UI student starts speech intervention program for preschoolers

BY EVAN HAFNER | MARCH 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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With the goal of curbing stuttering at an early age, Bryan Brown, a graduate student in the University of Iowa Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, developed an early intervention speech therapy method and has directed his outreach to pre-school children and their parents. 

Research shows that early intervention increases the chances for recovery. As a functioning disorder, stuttering includes many different factors — family, age, time since onset, sex, etc. — that require attention in their early stages.

Brown said he hopes to teach parents to nurture their children’s disorders in a more naturalistic setting. That is, he wants to give parents the perspective and tools used by professional speech therapists in order to ensure continual treatment outside of the program.

“I am not a parent, but raising children is hard, and I want to give children and their families the best opportunities for success,” Brown said.

Stuttering affects approximately 1 percent of the population of the United States, nearly 3 million Americans. Between 75 to 80 percent of children who begin stuttering will recover within 12 to 24 months, but the longer that the disorder exists, the likelihood of outgrowing stuttering becomes less probable.

“My affiliates and I have been doing a lot of therapy with people who have stuttering issues,” Professor Patricia Zebrowski said. “Through the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic, we have been able to develop a number of programs that deal with stuttering.”

Beginning in June at the Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic, Brown’s program will consist of weekly meetings for preschool children who stutter and their parents. Speech pathologists will work with parents on how to best understand stuttering and support their children at home.

The program will also include sessions of speech therapy for the children. In turn, Brown hopes to reach an age demographic in which he believes does not receive enough attention.

“It is difficult to receive this type of service at that early of an age,” Brown said. “Many preschool kids may never qualify for this type of treatment, but this project aims to help increase access to this therapy.”

Although many preschool children may outgrow the problem of stuttering without any form of clinical treatment, stuttering still progresses into a chronic disorder in many cases.

“When it comes to developmental communication disorders such as stuttering, the earlier we intervene, the better the outcome,” said Karla McGregor, a UI professor of communication sciences and disorders.

Catching the problem of stuttering through early intervention can prevent the many problems that the disorder may pose to an individual. Stuttering can negatively affect people’s self-esteem, alter their identities, induce guilt and depression, and ultimately interfere with the common activities of daily living.

“Speech is a basic task,” Brown said. “… We define ourselves partially by the way that we communicate with others. Because of stuttering, individuals are then perceived as different.”

The Communication Sciences and Disorders Department aims to eliminate the difference with its speech therapy clinics and current stuttering programs.

UI SPEAKS has proven the success of such clinics; it has grown steadily since its start in 2006. Consisting of both individual and group therapy, UI SPEAKS utilizes certified clinicians who personally work with children and their families. Children ages 8 to 12 are encouraged into an environment in which they can communicate with other children who also stutter and most importantly be themselves.

Brown hopes to model his project around the same goal as UI SPEAKS while reaching out to a different age group. Brown will also use an early intervention method that will only be available through his program.

“We want to maximize the chance for unassisted recovery,” he said. “… It is not feasible for a psychologist to spend every minute with a child, so we want to promote the awareness that stuttering is not a bad thing. We want to shape the interactions of families that have to deal with this disorder in a positive way. The earlier we start this therapy, the more opportunity for recovery.”

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