Special Education and Communication Disorders
Scott Schrage, July 20, 2021
Temperament could predict stuttering avoidance, inform therapy approaches
Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.
Most people who stutter eventually come to identify the sounds or words most liable to trip them up — and can often anticipate when they are about to stutter.
Those who sense an upcoming stutter can respond in any number of ways. They can carry on as planned, changing nothing and simply stuttering. They can pre-emptively modify how they say the word: slow down, take a breath, use a learned strategy. They can avoid the stuttering event all together by switching to a synonym, talking around the anticipated word, or not talking at all.
Nebraska’s Naomi Rodgers and NYU’s Eric Jackson suspected that the temperament of a person who stutters — specifically, their reactivity and self-regulation — might help predict how they respond when anticipating an upcoming moment of stuttering. So the duo administered surveys to 64 children and 54 adults who stutter.
The researchers found that children who reported higher levels of shyness, and adults who reported greater sensitivity to social-emotional cues, were each more likely to avoid moments of stuttering. In the case of the latter, every 1-point increase in sensitivity (on a 7-point scale) correlated with a 13% jump in how often the adult reportedly chose to avoid a potential stutter.
Speech-language pathologists working with especially shy children, or with adults especially sensitive to social-emotional cues, are encouraged to help clients adaptively cope with their anticipation and avoidance of stuttering. One option: desensitizing them to anticipation-based anxiety by having them stutter with purpose, for instance, or by preparing them to disclose their stuttering when meeting new people.
Tailoring therapy to clients at higher risk of avoidance could ultimately improve their psychological and social outcomes, the researchers said, by helping them talk and feel more like their authentic selves.