The latest study conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute disproves some of the most common stuttering myths, bringing us a better understanding of this condition and some relief to parents. Common beliefs that children who stutter are shy and tend to be withdrawn and that the stuttering is linked to language delays are show to be false.
This was a longitudinal study of early language development, performed on more than 1600 children, followed from infancy to the age of four. It is one of just a few community studies on stuttering onset, and its methodological approach is the base of the new insights it brings.
Belief: Stuttering is uncommon
False, to a certain level. The fact is that only 1 percent adults stutter, and until now it has been estimated that 5 percent of children stutter for some period in their life. Most often that is the period of rapid growth in language development, between the ages of 2 and 5.
“Developmental stuttering occurs in young children while they are still learning speech and language skills. It is the most common form of stuttering. Some scientists and clinicians believe that developmental stuttering occurs when children’s speech and language abilities are unable to meet the child’s verbal demands,” states The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Results from this new study have shown that stuttering is not as unusual as previously thought, since they found the rate to be doubled that commonly expected: 11 per cent. While this is valuable information in light of understanding early language development, it can be alternatively explained by the fact that participating parents were educated to recognize the stuttering and asked to inform the research team when any of the symptoms occurred. Authors themselves say that this unexpected result is partly driven by reports of mild and short-lived stuttering, which usually would not be an initiator for parents to talk to the pediatrician.
Belief: Stuttering is associated with lower language skills
False. Children who stuttered in this study had higher verbal and non-verbal scores than those who didn’t. This is not a completely new result and there are a number of recent study findings which confirm these findings. Moreover, some experts in this field are researching the possibility that advanced language skills could be a risk factor for stuttering.
Belief: Stuttering onset is always gradual
False. Other studies showed that sudden onset of stammering is expected in at least one-third of the children who stutter, and in this Australian study it was noted in more than half the children: 37% parents reported stuttering began within a day, and 12% said that it developed over 2 to 3 days.
Belief: Family history is a risks factor
True. Genetics play a significant role in stuttering, and several genes have been isolated as its base. Additionally, it seems that persistent and developmental stuttering has different genetic components.
Belief: Boys are more likely to stutter than girls
True. Research in this area showed that the gender of the child is linked not just to the onset of stuttering, but also to its persistence, in favor of girls.
Belief: Stuttering is linked to shyness
False. The newest study showed that there is no difference regarding the level of shyness between children who did and who did not stutter. Authors of the study underline that the study methodology-following the kids before the stuttering appeared- further reinforces this finding. In addition, they also offer an alternative interpretation: “It may be that parents, who are the ones that typically fill out temperament questionnaires, perceive their children to be so simply because they stutter.”
By disproving some common beliefs, this new study brings a better understanding of early language development and of stuttering disorder. The key question for further research is to be able to predict which children are most likely to outgrow their stuttering and which are at risk for continuing to stutter into adulthood.
By: Milica Zujko