09:13am Tuesday 07 July 2020

Investigating ways to help people who stutter

Developmental stuttering is a disorder that affects one in 20 children. For a significant proportion, the disorder persists into adulthood, leading to well-known vocational and social challenges, such as fear of speaking.

Dr Catherine Theys says unfortunately, for the more than 33,000 adult New Zealanders who suffer from stuttering, no cure or permanent treatment exists for their speech problems.

“The search for a cure has been hampered by our lack of understanding of the cause of stuttering, which has long been regarded as a psychological problem. This was supported by the observation that speech dysfluencies are highly variable, for example being more severe in stressful situations and seeing an absence of stuttering during singing.

“However, recent brain imaging studies have linked stuttering with abnormalities in central-neural processing. Today, it is generally accepted within the research community that stuttering is associated with differences in brain function.

“We do not know if these differences in brain function are the key components of the long searched for cause of stuttering or represent the neural changes due to many years of compensating for stuttering.

“Until now, studies on stuttering have mainly used brain imaging techniques that provide good spatial information but lack the temporal resolution necessary to detect rapid neural changes underlying speech production.

“For the first time, my study will use a combination of techniques looking at the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of stuttering.

“Adults with persistent developmental stuttering and fluent speakers will perform speech production tasks, which will allow us to detect timing differences in brain activation in people who stutter compared to fluent speakers.

“The same task will be repeated during functional magnetic resonance image scanning, resulting in data with very good spatial localisation.

“We have conducted pilot studies in healthy speakers here at UC during the previous months and hope to start recruiting people who stutter and fluent speakers soon.’’ 

Dr Theys is carrying out her research project at UC’s New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168


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