September 22, 2005

Stuttering best treated in pre-school years-study

LONDON (Reuters) - 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

"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.