Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stuttering Doesn’t Set Kids Back

By Stephen Luntz

Preschool stuttering is associated with better language development and non-verbal skills and has no detectable effect on children’s mental health or temperament, according to a study of 1600 children followed from infancy to the age of four. Of these 11% stuttered, double the rate previously reported.

Prof Sheena Reilly, Director of Speech Pathology at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital, reported in Pediatrics that only 6.3% of children recovered from stuttering 12 months after onset, but this did not mean intervention was urgent. “Current best practice recommends waiting for 12 months before commencing treatment, unless the child is distressed, there is parental concern, or the child becomes reluctant to communicate. It may be that for many children treatment could be deferred slightly further,” says Reilly.

“Treatment is effective but is intensive and expensive. This watchful recommendation would therefore help target allocation of scarce resources to the small number of children who do not resolve and experience adverse outcomes.”

Although she admits it is possible the higher numbers of stutterers reflected a skewed sample, Reilly thinks it is more likely that other studies underestimated the true frequency by only counting cases where parents became alarmed. She also included children younger than most previous stuttering studies.

Reilly is planning future studies to discover what predicts recovery, at what age it tends to occur and the long-term influence of having stuttered as a child.