Cathy Payne, USA TODAY
Stuttering is common among preschoolers, but it is not likely to have a negative impact on their temperament, a new study suggests.
The study, published online Monday in Pediatrics, found little evidence of harm from stuttering on preschoolers' social and emotional development.
The fact that the children who stutter were not more withdrawn than their peers who don't stutter was a "very positive finding," says Sheena Reilly, the study's lead author.
Stuttering, sometimes called stammering, often includes repetition of words or phrases as well as prolongation of sounds. Some people can outgrow the speech disorder, which often begins in early childhood. It can persist into adulthood for others.
The study included 1,619 4-year-old children in Melbourne, Australia. They were recruited at 8 months.
The study found that the children who stutter had higher verbal and non-verbal scores than their peers who don't stutter. Tests looked at what the kids understand, what they say and how they solve a puzzle.
The proportion of kids in this group who began stuttering by age 4 was 11%, an amount higher than reported in previous studies. Recovery from stuttering within 12 months of onset was 6.3%, a rate lower than expected, according to the study.
Reilly, associate director of clinical and public health research at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia, says researchers will continue to follow this group of children to learn more about their recovery from stuttering.
Joseph Donaher, academic and research program director for the Center for Childhood Communication at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says the finding about stuttering's impact may help allay parents' worries. "Reports like this help clinicians make the case that some stuttering, especially for a short period of time, doesn't mean that your child is going to be negatively impacted in the future."
The Australian study has implications for the USA, says Donaher, a specialist in speech fluency disorders. "If the same methodology was employed in different countries, we would see similar results."
Parents who are concerned that their child may stutter should increase their understanding of the disorder, seek support and consult with a speech-language pathologist, he says.
Reilly says parents "can be reassured that developmental stuttering is not associated with a range of poorer outcomes in the preschool years."