Our thoughts on the Australian study on preschool stuttering

As you may have already seen, the recent “big news” in the stuttering community is a new study from Australia. Below is the abstract sent to major media outlets earlier this week. It has spurred a number of misleading headlines. We have serious concerns about this abstract, the study, and how it has been cast by the media:

The Abstract (delivered to select media)

PRESCHOOLERS WHO STUTTER DO JUST FINE EMOTIONALLY AND SOCIALLY

Australian researchers found the cumulative incidence of stuttering onset by 4 years of age is 11% in a study of 1,619 Australian children.  Recovery from stuttering was low, at 6.3% twelve months after onset. Rates of recovery were higher in boys than girls, and in those who did not repeat whole words at onset than those who did. Boys were more likely to develop stuttering. The researchers were surprised to find that stuttering in the preschool years was associated with better language development and non-verbal skills, with no identifiable effect on the child’s mental health or temperament at age 4. Higher rates of stuttering most often occurred in boys, twins, and children whose mothers were college-educated. Current best practice recommends waiting until age 12 months before beginning treatment, unless the child is distressed, there is parental concern, or the child becomes reluctant to communicate.  Pediatrics Simone Myers at (03) 8341 6433 or +61 0407 852 335 or Cale Wilkinson at cale.wilkinson@mcri.edu.au or +61 0411 291 561

Full Study: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/08/20/peds.2012-3067.abstract

The Stuttering Foundation’s Concerns:

1. Much of the material in the abstract above noted as "new" has been published before, much of it in Ehud Yairi's 2005 book and in the Stuttering Foundation’s book, The Child Who Stutters: To the Pediatrician. (2005) Our vice president for many years, Dr. Dean Williams, noted that preschool children who stutter did not differ in temperament or mental health from children who did not stutter.

2.  We have long known that children with advanced language skills are more at risk for stuttering. If the authors of this study were "surprised" by this, then they must not be familiar with the literature.

3.  The 11% incidence might well be a result of the "priming effect" used to recruit the children in the study.

4. The misleading headlines surrounding this study may well harm children whose parents might otherwise seek help early on.

5. The study ends prematurely at age 4, just when one might expect to see some harmful effects from stuttering begin. The study includes 142 children who stutter but we do not know how many of these children continue to stutter and what effect it is having on them now.


For Immediate Release

Contact: Greg Wilson

gregwilsonpr@gmail.com




A Blunder from Down Under

Stuttering Foundation Warns Parents Not To Be Misled By Headlines
Surrounding Australian Study on Preschoolers’ Stuttering

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (August 26, 2013) – While the findings are interesting, the headlines topping reports about a new Australian study on preschoolers’ stuttering are creating concerns for the Stuttering Foundation.

“Headlines heralding ‘Preschoolers’ Stuttering Not Harmful’ send a mixed message to parents – one that could be troublesome for children who stutter. Our biggest concern is that parents will just see this headline, and read no further,” said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation. “For decades, we have advocated that parents should gather credible information about stuttering and seek early intervention. But these headlines seem to indicate there is little cause for concern or no immediate need to seek help. In many cases, this approach is just not acceptable.”

Fraser also discussed further concerns with the new study. “The biggest problem with the data is that it stops at age four, just when one might expect to see some harmful effects from stuttering. In addition, the study includes only 142 children. It is far too early to interpret the findings because we do not know how many of these children continued to stutter and what effects it had on them and their lives.”

For more than six decades, the Stuttering Foundation has provided guidance, support and materials to parents of children who stutter. Current, timely and accurate information for parents about children and stuttering is now available in a new 16-minute video titled, 7 Tips for Talking with the Child Who Stutters available from the Stuttering Foundation.

In the video, a group of speech-language experts talk compassionately and directly to adults about how to promote easier talking as they interact with their preschool-age children. The professionals offer simple, easy-to-do tips that parents can begin to use immediately.

“The so-called ‘wait and see’ approach, advocated by some, is an awfully bitter pill for  parents to swallow when they find their child struggling to speak,” Fraser said. “Experience tells us parents want answers immediately. What we are advocating instead is ‘click and see’ – we have a new video available for free that answers many of the most frequently asked questions by parents of preschoolers.

“Through our website, www.StutteringHelp.org, and a DVD being sent to more than 50,000 pediatricians, we have made the leading voices on preschool stuttering available to parents around the world to answer their tough questions and to offer practical strategies parents can use to support their young child’s communication skills and build confidence.”

The video features some of the world’s leading hands-on therapists working with preschool children who stutter. They include Lisa A. Scott, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, of The Florida State University’s School of Communication Science and Disorders; Ellen Kelly, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; speech-language consultants Frances Cook,MBE, MSc, MRCSLT (Hons), Cert CT (Oxford), Willie Botterill, MSc, MRCSLT, Cert CT and Elaine Kelman, MSc, MRCSLT, Cert CBT from the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children in London.

“I believe this video will make a real difference for parents who are anxious and feel helpless when their child first begins to stutter,” added Fraser. “They often think it is their fault and wonder what they have done wrong. This video should help ease their fears while focusing their efforts on doing things that will help the child right away.”

-Aug. 28, 2013

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