Stuttering Mysteries of the Brain

Most children who develop a stutter recover on their own. So in the past, practitioners often took a wait-and-see approach to see whether the speech disorder fixed itself.

The 20% who didn’t just “grow out of it” consequently missed out on helpful therapies that could have been started early on.

Now researchers are studying the difference between the two groups. 

Two University of Delaware professors will embark on a five-year project funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the professors is Evan Usler, among that 20% whose stutter persisted. The other is assistant professor Ho Ming Chow.

Using structural and functional MRIs and EEGs, they will follow children who stutter to see how their brains react.

They will compare brain images of children whose stutter lasts just a few years to those of people who stutter into adulthood. They hope to see patterns that offer an explanation.

Pairing with the University of Michigan, data collection will begin this fall. The project won’t be starting from scratch with regard to brain imaging.

Earlier research hints at the possibility of various subgroups in children who stutter. Combined with genetic and family histories, this will provide a baseline.  

Previous studies have looked at how the brain’s left and right sides connect subcortical areas, both of which foster communication. This study focuses on neural images and pathways with the hope of getting closer to the source of stuttering in the brain.

It will also focus on the whole picture, which involves genetics and behavior analysis, as stuttering is a complex issue.

This study could also lead to earlier diagnosis and new speech therapies. Different neural subtypes may be critical to whether a child’s stutter will continue into adulthood, how severe it will be, and the best ways to treat it. 

To read more about the study and its mission, visit this article: