June 28, 2006

Emotional factors may contribute to stuttering

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Preschoolers who stutter may
have more difficulty controlling their emotions than other
children their age, a study has found -- suggesting that
emotional factors contribute to the speech disorder.

Stuttering is a common speech problem that typically
becomes apparent between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.
Children may repeat or draw out words or parts of words, or
have difficulty beginning a word.

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown, but it probably
involves a "complex interaction" between genes and environment,
said Dr. Edward G. Conture, a professor of hearing and speech
sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a co-author
of the new study.

Stuttering is believed to have a strong genetic component,
as it often runs in families. But it has also long been
suspected that emotional development may contribute to the
disorder, Conture told Reuters Health.

In his team's study, published in the Journal of
Communication Disorders, preschoolers who stuttered were
typically more excitable than their peers with normal speech,
and tended to have a harder time calming down or shifting their
attention away from a stressful situation.

The findings are based on reports from parents of 65
preschoolers who stuttered and 56 children who did not. Both
groups of parents completed a standardized questionnaire on
child behavior.

Three general differences between the two groups emerged,
Conture said. Children who stuttered showed greater emotional
"reactivity" to everyday stresses, like having a toy taken
away; it took them longer to settle down once they were excited
or upset; and they were less adept at shifting their attention
away from the stressor, often becoming fixated on it instead.

The researchers suspect that poor attentional control,
leading to higher levels of emotional reactivity may contribute
to the development of stuttering in children who are
predisposed to the speech problem.

Conture said the findings are in line with what parents
often tell their child's doctor or speech therapist: that
emotional outbursts or excitement seem to trigger stuttering
episodes. He said parents should tell their health care
provider if they notice that their child regularly has strong
emotional reactions to everyday challenges or changes in their
daily routine.

Parents may be able to help their child by demonstrating
ways to calmly cope with stressful situations, according to
Conture. He also noted that children can have difficulty
controlling not only negative emotions, but excitement over
positive events as well; so it may not be a good idea, he said,
to tell your child about a trip to Disney World months

No one knows yet whether helping children better regulate
their emotions will aid their stuttering problems, but Conture
said the current findings "tell us this is something we should
look at."

He also emphasized that parents should not feel guilty
about any role emotional control might play in stuttering.
"There is no evidence that parents cause their children to
stutter," Conture said.

SOURCE: Journal of Communication Disorders, June 2006,