New research carried out at the University of Sydney has given speech pathologists a better insight into treating bilingual children who suffer from a stutter.
Dr Isabelle Rousseau, clinical trials coordinator at the University's Australian Stuttering Research Centre (ASRC), used her bilingualism in English and French to study and treat Victor, a 7-year-old bilingual boy suffering from a severe stutter.
Victor was treated in his first language, French, and a study was set up to see whether treatment effects would carry over into the second language as effectively. It is the first time the two languages of a bilingual stutterer have been monitored simultaneously and consistently throughout treatment.
The findings were presented at the 26th World Congress of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics in Brisbane by a team of researchers from the ASRC.
"This study is particularly significant in that we monitored both languages very regularly, testing as we went. We were therefore able to conclude that both the languages improved concurrently, although no treatment was conducted in English," said Dr Rousseau.
Previous studies with bilingual children have been difficult because of the practical problem of finding a speech pathologist proficient in both languages. Normally a translator would be required, making the results harder to determine. The design the Sydney researchers used has never been applied before anywhere in the world.
The team from the ASRC, Dr Rousseau, Dr Ann Packman and Professor Mark Onslow, used the Lidcombe Program to treat Victor. The program was developed in the early 1990s by researchers at the University of Sydney and clinicians at the Stuttering Unit, Bankstown Health Service. The treatment is evidence-based and is now accepted as best practice in Australia as well as gaining recognition internationally.
"The program involves training the parent in how to carry out treatment in the home environment while attending weekly sessions with a speech pathologist," said Dr Rousseau.
"Victor suffered from quite a severe stutter, showing classic symptoms such as very short utterances and repetition and prolongations of sounds and syllables in both languages. In this case the parents came to us for around 20 one-hour sessions before we virtually eliminated the stutter in English as well as French."
The study showed that a stutter is not necessarily language specific, said Dr Rousseau, and indicates that the disorder might be more motoric or physical in nature, rather than related to the way in which we process language.
Severe stuttering can impact on the social and psychological development of a child and can restrict educational and vocational potential. Approximately 5 per cent of Australian children suffer from the condition.