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The terrifying syndrome that takes away your ability to speak

Illustration for article titled The terrifying syndrome that takes away your ability to speak

Most of us take speech for granted. This is why Landau-Kleffner Syndrome is so terrifying. It can take away a person's ability to make or understand speech - again and again.


Landau-Kleffner Syndrome was first discovered in 1957, when William Landau and Frank Kleffner outlined the disease, and identified six different cases. Generally, the cases were all children, between three and thirteen years old. At first, their parents had thought they were going deaf. The children wouldn't respond to anything said to them, even when they clearly saw the speaker. After a few months, the kids also lost the ability to speak.

Today, Landau-Kleffner cases are tested for deafness and autism before they are diagnosed correctly. Although some patients start having seizures, the seizures often start only after the people stop speaking. The only way to be sure the syndrome is present is to do an electroencephalogram while the patient is sleeping, and look for subclinical (symptomless) seizure activity in the brain.


There are few treatment options for sufferers of the syndrome. For the most part, they're prescribed anticonvulsant medication to stop the seizures. Sometimes corticosteroids help them regain speech activity. Sometimes they can rebuild speech activity on their own, either through sign language or speech therapy. But what's truly frightening about the syndrome is the fact that it can relapse. So throughout a person's life, the power of speech - and only the power of speech - can literally be wiped off their brain again and again. People retain their memories, and their personality, and their motor abilities - but one very specific condition robs them of all their words. We have a verbal reset button.

Top Image: Daria

Via Neurology, ASHA.

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MAKE2 Mifune

That is terrifying. One of the most terrifying experiences I ever had was when I was much younger, dumber, and in college; I experimented with a psychedelic mushroom. The experience was a bit like a fever dream. I had lost all ability to process the words I was trying to communicate and I could not understand a thing that was coming out of my mouth. I would try to say something, but what would come out of my mouth and I would hear myself saying sounded like a torrent of muddy gibberish. It created a massive, scary disconnect between thinking, speaking, and hearing. Losing words is not fun and I never tried that again. I wonder if the parts of the brain that were affected are related?