The Neurological component surrounding stuttering has always been a big question in speech pathology. Researchers at the Sydney University have begun a study to shed some light on this debated topic. The study is looking at scanning the brains of at risk children to determine a possible cause for stuttering.
“For the first time, babies with a family history of the disorder are being scanned to see if there are changes in their brain present before they start speaking. We have a strong feeling it’s a problem with neural speech processing which means people who stutter just can’t make the muscular movements they need quickly enough to be able to talk like everyone else” Mark Onslow said.
Previous research has determined that there are changes in the parts of the brains in children and adults who stutter however whether this is a cause or effect is unknown.
“The only way to sort it out is to scan these babies who are at risk of stuttering to see if there are any of those brain problems present at birth.”
The study will compare 20 babies with a family history of stuttering and 20 babies with no family history of stuttering to see if any differences are present from birth.
“Associate Professor Jim Lagopoulos, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute, said this was the first research in the field of stuttering to examine children’s brains from birth. The scanning of newborns is a safe and well established practice that will lead us to new understanding about what causes this disorder, he said.”
The first baby to partake in the study, Seventeen-week-old Levi Crellin has had an MRI looking at the parts of his brain controlling his speech. Levi was chosen as his sister Zoe had a severe stutter which went away initially but return far worse than the first time and got to a point where she would give up speaking and turned to gesturing instead. Zoe has since received treatment with the Lidcombe Program developed at the University of Sydney and after eight months of treatment she no longer stutters at all.
Stuttering is much more common than many people realise, affecting one-in-nine children aged less than four years with 70% of people who stutter having a family history of stuttering.
“Ms Crellin said she was happy for Levi to take part in the unique study.We would love to know if Levi has something [that] indicates he may be a stutterer so we can jump on it as soon as it occurs, she said.”
Whether these brain changes are present at birth in high-risk babies would have a massive impact on the diagnosis and treatment for stuttering. The research aims to follow these infants in the study as they through till 6 years of age to see which babies will go on to develop a stutter.
“It will give us an answer to the question that parents ask when kids begin to stutter, why has this happened to my child?” Professor Onslow said.”