History of Stuttering Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
While you may know how stuttering is treated now, do you know how it was treated in the past? This lesson goes into the weird and unfortunate methods that have been tried over hundreds and even thousands of years ago.

Stuttering

If you have seen the movie The King's Speech, where King George VI goes through a series of bizarre and humiliating treatments by different doctors, you have already been exposed to some of the ideas that history contributed to treating stuttering.

Stuttering is a kind of speech disorder, one where the fluency or rhythm of speech is incorrect. In this disorder, a person knows exactly what they want to say but they are unable to do so due to involuntary things like repetition of a word or a prolongation of a sound within a word.

Although nowadays stuttering is treated with a combination of various speech and even behavioral therapies that can help a person improve, the history of the treatment of stuttering is filled with far less effective techniques.

This lesson goes over this interesting topic and some of what we know or suspect with respect to the historical treatments surrounding stuttering.

Ancient Treatments

Back in about the mid 300s BCE, a very well-known Greek statesman and orator called Demosthenes worked alongside an actor of his day, called Satyrus. Demosthenes apparently stuttered and so Satyrus was thankfully there to coach him along.

Deomsthenes practicing his speaking skills
demosthenes

Supposedly Satyrus said that in order to improve his speech disorder Demosthenes should put pebbles in his mouth, use a mirror, and make a formal speech while going uphill. Perhaps Satyrus was just being satirical?

Not to be outdone, about 900 years later a royal physician by the name of Aetius of Amida came up with his own solution for stuttering. Aeitus lived in what is known as the Byzantine Empire. He was the physician to a very famous Byzantian emperor called Justinian.

Aetius' solution for stuttering was a bit more grotesque than Satyrus'. He thought it would be best to cure a person of stuttering by dividing the frenulum. Not sure what that is? If you go and stand in front of a mirror this will help. Open your mouth and tilt your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Do you see that thin membrane connecting the underside of your tongue to the bottom of your mouth? That's the frenulum. If you shiver at the thought of splitting it, you can't be blamed.

17th - 20th Century Treatment

Surgical treatments for stuttering did not stop with Aeitus. Not all that long ago surgery was a common approach to this problem. A 19th century German surgeon by the name of Johann Frederick Dieffenbach would take out a part of the tongue in order to try and cure stuttering.

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