Before Diagnosing Stuttering In Children, Consider Their Multilingual Households

To understand stuttering, experts usually rely on data from children who speak one language. Researchers advocate rethinking that approach to account for kids who are multilingual.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 24, 2019 4:01 pm,

A new joint research study from Texas State University and the University of Texas at Dallas analyzed the components that contribute to stuttering issues for kids and adults. The findings suggest that a previously overlooked factor might be at play: children who grow up in multilingual backgrounds might be misdiagnosed.

Dr. Farzan Irani is an associate professor in Texas State University’s Department of Communication Disorders who coauthored the study.

“When we go in to assess a child, what we base our assessment on a lot of the times is standardized on the speech and fluency development in children who are monolingual English speakers,” Irani says.

Irani says discrepancies in assessments happen because most of the data collected on children who stutter does not include those who grow up with more than one language.

“Children who are exposed to two or more languages, so bilingual or multilingual children, may experience likely higher amounts of disfluency than a monolingual English speaking child,” Irani says. “There’s a lot of anecdotal data, but there is very little empirical data confirming whether it is true that bilingual children will experience more disfluencies during development or not.”

Irani says children who learn multiple languages at the same age as monolingual English speakers have to mentally sort through a broader database when looking for words.

“There’s competing resources in the brain,” Irani says. “As a result, this child who is learning multiple languages, whether at the same time or sequentially one after the other, has a less resources allocated to each language. The child may experience difficulty with word finding one language in certain social situations, and that may cause more disfluencies.”

In order to understand how language and fluency develop in children, Irani’s ongoingresearch will focus on mapping what disfluencies looks like in data coming from children that specialists wouldn’t diagnose with stuttering.

“The next step in our process would be to seek out children suspected of stuttering, do a more holistic interview with the parents and a more holistic assessment of the speech and language skills,” Irani says. “Then begin to map what stuttering looks like and what should be a basis for diagnosing a child with stuttering, or not, who is bilingual or growing in a multilingual environment.”


Written by Antonio Cueto.