Parents as Partners in Young Children's Stuttering Treatment

Re: Techniques and Praise

From: Anne Bothe
Date: 10/10/00
Time: 12:38:10 PM
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Hi, Jennifer – thanks for your questions.

What techniques were used to promote fluency after the children had been stopped – the short answer here is nothing; the stopping itself, combined with reinforcing fluent utterances, is hypothesized to be the functional variable. The research literature shows us that time-out or "punishment of stuttering" (I hesitate to use the word "punishment," because people draw all the wrong connotations out of that word, but it's the strictly correct technical term for a consequence that serves to reduce the frequency of occurrence of the consequated behavior) – okay, let's call it "correcting stutters in running speech" usually works even when the thing that stops the speaker is something completely nonverbal and with no other instructions or explanations like having a light come on for 5 seconds or having a puppet stage go dark for 10 seconds or having a tone come on for 3 seconds or whatever. So we didn't use any explicit directions to the children about how to change their speech, in part because there is plenty of previous evidence from the literature that you may not need such directions, and in part because every unnatural sounding thing you teach a speaker to do (slow down, slide in to an easy onset, whatever) just then becomes something that you have to either learn to like even though it sounds unnatural or fade back out to get back to natural sounding speech. All of which just makes things more complicated than necessary, especially for the little ones.

That said – some of the clinicians and some of the mothers in this particular study did use the words that we used as praise (mostly "smooth" or "nice and smooth" or some variation) as a prompt after a stutter – so the condition that the children were exposed to was actually the combination of being stopped plus also being prompted to continue smoothly. We are literally currently right in the middle of going back through all our tapes to see if we can find any relationships here – my general sense is that it made no difference at all.

Your other question was whether the parents praised the children for using their techniques appropriately when a stutter did occur. My answer here would be no, as far as specific "techniques," but part of what did go on was parents saying things like "There you go, that was great!" or "That was it, that's your good smooth speech!" when the children produced fluent speech when they restarted after a stutter.

Hope I'm being relatively clear here! My general sense at this point, from my work and from previous literature, is that the functional variable is just stopping immediately when a stutter starts – though I do see lots of room for hypothesizing about precisely what that means or precisely what is going on, and part of the fun of this whole area is trying to figure out precisely what is going on. Prins and Hubbard's (1988 – JSHR) review of some of these methodological complexities is still a great review – I might suggest that you could re-read that if you're interested in such complexities. Thanks for your questions.

Last changed: September 12, 2005