MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Preschoolers who stutter
typically do not suffer emotional or social problems because of it,
and even tend to have stronger language skills than their peers, a
new study suggests.
Researchers said the findings offer reassurance to parents, but
also stressed that the study looked at averages. So, some young
children who stutter may have emotional difficulties, such as being
shy or withdrawn.
"Speech pathologists who treat young children who stutter certainly see evidence of those behaviors," said lead researcher Sheena Reilly, of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Victoria, Australia.
But when you look at young kids in the wider community, such
negative effects may not be the "norm" -- at least in the short
term, Reilly's team reports online Aug. 26 and in the September
print issue of
The study included 1,619 children from Melbourne, Australia, who
were followed starting in infancy. By age 4 years, 11 percent had
developed stuttering. Based on standard questionnaires given to the
parents, those children were faring as well as their peers when it
came to emotional and social development.
What's more, they had higher average scores on measures of
vocabulary and other language skills.
That finding is not surprising, according to a speech-language
pathologist who was not involved in the study.
There is evidence that children with stuttering may be
"linguistically precocious," said Heather Grossman, clinical
director of the American Institute for Stuttering in New York.
The theory is that for some preschoolers, the brain's language
capacity is more developed than the "motor system" that allows them
to physically speak. "In other words, the motor system cannot keep
up with the cognitive system," Grossman said. And that may lead to
Stuttering is most common in children aged 2 to 5, and it
usually clears up; only 1 percent or less of adults continue to
stutter, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The question is, which kids need speech therapy to help them get
past the issue?
"Many cases of stuttering onset are mild, and we recommend 'watchful waiting' for a year as a reasonable approach," Reilly said.
However, it's likely to take more than a year, based on her
team's findings. Of the 142 preschoolers who developed stuttering,
only 6 percent saw it go away within a year.
Reilly said researchers still need to figure out how long
stuttering "recovery" typically takes.
There are certain factors that experts have found to be
important: Girls, for instance, are more likely than boys to
outgrow it on their own, Grossman said. Once kids get to the ages
of 6 or 7, the number of boys who stutter is a few times higher
than the number of girls -- for reasons that are unclear.
Grossman said she wouldn't want parents to interpret the new
findings as an indicator that stuttering is no problem for
"There are some children who even at this young age do have these (emotional or social) issues," she said. And, if the stuttering does not improve, they could develop more problems when they are older and in school.
Reilly agreed that is a possibility. "This is something we now
want to investigate as we follow the children up into the school
years," she said.
And both she and Grossman said parents shouldn't hesitate to
talk to their pediatrician or a speech pathologist if they are
worried about their child's stuttering.
In the United States, Grossman said, speech-language therapy is
widely available, though parents would want to make sure the speech
pathologist has expertise in managing stuttering.
The number of therapy sessions, and the cost, would vary based
on where you live and the severity of your child's stuttering,
according to the Stuttering Foundation. But the charges generally
range from $50 to $125 an hour, which insurance may or may not
Once kids are in school, though, they may be eligible for free
evaluation and therapy through their school district, according to
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