About the presenter: Catherine Power writes, "I am now proud to say that I am finally a qualified Speech, Language and Hearing Therapist who stutters. I was privileged enough to study amongst the beautiful vineyards at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. My inspiration to become a Speech Therapist came from Dorvan Breitenfeldt after I participated in his intensive SSMP (Successful Stuttering Management Program) at the age of vulnerable age of 16. I always knew that I would write my final year thesis on some aspect of stuttering. When the time came, I thought that it would be interesting to carry out my thesis on my fellow students and assess their knowledge and attitudes towards this strange speech disorder, and from which I obtained some surprising results."

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Catherine Power before October 22, 2001.

Knowledge And Attitudes Of Students From Two Universities In The Western Cape Towards Stutterng

by Catherine Power
from South Africa

The purpose of this research study was to determine the knowledge and attitudes towards stuttering of third-year students studying English as a subject at two Universities in the Western Cape. A questionnaire was designed to obtain personal information from the students, their experience with people who stutter and to assess their knowledge and attitudes regarding stuttering. A total of 71 students from both the University of Cape Town (30) and Stellenbosch (41) were selected. Although they knew of a person who stuttered, they demonstrated a limited amount of knowledge regarding stuttering. Their attitudes were generally positive, however they regarded the stutterer's personality of stutterers in a negative, stereotypical manner. The results were discussed. Clinical implications and suggestions for future research were given.

To date, very little research has been conducted on the knowledge and awareness of stuttering. A recent study, however, was conducted by von Borsel, Veniers and Bouvry (1999) to determine public awareness of stuttering in Belgium. The results of this study indicated that lay people were familiar with stuttering, but their general knowledge concerning the disorder was limited. More research needs to be conducted on different population groups to determine their knowledge of stuttering.

In contrast to the limited amount of research done regarding the knowledge of stuttering, a number of studies have looked at attitudes and perceptions that people hold towards stuttering over the past 45 years. Attitudes involve the person's state of thoughts or feelings that may be positive or negative (Harber & Payton, 1988). Studies concerning the attitude and perceptions of different groups of people public have been conducted all over the world. These studies have been included teachers (Horsley & Fitzgibbon, 1987), speech pathologists (Baker, Ross & Girson, 1997), employers (Hurst & Cooper, 1983), college students (Williams & Dietrich, 1996), vocational councellors (Hurst & Cooper, 1983a, 1983b), store clerks (McDonald & Frick, 1954), parents (Crowe & Cooper, 1977,), indigenous healers (Platzky & Girson, 1993), and stutterers themselves (Watson, 1995). The results have been consistent across all the groups: their attitudes regarding stuttering are generally negative and a common stereotype concerning the personality and competency of stutterers is evident. They view stutterers as shy, withdrawn and less adequate than fluent speakers.

The attitudes of stuttering have been measured using different procedures. Some studies have looked at stereotypes of stutterers, as stereotypes are an indication of attitude. Some studies have asked respondents to list adjectives describing a hypothetical stutterer (Ruscello, Lass, Schmitt & Panbacker, 1994). Most of these adjectives described the stutterer in a negative manner. Some have used a semantic differential scale with bipolar adjectives or trait pairs (Silverman & Paynter, 1990), where the subjects had to rate a hypothetical stutterer versus a hypothetical non-stutterer on a 5-or-7 point Likert scale. Most subjects reported negative stereotyping towards the hypothetical stutterer.

Other researchers methods have used questionnaires where the subjects were required to respond to a statement on a 5-or-7 point Likert scale. These statements dealt with attitudes toward stuttering. One such questionnaire is the Clinician's Attitude Test (CAT). This test was used in a comprehensive study by Cooper and Cooper (1995) where the attitudes of clinicians were evaluated.

Both the knowledge and attitude of respondents towards stuttering have been studied together using this method. Hulit and Wirtz (1994) designed the Stuttering Inventory (SI) that included both knowledge and attitude statements in random order to make it more difficult for the respondents to determine which items tested knowledge and which items tested attitude items with statements that measure attitude.

Attitudes of students towards stuttering have also been conducted in the past. Silverman & Paynter (1990) asked 48 undergraduate students to determine whether persons who stutter are regarded are regarded as less competent as others in the same occupations. A semantic differential scale was used. Stutterers were rated as being less competent. Another study was carried out by Williams & Dietrich (1996) where college students from two Universities rated description of speech and language disorders, of which one was stuttering. Differences in attitude were noticed according to age and geographical location.

To date, no research has been conducted on the knowledge and attitudes of students in the Western Cape. Students represent a group in the population, which includes stutterers. They are at the stage in their life where they are making career decisions. They will move out into the workplace and be employed where they will be exposed to stutterers. Students are a group that are open to new knowledge.

It is also important that the general public be exposed to accurate information regarding stuttering. Education does not guarantee an improvement in attitude, but people still need to know about the true nature of stuttering, its true characteristics and the capabilities of those who stutter especially in terms of work opportunities. Nature of people's attitude to stuttering is amenable to change if exposed to the appropriate knowledge and experience regarding stuttering. Training is a significant factor that contributes to attitudes, as attitudes are learnt. Stutterers as a group find themselves exposed to stereotypes which are invalid.

The hypotheses were that:

The purpose of the study is to determine the knowledge and attitudes of students at two South African Universities towards stuttering.


Aims The two main aims of this study were:

Research Design A questionnaire was used to obtain both qualitative and quantitative information about the knowledge and attitudes that students have towards stuttering. A convenient sample of third-year English students was targeted.

Subjects Selected. Only one class consisting of 50 students from Cape Town University was able to participate in the study. In order for equal numbers of students from the two Universities to participate in the study a convenience sample of 50 students from both the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch were also selected.

Measuring Instrument: A Questionnaire:

A five-page questionnaire was designed and developed to determine the knowledge and attitudes of the third-year English students towards stuttering. The questionnaire consisted of three sections. Section A gathered personal information from the students such as the number of years they had spent at University, their age, gender, race, spoken languages, and their nationality. Section B requested information concerning the students experience with people who stutter. These were catergorised as having known a stutterer, the number of stutterers known (Hulit & Wirtz, 1994) and the type of relationship held with the stutterer (Doody, Kalinowski, Armson & Stuart,1993).

The final section, Section C of the questionnaire consisted of 50 randomised statements regarding the knowledge and attitude towards stuttering represented on a 5-point Likert scale. The students were required to answer each statement by placing a cross in the block from a choice of responses which ranged from ‘strongly agree' to ‘strongly disagree' with ‘undecided' as the middle choice.

The questionnaire contained 24 knowledge statements and 26 attitude statements. The knowledge statements indicated basic information known about stuttering, while the attitude items identified attitudes towards people who stutter and stuttering as a speech disorder. The statements chosen covered relevant information that was appropriate and relevant to the students and covered different aspects of stuttering. The researcher attempted to cover a broad range of aspects. The statements were constructed from various knowledge and attitude tests regarding stuttering. For example, Clinician Attitude Toward Stuttering (CATS) that was used by Cooper and Cooper (1985); the Parental Attitude Towards Stuttering Inventory (PATS) and the Alabama Stuttering Knowledge Test from Crowe and Cooper (1977); Bebout and Arthur's (1992) Text of Question Statements and The Test of Attitudes towards Stuttering (Ammons & Johnson, 1944). The remaining statements were added to obtain relevant information pertaining specifically to students

Analysis of Data. The information obtained in Section A, B, and C was interpreted using a frequency analysis in the form of numbers and percentages. The numbers and percentages of subjects that responded to each statement and category were presented in each table. The knowledge statements were divided into various categories according to their similarities, namely: a) The characteristics of stuttering, b) The occurrence of stuttering c) The etiology of stuttering. The attitude statements were categorised according to the following a) The stutterer's personality, b) The competencies of a stutterer and c) The nature of stuttering.


The students involved in the study consisted of a heterogeneous group. The proportions of the different races, languages spoken and countries of origin were however varied.

Most of the students in the sample knew of a person who stutters. The questionnaire that was designed did not cover all aspects and therefore needs further refinement. The results of this study cannot be generalised as the sample size is too small. The results indicated that the students displayed a limited amount of information regarding stuttering in general. The students answered many neutral responses indicating that they were unsure of the answers (Hulit & Wirtz, 1994). They knew that stuttering occurred cross-cultural and that it did not affect girls as much as boys. It was promising to note that the majority knew that a stutterer should consult a speech therapist. They were unaware of when and in which situations stuttering was likely to occur. Their knowledge of the etiology was limited. They possessed mostly positive attitudes towards stuttering, which is in contrast to previous research done. These attitudes were displayed towards the competency and sociability of stutterers. Dating and marriage were not seen as problems for the students. Thus indicates an acceptance and open mindedness of the students. They saw the stutters as being intelligent. This may be due to the fact stutterers feel that they have to prove themselves worthy. They were seen as being competent. The agreed that stutterers should be able to choose any degree they wish, even lecturing. Williams and Dietrich's (1996) study indicated that students rated stutterers as higher in ambition and motivation. Negative attitudes were however attributed to the stutterer's personality. They were seen as tense, shy and withdrawn. This stereotype seems to be consistent with previous research. The clinical implications of the study involved counseling the person whom stutterers in terms of their importance of their own attitude and its effect on the listener's reaction. Information can be shared with stutterers during therapy to show them that the public perceives them more positively than they may previously have thought. The person who stutters must be aware of their reaction. Future research indicated that reliability and validity of attitude questionnaires should be improved. Different student population groups in South Africa should also be conducted.


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You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Catherine Power before October 22, 2001.

September 6, 2001