Approximately 5 percent of all children stutter for some period of time, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Many recover, but for those who do not, stuttering often progresses and severely impairs communication.
There is no clear predictor of who will recover from stuttering and who will not. However, two scientists in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology in the College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) are working to find one. Tim Saltuklaroglu, PhD, associate professor, and Ashley Harkrider, PhD, professor and department chair, have been awarded a two-year grant from the NIDCD, part of the National Institutes of Health, totaling $417,625 to investigate brain activity associated with stuttering.
Drs. Saltuklaroglu and Harkrider aim to identify how the brain activity of persistent stutterers differs from that of those who recover. With this information, they hope to develop a method to predict early if a child is at risk for persistent stuttering.
“We are looking at patterns of brain activity associated with stuttering,” said Dr. Saltuklaroglu, himself a lifelong stutterer. “We’re trying to find a pattern of sensory motor activity that differentiates people who stutter from those who don’t.”
Through electroencephalograms – tests that record electrical activity in the brain using metal sensors or electrodes placed on the scalp — they will first compare neural activity of adults who stutter and adults who do not. They will then measure brain activity in school-age children who stutter and those who have recovered from the disorder.
“We hope to see distinct patterns between kids who have recovered and those who have not, so that in the future we can develop a clinical test that allows us to make accurate predictions regarding the chance of spontaneous recovery in younger children,” Dr. Saltuklaroglu said.
“Early identification will allow children who are at risk for persistent stuttering to be treated in a timely fashion with the aim of minimizing the negative impact from the disorder,” Dr. Harkrider said.
The UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology is located on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The research will be conducted there in Dr. Harkrider’s Human Auditory Physiology Laboratory.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health conducts and supports research in hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech and language. For more information, visit www.nidcd.nih.gov.