There is a significant gap in the knowledge base concerning the role of cognitive-linguistic processes in developmental stuttering. It is critical t close this gap because doing so will lead to a more thorough understanding of the nature and etiology of the disorder, a prerequisite for advancing the treatment of childhood stuttering. Thus, the long-term goal of the proposed research is to determine the role of cognitive- linguistic processes in developmental stuttering. The objective of this application is to determine the nature and extent to which the domain-general processes of executive function and attention contribute to developmental stuttering and how these processes interact with spoken language processing. The central hypothesis is that preschool children who stutter, when compared to their typically-developing peers, exhibit weaknesses in the domain-general components of executive function and attention, and that these weaknesses interact with spoken language processes to negatively impact the fluency of speech production. This hypothesis is based on preliminary data obtained from the investigator's laboratory and elsewhere. The rationale for the proposed research is that a thorough understanding of the underlying nature of stuttering will set the stage for subsequent research to develop new individualized treatment approaches that will significantly improve the lives of children who stutter. The central hypothesis will be tested in three specific aims: (1) Identify the role of central executive functions (inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility) in developmental stuttering;(2) Determine the role of aspects of attention in developmental stuttering;and (3) Determine how semantic and phonological spoken word processes interact with executive function and attention in developmental stuttering. For each aim, novel adaptations of well-grounded empirical methods from developmental cognitive psychology will be used to test the central hypothesis. The approach is innovative because these methods have never before been applied to the study of developmental stuttering in a contemporaneous cohort of preschool children who stutter. The proposed research is significant because it will provide an explanatory framework for better understanding the role of multiple factors in developmental stuttering and contribute to models of domain-general processes in typical development. This knowledge will ultimately lead to the development of more effective, innovative approaches for treating childhood stuttering.
Developmental stuttering is a poorly understood communication disorder that can have a deleterious effect on the quality of life of those who struggle with the disorder. The proposed research is relevant to public health because it focuses on advancing our understanding of the underlying nature and etiology of developmental stuttering, which is essential to the development of novel approaches for treating the disorder. Thus, the proposed research is relevant to NIDCD's mission because it will contribute new knowledge that will improve the lives of individuals who stutter.