A researcher at Michigan State University, East Lansing, is hopeful that a recent grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders will lead to the development of better treatment options for children who stutter.
Chang, PhD,CCC-SLP, assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders, will use the $1.8 million grant to conduct a five-year longitudinal study on brain development in children who stutter. She and colleagues will begin following the children’s development when they are between ages 4 and 6. The goal is to find clues that explain how stuttering differs between males and females.
“Previous studies have shown that girls are more likely to recover from childhood stuttering,” Dr. Chang said. “We know that at 2 to 4 years of age, boys and girls stutter more equally. For some reason, there’s a change that occurs when they are 4-6 years old. The girls start to recover within about two years, and often boys do not.”
She will study brain scans of the children to see whether development differs between genders to enable some to recover and others to go on to have chronic stuttering for the rest of their lives.
“This work will hopefully change the face of stuttering diagnosis and treatment,” she said. “It’s the first series of studies to identify neural reasons for early childhood stuttering and gender differences that lead to recovery or persistence of stuttering.”
Stuttering effects approximately 5 percent of children during the early stages of speech acquisition. Many children recover naturally, but some do not, leaving about 1 percent of the population with chronic developmental stuttering.
“This is a speech disorder that is notoriously difficult to treat,” Dr. Chang said. It can be debilitating for some people who might experience social or occupational rejection.
“There is a misperception that stuttering is caused by anxiety, that it is behavioral,” she stated. “In the vast majority of cases, stuttering is not due to a psychiatric condition or low IQ. We have strong evidence now that stuttering is caused by subtle neural deficits that disrupt interactions between different parts of the brain that are critical for fluid speech production.”
Her interest in the research comes from her training as a speech-language pathologist. Her doctoral and postdoctoral research allowed her to conduct brain-imaging studies using MRI on children and adults who stutter. Now she’s hoping to take stuttering research to a new level to help parents and children.
“Parents will be able to see their child’s brain growth in this study, and they will be contributing to treatment solutions for people who stutter,” she said. “We expect to learn more about the causes of this speech disorder and better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat it.”
The researchers are seeking participants for the study. Parents who decide to participate can receive payment to offset time involved and to help with transportation costs. In addition, the research team provides speech, language, hearing and IQ testing at no cost. Children will be able to take home a picture of their brain. The team will explain all procedures, including tests, risks and benefits.
Parents who have a child between the ages of 3 to 8 who stutters can obtain information about the study by calling (517) 884-2257 or (517) 432-1264.
This article posted in ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists on Dec. 1, 2010.