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Study: Children who have a stutter in preschool do fine socially, emotionally

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27 2013 2:14 p.m. MDT

A recently released study suggests that preschool children who shutter are not negatively affected socially and emotionally.

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When parents hear their child struggle with stuttering, many may fear the negative outcomes, such as getting teased or not making friends when the child begins preschool.

However, according to a study recently published in Pediatrics, children who attend preschool with a stutter are not hindered emotionally or socially — they do just fine among their peers.

Stuttering, sometimes called stammering, is when a child has a hard time getting words out. Words and syllables are often repeated several times (e.g., "Can — can — can — I go?"), children can get stuck on a sound (e.g., "Caaaan I go?") or have speech "stoppages" or blocks. Children can start stuttering suddenly or it can happen over a period of weeks to months.

The study, based in Melbourne, Australia, examined 1,619 children from 8 months old to 4 years old. The researchers found that stuttering was relatively common among the age group with 11 percent stuttering by age 4, a figure that was higher than expected.

The children were tested on their understanding, word usage and puzzle solving skills. Researchers found that children who stutter had higher verbal and non-verbal scores and had similar temperament and social-emotional development among their peers who did not stutter.

According to Joseph Donaher, academic and research program director for the Center for Childhood Communication at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the report can help alleviate parents' worries about sending their children to preschool with a stutter.

"Reports like this help clinicians make the case that some stuttering, especially for a short period of time, doesn't mean that your child is going to be negatively impacted in the future," Donaher told USA Today. "If the same methodology was employed in different countries, we would see similar results."

"We will continue to follow the children to learn more about how many recover from stuttering with and without intervention," said Sheena Reilly, the study's lead author and director of speech pathology at the University of Melbourne. "We particularly want to be able to predict which children will continue to stutter so that we can target earlier and better intervention at those children. Understanding when anxiety, a feature commonly reported in adolescents and adults who stutter, becomes apparent is another area we will continue to research."

Although researchers do not know the exact cause of stuttering, 6.3 percent of the children tested stopped stuttering after a year — a rate lower than expected, according to the study.

Reilly recommended that parents adopt a "wait and watch" approach before beginning treatment if their child begins to stutter, noting how intensive and expensive treatment can be. Unless it becomes a great concern to the parents or the child is distressed or becomes reluctant to communicate, it is recommended to wait at least 12 months before starting treatment. Studies have shown that delaying treatment for a stutter does not compromise the efficacy.

Email: crenouard@deseretnews.com

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