Children of the 90s study could help understand stuttering
Press release issued: 30 January 2007
Researchers from the University of the West of England are working on a study into children who stutter. The study, funded by the BUPA Foundation, will use data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children - also known as the Children of the 90s study, based at the University of Bristol.
Stuttering is a disabling condition that can have adverse effects on a child’s life at school and on young adults’ choice of occupations. Around 5 per cent of young children stutter, and although for some children this is a temporary situation, the problem continues in 1 per cent of adults. The main purpose of the study is to find ways of differentiating those who are at risk of persistent stuttering, from those who would stop of their own accord.
The study will use language data already collected during the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children study (ALSPAC), which has followed 14,000 children since birth in 1991/2 by means of regular questionnaires and assessments. A subset of children (the Children in Focus) has also been assessed at the crucial developmental stages of three, five and eight years old to record samples of their speech. The study focuses on children who are still stuttering at the age of eight. Researchers will build up profiles of these children, including their speech and language skills, cognitive, motor, educational and social skills, and compare them with children who showed early signs of stuttering but are no longer stuttering by eight years old.
“Stuttering is a disorder of fluency that arises in early childhood, most often during periods of rapid language development. It affects 5 per cent of children but this figure reduces to about 1 per cent by the age of nine,” said Sue Roulstone, Professor of speech and language therapy at UWE and a director of the Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit at Frenchay Hospital.
“We aim to identify which factors predict that children will recover spontaneously, so that therapists can work out which children are most likely to need early intervention, thus making the best use of resources.”
The profiles will also be compared with those of children who have never shown signs of stuttering. The importance of targeting speech and language therapy on children who would otherwise not recover is two-fold: there is evidence to show that stuttering becomes less responsive to treatment as time goes by, and there is also concern that intervening with children who would recover naturally in time could be counter-productive.
Researchers are pleased to be able to make use of speech data that has been collected from the start of the ALSPAC study.
“It has always been recognised that speech and language are important developmental markers, and problems such as delays in learning to speak may make other problems overt. It was thanks to the vision of Professor Jean Golding, founder and former scientific and executive director of ALSPAC, that speech and language data were included in the study.
“This research will take 18 months and the outcomes could be helpful to health visitors and teachers. In the past, health visitors used to screen children for speech problems, but now speech development is more subject to ongoing surveillance. We are looking at children at crucial stages of their development: at three, when children are moving from short utterances to longer communications; and at seven or eight, when they are entering key stage 2, studying the national curriculum, and making new friendships.”
Studies of speech and language development in the past have often involved only small numbers of children. ALSPAC data gives an opportunity to study a much larger group of children, to help determine which factors support a child’s fluency development and which could put the child at greater risk of stuttering.
Further informationThe project’s full title is 'Predicting persistence, resolution and outcomes of stuttering in children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)'.
The Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit (SLRTU) is an independently funded research unit directed by Dr Brian Petheram and Professor Sue Roulstone.and hosted by North Bristol NHS Trust. The BUPA project is a collaboration between UWE, SLTRU and University of Bristol, where ALSPAC is based. Stuttering specialist to the study is Rosemarie Hayhow who is based at SLTRU.