September 23, 2005

Stuttering Best Treated in Pre-School Years

LONDON -- Children who stutter should be treated before they start school to improve the speech disorder that affects about 5 percent of youngsters, Australian scientists said on Friday.

Stuttering, or stammering, usually begins when a child is three or four years old. Boys are three times more likely to suffer from the problem.

There is no cure for the condition but researchers at the Australian Stuttering Research Center at the University of Sydney who developed and evaluated an early treatment called the Lidcombe programme to treat stuttering said it improved the problem.

"After nine months, the reduction of stuttering in the Lidcombe programme group was significantly and clinically greater than natural recovery," Mark Onslow, the director of the center, said in a report in the British Medical Journal.

The programme, which is named after a Sydney suburb, is a behavioural treatment for young children that is administered by a parent with guidance from a speech pathologist.

The parent conducts the treatments and learns to measure the child's stuttering on a 10-point scale. During weekly visits the speech pathologist examines the progress.

Once the stuttering has disappeared or vastly diminished, the second stage of the programme which aims to maintain the improvement for a year, begins.

Onslow and his team evaluated the programme in a study involving 54 children. Twenty-nine received the treatment and 25 children acted as a control group.

Only 15 percent of the youngsters in the control group attained a minimal amount of stuttering, compared to 77 percent of those who had the treatment.

Some children recover naturally from stuttering but the researchers said identifying them is difficult and starting treatment in the pre-school years seems to be most effective.

"If the disorder persists into the school age years a child is exposed to unacceptable risk of experiencing the disabling effects of chronic and intractable stuttering throughout life," Onslow added.

Stuttering may result from a variety of causes, including genetics, signaling problems between the brain and nerves and muscles and a developmental difficulties.