For those parents whose children start stuttering, they are encouraged to seek help through The Stuttering Foundation of America so they know how best to handle the situation. The earlier you can help a child who stutters, the better. A recent study shows that anxiety is not a cause of stuttering.
Bianca Phaal, a masters student in the Department of Communication Disorders, has just completed a study looking at the anxiety levels of a group of three and four-year-olds who were at the onset of stuttering and compared this with a control group of non-stuttering children.
She examined anxiety by collecting saliva samples from each child and measured the steroid levels of a substance called "cortisol". Cortisol is a hormone released during periods of heightened anxiety, and can be measured in saliva by chewing on a dental roll. She also conducted communication apprehension tests with the children and surveyed their parents, asking them to rate their children’s anxiety levels in different situations.
Working with biochemist Dr John Lewis, Bianca found no higher anxiety levels in children who stutter compared to non-stuttering children.
“There were no significant differences between the children who stutter and those who don’t according to either of the measures of anxiety or the communication apprehension measure, neither was there any relationship between stuttering severity and anxiety or communication apprehension,” Bianca said.
“Results of this study suggested that generalised anxiety and communication apprehension are not associated with early childhood stuttering, therefore it is unlikely anxiety is the root cause of stuttering.
“However, should early childhood stuttering persist, negative experiences in speaking situations could lead to the development of communication apprehension and perhaps generalised anxiety. Early intervention for stuttering may thus be crucial in preventing this development.”