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Emotional factors may contribute to stuttering

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) Preschoolers who stutter may have more difficulty controlling their emotions than other children their age, a study has found -- suggesting that emotional factors contribute to the speech disorder.

Stuttering is a common speech problem that typically becomes apparent between the ages of 2 and 5 years old.

Children may repeat or draw out words or parts of words, or have difficulty beginning a word.

The exact cause of stuttering is unknown, but it probably involves a ''complex interaction'' between genes and environment, said Dr. Edward G. Conture, a professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a co-author of the new study.

Stuttering is believed to have a strong genetic component, as it often runs in families. But it has also long been suspected that emotional development may contribute to the disorder, Conture told Reuters Health.

In his team's study, published in the Journal of Communication Disorders, preschoolers who stuttered were typically more excitable than their peers with normal speech, and tended to have a harder time calming down or shifting their attention away from a stressful situation.

The findings are based on reports from parents of 65 preschoolers who stuttered and 56 children who did not. Both groups of parents completed a standardized questionnaire on child behavior.

Three general differences between the two groups emerged, Conture said. Children who stuttered showed greater emotional ''reactivity'' to everyday stresses, like having a toy taken away; it took them longer to settle down once they were excited or upset; and they were less adept at shifting their attention away from the stressor, often becoming fixated on it instead.

The researchers suspect that poor attentional control, leading to higher levels of emotional reactivity may contribute to the development of stuttering in children who are predisposed to the speech problem.

Conture said the findings are in line with what parents often tell their child's doctor or speech therapist: that emotional outbursts or excitement seem to trigger stuttering episodes. He said parents should tell their health care provider if they notice that their child regularly has strong emotional reactions to everyday challenges or changes in their daily routine.

Parents may be able to help their child by demonstrating ways to calmly cope with stressful situations, according to Conture. He also noted that children can have difficulty controlling not only negative emotions, but excitement over positive events as well; so it may not be a good idea, he said, to tell your child about a trip to Disney World months beforehand.

No one knows yet whether helping children better regulate their emotions will aid their stuttering problems, but Conture said the current findings ''tell us this is something we should look at.'' He also emphasized that parents should not feel guilty about any role emotional control might play in stuttering.

''There is no evidence that parents cause their children to stutter,'' Conture said.

Reuters SK VP0437

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