J.T., 17;
and Michael, 16. Tijerina said her children accompanied her to speech
therapy and learned the techniques
so they could remind her when her stuttering becomes worse.
children will try to help me when I am on the phone. They will stand
next to me and try to coach me. I just get so frustrated. The harder you
try not to stutter, the worse it gets. That’s why I decided to
participate in the study at the Research Imaging Center.
if it doesn’t help me, if it helps someone down the road so they won’t
suffer like I do now, then my time will be worth it. I do not want
others to live in fear,” she added.
J. Ingham, Ph.D., Health Science Center adjunct professor who is
conducting the study, said stuttering usually develops in the preschool
years and afflicts 1 percent of the population. About 4 percent have it
during their lifetime but some are able to recover, he added.
is usually fairly easy in childhood with treatment. After childhood is over, it is much more difficult to treat,” he said. “The ultimate
goal of this project is to develop more effective treatments, especially
T. Fox, M.D., RIC director, said the stuttering study is the first of
its kind anywhere. Funded by a three-year, $921,000 grant from the
National Institutes of Health, the study involves testing 10
and 10 non-stuttering women. A similar study has already been conducted
on 20 male participants.
and his wife, Janis
Costello Ingham, Ph.D., both
speech pathology researchers, are
spending three summers in San Antonio conducting the research at RIC,
which is the only site in the country with the rare combination of
high-tech equipment and qualified support personnel. During the school
year, they return to the University of California-Santa Barbara as
professors of speech and hearing science.
is the best place in the world to do this research. From Dr. Fox to the
technicians to the students, the people here are the tops in their
fields,” Dr. Janis Ingham said. “The Research Imaging Center is
known all over the world. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have
this liaison with Dr. Fox and the staff.”
the study, participants are placed in the positron emission tomography
system (PET) where radiation traces the parts of the brain being used.
PET images show brain activity, such as speech, while it is occurring.
The Inghams will be able to map where brain activity occurs during normal
and stuttered speech and then compare
the maps for differences.
the stuttering study with men was conducted at RIC, experts strongly
believed there was a difference
in the brains of stutterers and non-stutterers, Dr. Roger Ingham said.
when the brain maps of the two groups at rest (when they were not
speaking) were compared, there was no difference in their brain
activity. This suggests that the neural malfunctioning
behind stuttering is found only during speech. In earlier studies the
research team found
activity in the premotor, motor and auditory
association regions of the cortex. The current study is looking at
speech activity in these areas.
participants are examined while at rest, while reading a prepared text
and then while reading the text during chorus reading. Chorus reading is
when two individuals read the same text together.
reasons not fully understood, stutterers who read aloud while someone
reads with them do not stutter. During this study, participants read a
passage while the same text is played from a recording through an
decided to look at the brain using PET while the person is stuttering
and then while they are not stuttering, which is during chorus reading,”
Dr. Roger Ingham said. “During stuttered speech, we found that the
pre-motor area of the brain was activated, but the auditory association
area was deactivated. But during chorus reading, these two areas of the
brain came toward more normal activation.”
one time, it was thought that the stutterer’s unusual mouth movements
during stuttering were the cause of these unusual neural activities.
But, it is now known that this is not true.
was confirmed last year when we brought in four stuttering and four
non-stuttering men from the first study. We had them repeat the entire
study with one difference. Instead of reading the text, they had to
imagine they were reading it. Then they had to imagine they were chorus
learned that almost the exact areas were activated during imagination of
speech as activated in spoken stuttering. This proves that these unusual
activations and deactivations may occur even before the act of speaking,
or they simply accompany speech,” he said.
identifying the areas, we can develop more rational treatments that are
designed to minimize or eliminate stuttering,” said Dr. Roger Ingham.
“We can look at behavioral and other procedures, including possible
TMS (transcranial magnetic brain stimulation) treatment and drug
treatment. Plainly speaking, these
Shirley Hecht (left), a study participant, discusses her
PET scans with Roger J. Ingham, Ph.D., Health Science Center adjunct
professor, and Janis C. Ingham, Ph.D., who are conducting the stuttering
new treatments would keep these
abnormal processes from occurring in a stutterer’s brain.”
study on TMS and stuttering is being conducted through a grant from the
Charles A. Dana Foundation. Dr. Fox said the study is focusing on the
brain’s response to TMS, in which a magnetic field is used to
stimulate a part of the brain. (For example, by stimulating a specific
portion of the brain, the TMS can make a person’s thumb move because
it activates the part of the brain that controls such movement.)
“In stutterers, we’re trying to down-regulate an abnormal area. In earlier
studies, we’ve identified a number of areas that are overactive in
stuttering and a smaller number that are underactive. In this study, we
will direct TMS therapy at a motor planning center near the top of the
Research Imaging Center is the only place in the world approved to do
this trial of TMS in stuttering. Other sites are conducting studies on
the effects of treatments using prolonged speech [a strategy that
teaches stutterers to prolong syllables slightly to control their
stuttering], but none is investigating the physiology of treatment with
TMS,” Dr. Fox said.
Roger Ingham said those participating in the stuttering studies are
playing key roles in the future treatment of stuttering.
in the studies think it might help them personally, but they believe
there is a greater chance it will help children in the future. They don’t
want others to have to suffer as they have. They have very unselfish
attitudes, perhaps because they have had to live with this constant
is one of our fundamental features as human beings. Not being able to
express yourself or explain your feelings is a terrible handicap,” he
more information about the stuttering studies, contact Dr. Fox at (210)
567-8150 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.