Was Noel Gallagher’s stammer caused by his abusive father?

 

Noel Gallagher shared his Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 and talked of his childhood experiences with his father http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b062hplj . The Daily Mirror then linked Noel’s fear of his father with the stammer he developed as a child http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/noel-gallagher-says-relationship-father-6096448

Stammering has often been linked to parenting styles – in the film ‘The King’s Speech’ the inference was that King George VI’s childhood experience was the reason that he started to stammer.

However there is no evidence that childhood emotional traumas or abusive or neglectful parenting can cause stammering. On the contrary – there is growing evidence for a physical cause. Research into the brains of children who stammer has made it clear that stammering is a neurodevelopmental disorder. There are differences in the structure and the way the brain functions. And these differences are genetically transmitted. This doesn’t mean that everyone who stammers will have a relative they know who also stammers, but somewhere in the family history there are genes which contribute to the development of a stammer in that child.

But there is good news – our brains are described as ‘plastic’ and change continuously, which accounts for the high numbers of children who become fluent over time, especially with therapy. Noel and his brother Paul attended speech therapy for four years.

So do childhood traumas have any relevance to stammering? This is a more difficult area to research and certainly many people report that stammering started after a difficult experience or significant change during childhood. We think that in such cases the child was born with the neurological and genetic predisposition to stammer and then aspects of the child’s temperament and life experiences affected the development and impact of the stammer.

It’s rather like asthma – you are born with the possibility of it in your genetic makeup, it doesn’t affect every child in the same family and it may appear and get worse with the stresses and strains of life. But nobody says parents cause asthma!

So – parents do not cause stammering. And let’s stop blaming them!

Elaine Kelman

Head of the Michael Palin Centre