Temperament and the Impact of Stuttering in Children Aged 8-14 Years

By Kurt Eggers, Elaine Kelman, and Sharon Millard

Stuttering can be associated with increased anxiety, reduced confidence communicating and negative self-perceptions. However, how stuttering develops and the impact that it has on an individual varies hugely, with some people experiencing significant consequences, while others barely affected on a day-to-day basis. The factors that contribute to stuttering impact are likely to be multiple and complex in their interaction, but by identifying what these factors might be, we hope to be able to identify those children who are in most need of support.  Further, if we understand these influencing factors we can modify our current therapies, or develop new therapies, so they more closely meet the needs of the individual.

A person’s temperament is one factor that may influence their experience, reactions and management of stuttering. Temperament explains our tendencies to react to stimuli in particular ways and the ability to regulate these reactions. Temperament is defined as “constitutionally based individual difference in reactivity and self-regulation.” It is genetically determined and relatively stable over the lifespan, influencing how we experience and interact with our environment (Rothbart et al., 2000; Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Reactivity refers to the arousability of physiological and sensory response systems, while self-regulation is made up of the processes that can facilitate or inhibit reactivity. One might expect that experiencing emotions more intensely and more frequently would yield higher scores on assessments measuring emotional reactions to stuttering and quality of life, while children’s attentional self-regulation predicts more active coping strategies such as direct problem solving, seeking understanding and positive cognitive restructuring.

Studies so far have largely focused on exploring the relationship between stuttering severity and temperament and have been either solely focused on, or have included, preschool children. However, we know that for many preschool children the experience of stuttering will be transient, and the negative impact on children’s attitude to communication increases with age. Understanding the relationship between temperament and stuttering in school-aged children who have persisted with stuttering has yet to be fully explored.

This study, which has just been accepted for publication in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, sought to understand the relationship between temperament and the impact of stuttering in school aged children who stutter. The study was carried out at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering in London in collaboration with Dr Kurt Eggers. Data from 123 children were included. Each child completed a temperament questionnaire (The EATQ-R) and the Overall Assessment of the Speaker’s Experience of Stuttering (OASES-S/T). A measure of stuttering severity was also carried out.

In contrast with some other studies, the results did not show a relationship between stuttering severity and temperament. However, the impact of stuttering was significantly greater for children with higher levels of irritability and frustration, and for those who are more shy/fearful. This is probably not surprising given that irritability and frustration are emotions often reported in relation to stuttering, and the behaviors that children adopt to avoid speaking are consistent with being shy/fearful. It is important to note that these results do not show the direction of the relationship, i.e., whether increased shyness leads to greater impact of stuttering or vice versa, so more research is needed. But these findings do suggest that children with particular temperaments could be considered at greater risk for higher levels of negative stuttering impact. There are a number of resources at www.stutteringhelp.org which provide ideas for supporting children’s emotional development and well-being and for considering temperament within therapy.

Kurt Eggers, Ph.D., Thomas More University College, University of Turku

Elaine Kelman, MSc, Cert, MRCSLT, of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering in London

Sharon Millard PhD, MRCSLT, Reg HCPC, Research Lead and Clinical Lead Speech and Language Therapist, of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering in London

Acknowledgements: The team at the Michael Palin Centre would like to thank Action for Stammering Children for supporting this study. We are continuing to explore the nature of stuttering in childhood along with therapy for children who stutter and their families. We are grateful to the Stuttering Foundation for their continued partnership in our work.

From the Winter 2021 Magazine