Giving a voice to kids with Down syndrome

February 25, 2013

Researchers from the University of Alberta are helping children with Down syndrome who stutter find their voice and speak with ease.

Stuttering is a common problem that affects almost half of all children with Down syndrome, yet despite the scope of the problem, little research exists about preferred treatment options—or even whether to treat at all. Researchers with the U of A's Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) point to a new case study that shows fluency shaping can indeed improve a child's speech.

"People who stutter, whether they have a or not, can do very well with treatment," said study co-author Jessica Harasym, a speech-language pathologist and Elks clinician with ISTAR in the Faculty of . "There is no difference between the way the child in our case study responded compared with other children and families we've worked with who don't have Down syndrome."

Co-author Marilyn Langevin, ISTAR's director of research, said there is little consensus in the community about treating stuttering for kids with co-existing disorders like Down syndrome. Their descriptive case study directly challenges the notion that children with Down syndrome should not be taught fluency skills for fear that failure could lead to frustration and damaged self-esteem.

"The difference in treating a child with Down syndrome might be using more simplified terms and slight modifications in how skills are explained, more modelling of skills—the more you show, the better," Langevin says.

In the study, Harasym and Langevin worked with an eight-year-old girl, "Sarah," whose stuttering had affected her scholastic performance and ability to speak with friends and teachers at school. Four months of treatment, including the practice of prolongation—speaking at an exaggeratedly slow rate—plus and voice management skills inside the clinic and at home, helped Sarah improve her fluency by 98.6 per cent.

"This is front-line clinical research and it is making a difference in people's lives," Langevin says, explaining that stuttering can lead to social isolation, teasing and bullying. She says helped Sarah find a way to get her words out, and helped with school work as well as interacting and making new friends.

"When there is less interference with communication, a child like Sarah can function that much better. She's functioning better with friends, she's functioning better with family, and she's able to reach her potential in a more robust way."

Langevin and colleagues at ISTAR plan to publish studies that report on treating young adults with who , as well as those with Prader–Willi syndrome and other co-existing disorders.

Explore further: Persistence of stuttering into teenage years predicted by simple model

Related Stories

Breaking bullying behavior

June 6, 2012

(Edmonton) An educational program designed to rid schools of bullying behaviour directed at students who stutter is proving effective at changing attitudes in the classroom, according to research from the University of Alberta.

Recommended for you

How can I tell if she's lying?

November 27, 2015

Sarcasm, white lies and teasing can be difficult to identify for those with certain disorders – new video inventory developed at McGill may help

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.