Make Room For The Stuttering

Stuttering As A Mental Disorder

Posted on: April 9, 2013

There is quite a discussion roiling on one of the email groups about stuttering being renamed “childhood onset fluency disorder.” This classification will be found in the DSM-5, due to be released in May 2013.

The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. All mental disorders (and medical conditions for that matter) are coded for insurance coverage and reimbursement purposes. Changing the name from stuttering allows for all communication disorders to be covered, and gives parents with kids who stutter more options for quality speech therapy that insurance companies will pay for.

That is the layman’s (mine) explanation, from what I’ve gleaned from doing some reading and understanding what one of the writers and contributors to the section on communication disorders shared on the email group.

Many in the stuttering community are finding this classification of stuttering as a mental disorder to be disturbing. Many of us who stutter do not believe that we have a mental disorder.

And this label might just further the beliefs, and myths, that stuttering is a psychological problem. Many walked away from the 2010 movie “The Kings Speech” believing that stuttering was caused by bad parenting and psychological reactions to trauma and bullying.

People who stutter already have trouble with bullying in school and often being assigned to special education classes, even though there is no learning impairment. There is also workplace discrimination, with employers not fully understanding stuttering and making assumptions about ability and stability. If employers get wind of stuttering now being classified as a mental disorder, that could further diminish employment opportunities for stutterers.

Some could argue that everything we do is “mental.” We use our mental faculties everyday to communicate and interact with the world.

I don’t think I have a mental disorder because of my stuttering. Maybe for other things, but not for stuttering! 🙂

What do you think? Would you feel comfortable being diagnosed with a mental disorder due to your stuttering?

9 Responses to "Stuttering As A Mental Disorder"

You point is well taken. Perhaps a good follow up question is why our society so stigmatizes mental disorders. Our bodies are extremely complex systems of systems, and no part is more complex than the brain. Why do we think so differently of mental issues?
Thanks again for providing great food for thought.

I think we think so differently of mental issues because there is the negative connnotation that “mental issue” means we are “crazy” or in more PC terms, unstable. When people hear “mental issue or disorder” we often immediately think of the sterotyped images of people in insane asylums, people getting shock therapy, etc.
The challenge, as you imply, is that we need to think differently about what mental means. As I said in my post, just about everything we do uses our mental faculties.
Nan Bernstein-Ratner, a researcher who contributed to this edition of the DSM, and who has joined in the conversation on Stutt-L, offered a great challenge. We need to try and wrap our brain around mental really meaning cognitive or even organic.
Then, there wouldn’t be the stigma attached that currently is. It will take a lot influence to change this mind set.
In the meantime, stuttering already has enough stigma, we don’t need the label of mental disorder, IMHO.
Thanks for commenting – and bringing up such good dialogue.

Given the stigma attached to mental illness, I can fully appreciate why people would object to the inclusion of stuttering in DSM-5. However, if it allows for access to treatment, then it potentially is a very positive development. In this regard, it’s interesting to note the outcry at the removal of the formal diagnosis of Asperger’s in DSM-5 and at the revisions to the criteria needed for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Those affected by autism are very concerned at the impact of these changes in terms of the difficulty of some in meeting the strict diagnostic criteria and in accessing relevant services. In light of this, maybe we should be pragmatic about the inclusion of stuttering since it could have a range of positive benefits. Arguably, it could also serve to change the perception of stuttering by making people aware that stuttering is a neurological disorder and not a psychological problem. Of course, perhaps I’m just being very naive and overly-optimistic!

Too bad stuttering can’t just be called and described for what it is and still be given insurance coverage for speech therapy. I guess my pespective is just too simple.

What about Governors who stutters ? Seems like the more he lies, the more he stutters; Danny Malloy Ct. Governor

There is no connection between lying and stuttering.

I’m with you Pam, definitely a head case for other things but not for stuttering!!
I know what you mean, as soon as you mention psychology there is an immediate reaction. So old fashioned, crikey even our sporting heroes are heavily into psychology as a way of altering and/or maintaining behaviour. Stuttering is so much about behaviour both mental and physical and psychology is the study of behaviour. I admit I am in the lonely camp that sees struggle and aviodance as learned behaviour – you can’t cure behaviour but you can change it!
I am of the view that stuttering therapy is wallowing in a deep crevase between Speech Pathology and Psychology constrained by a lack of academic co-operation and who gets first dibs on the research funding. There are progressive SLP’s who are introducing psychology in to their treatment but they too are constrained by professional ethics and the stigma it may generate with their patients.
I see stuttering as an anxiety fueled behaviour disorder and who doesn’t suffer from some form of that.
Steve Clarkson

Hi Pam,
Me again with a mischevious thought.
Pathology is described as a branch of medical science concerned with the nature and causes of disease.
So its a toss up, would you rather have a mental problem or a disease?
I think it was better when they called themselves Therapists!

i have been a stutterer since around age 13,, and that was a lifetime ago! i am 59 now, and still stutter!
i do bot condider myself mentally ill due to this,
and kind of don’t agree with it being classified as
a mental disorder. but, if classifying it that way
could help stutters get insurance paid therapy,
then that would be good i think.

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