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Assessing and Treating Bilinguals Who Stutter: Facts for Bilingual and Monolingual SLPs

Introduction: When it comes to bilingual children who stutter there is still considerable amount of misinformation regarding the best recommendations on assessment and treatment. The aim of this article is to review best practices in assessment and treatment of bilingual children who stutter, to shed some light on this important yet highly misunderstood area in speech-language pathology.

Types of Bilingualism: Young bilingual children can be broadly divided into two categories: those who are learning several languages simultaneously from birth (simultaneous bilingual), and those who begin to learn a second language after two years of age (sequential bilingual) (De Houwer, 2009b). The language milestones for simultaneous bilinguals may be somewhat uneven but they are not that much different from those of monolingual children (De Houwer, 2009a). Namely, first words emerge between 8 and 15 months and early phrase production occurs around +/-20 months of age, with sentence production following thereafter (De Houwer, 2009b). In contrast, sequential bilinguals undergo a number of stages during which they acquire abilities in the second language, which include preproduction, early production, as well as intermediate and advanced proficiency in the second language.

Stuttering and Monolingual Children: With respect to stuttering in the monolingual children we know that there are certain risk factors associated with stuttering. These include family history (family members who stutter), age of onset (children who begin stuttering before the age of three have a greater likelihood of outgrowing stuttering), time since onset (depending on how long the child have been stuttering certain children may outgrow it), gender (research has shown that girls are more likely to outgrow stuttering than boys), presence of other speech/language factors (poor speech intelligibility, advance language skills etc.) (Stuttering Foundation: Risk Factors).  We also know that the symptoms of stuttering manifest via sound, syllable and word repetitions, sound prolongations as well as sound and word blocks. In addition to overt stuttering characteristics there could also be secondary characteristics including gaze avoidance, word substitutions, anxiety about speaking, muscle tension in the face, jaw and neck, as well as fist clenching, just to name a few.

Stuttering and Bilingual Children: So what do we currently know regarding the manifestations of stuttering in bilingual children?  Here is some information based on existing research. While some researchers believe that stuttering is more common in bilingual versus monolingual individuals, currently there is no data which supports such a hypothesis.  The distribution and severity of stuttering tend to differ from language to language and one language is typically affected more than the other (Van Borsel, Maes & Foulon, 2001). Lim and colleagues (2008) found that language dominance influences the severity but not the types of stuttering behaviors.  They also found that bilingual stutterers exhibit different stuttering characteristics in both languages such as displaying stuttering on content words in L1 and function words in L2 (less-developed language system). According to Watson & Kayser (1994) key features of ‘true’ stuttering include the presence of stuttering in both languages with accompanying self-awareness as well as secondary behaviors.   This is important to understand giving the fact that bilingual children in the process of learning another language may present with pseudo-stuttering characteristics related to word retrieval rather than true stuttering.

Assessment of Bilingual Stutterers: Now let’s talk about aspects of the assessment. Typically assessment should begin with the taking of detailed background history regarding stuttering risk factors, the extent of the child’s exposure and proficiency in each language, age of stuttering onset, the extent of stuttering in each language, as well as presence of any other concomitant concerns regarding the child’s speech and language (e.g., suspicion of language/articulation deficits etc.)  Shenker (2013) also recommends the parental use of perceptual rating scales to assess child’s proficiency in each language.

Assessment procedures, especially those for newly referred children (vs. children whose speech and language abilities were previously assessed), should include comprehensive assessments of speech and language in addition to assessment of stuttering in order to rule out any hidden concomitant deficits.  It is also important to obtain conversational and narrative samples in each language as well as reading samples when applicable.   When analyzing the samples it is very important to understand and make allowance for typical disfluencies (especially when it comes to preschool children) as well as understand the difference between true stuttering and word retrieval deficits (which pertain to linguistic difficulties), which can manifest as fillers, word phrase repetitions, as well as conversational pauses (German, 2005).

When analyzing the child’s conversational speech for dysfluencies it may be helpful to gradually increase linguistic complexity in order to determine at which level (e.g., word, phrase, etc.) dysfluencies take place (Schenker, 2013). To calculate frequency and duration of disfluencies, word-based (vs. syllable-based) counts of stuttering frequency will be more accurate across languages (Bernstein Ratner, 2004).

Finally during the assessment it is also very important to determine the family’s cultural beliefs toward stuttering since stuttering perceptions vary greatly amongst different cultures (Tellis & Tellis, 2003) and may not always be positive. For example, Waheed-Kahn (1998) found that Middle Eastern parents attempted to deal with their children’s stuttering in the following ways: prayed for change, asked them to “speak properly”, completed their sentences, changed their setting by sending them to live with a relative as well as asked them not to talk in public.  Gauging familial beliefs toward stuttering will allow clinicians to: understand parental involvement and acceptance of therapy services, select best treatment models for particular clients as well as gain knowledge of how cultural attitudes may impact treatment outcomes (Schenker, 2013).

 Image courtesy of mnsu.edu 

Treatment of Bilingual Stutterers: With respect to stuttering treatment delivery for bilingual children, research has found that treatment in one language results in spontaneous improvement in fluency in the untreated language (Rousseau, Packman, & Onslow, 2005). This is helpful for monolingual SLPs who often do not have the option of treating clients in their birth language.

For young preschool children both direct and indirect therapy approaches may be utilized.

For example, the Palin (PCI) approach for children 2-7 years of age uses play-based sessions, video feedback, and facilitated discussions to help parents support and increase their child’s fluency. Its primary focus is to modify parent–child interactions via a facilitative rather than an instructive approach by developing and reinforcing parents’ expertise via use of video feedback to set own targets and reinforce progress. In contrast, the Lidcombe Program for children 2-7 years of age is a behavioral treatment with a focus on stuttering elimination.  It is administered by the parents under the supervision of an SLP, who teaches the parents how to control the child’s stuttering with verbal response contingent stimulation (Onslow & Millard, 2012).   While the Palin PCI approach still requires further research to determine its use with bilingual children, the Lidcombe Program has been trialed in a number of studies with bilingual children and was found to be effective in both languages (Schenker, 2013).

For bilingual school-age children with persistent stuttering, it is important to focus on stuttering management vs. stuttering elimination (Reardon-Reeves & Yaruss, 2013).  Here we are looking to reduce frequency and severity of disfluencies, teach the children to successfully manage stuttering moments, as well as work on the student’s emotional attitude toward stuttering. Use of support groups for children who stutter (e.g., “FRIENDS”: http://www.friendswhostutter.org/), may also be recommended.

Depending on the student’s preferences, desires, and needs, the approaches may involve a combination of fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques.  Fluency shaping intervention focuses on increasing fluent speech through teaching methods that reduce speaking rate such as easy onsets, loose contacts, changing breathing, prolonging sounds or words, pausing, etc. The goal of fluency shaping is to “encourage spontaneous fluency where possible and controlled fluency when it is not” (Ramig & Dodge, 2004). In contrast stuttering modification therapy focuses on modifying the severity of stuttering moments as well as on reduction of fear, anxiety and avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering. Stuttering modification techniques are aimed at assisting the client “to confront the stuttering moment through implementation of pre-block, in-block, and/or post-block corrections, as well as through a change in how they perceive the stuttering experience” (Ramig & Dodge, 2004). While studies on these treatment methods are still very limited it is important to note that each technique as well as a combination of both techniques have been trialed and found successful with bilingual and even trilingual speakers (Conture & Curlee, 2007; Howell & Van Borsel, 2011).

Finally, it is very important for clinicians to account for cultural differences during treatment. This can be accomplished by carefully selecting culturally appropriate stimuli, preparing instructions which account for the parents’ language and culture, attempting to provide audio/video examples in the child’s birth language, as well as finding/creating opportunities for practicing fluency in culturally-relevant contexts and activities (Schenker, 2013).

Conclusion:  Presently, no evidence has been found that bilingualism causes stuttering. Furthermore, treatment outcomes for bilingual children appear to be comparable to those of monolingual children. Bilingual SLPs encountering bilingual children who stutter are encouraged to provide stuttering treatment in the language the child is most proficient in. Monolingual SLPs encountering bilingual children are encouraged to provide stuttering treatment in English with the expectation that the treatment will carry over into the child’s birth language. All clinicians are encouraged to involve the children’s families in the stuttering treatment as well as utilize methods and interventions that are in agreement with the family’s cultural beliefs and values, in order to create optimum treatment outcomes for bilingual children who stutter.

References:

  1. Bernstein Ratner, N. (2004). Fluency and stuttering in bilingual children. In B. Goldstein (ed.). Language Development: a focus on the Spanish-English speaker. Baltimore, MD: Brookes. (287-310).
  2. Conture, E. G., & Curlee, R. F. (2007). Stuttering and related disorders of fl uency. New York, NY: Thieme Medical Publishers.
  3. De Houwer, A. (2009a). Bilingual first language acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
  4. De Houwer, A. (2009b). Assessing lexical development in bilingual first language acquisition: What can we learn from monolingual norms? In M. Cruz-Ferreira (Ed.), Multilingual norms (pp. 279-322). Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  5. German, D.J. (2005) Word-Finding Intervention Program, Second Edition (WFIP-2)Austin Texas: Pro.Ed
  6. Howell, P & Van Borsel, , (2011). Multicultural Aspects of Fluency Disorders, Multilingual Matters, Bristol, UK.
  7. Lim, V. P. C., Rickard Liow, S. J., Lincoln, M., Chan, Y. H., & Onslow, M. (2008). Determining language dominance in English–Mandarin bilinguals: Development of a selfreport classification tool for clinical use. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 389–412.
  8. Onslow M, Millard S. (2012). Palin Parent Child Interaction and the Lidcombe Program: Clarifying some issues. Journal of Fluency Disorders37(1 ):1-8.
  9. Tellis, G. & Tellis, C. (2003). Multicultural issues in school settings. Seminars in Speech and Language, 24, 21-26.
  10. Ramig, P. R., & Dodge, D. (2004, September 08). Fluency shaping intervention: Helpful, but why it is important to know more. Retrieved from http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/ramig7.html
  11. Reardon-Reeves, N., & Yaruss, J.S. (2013). School-age Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide. McKinney, TX: Stuttering Therapy Resources, Inc.
  12. Rousseau, I., Packman, A., & Onslow, M. (2005, June). A trial of the Lidcombe Program with school age stuttering children. Paper presented at the Speech Pathology National Conference, Canberra, Australia.
  13. Shenker, R. C. (2013). Bilingual myth-busters series. When young children who stutter are also bilingual: Some thoughts about assessment and treatment. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20(1), 15-23.
  14. Stuttering Foundation website: Stuttering Risk Factors http://www.stutteringhelp.org/risk-factors
  15. Van Borsel, J. Maes, E., & Foulon, S. (2001). Stuttering and bilingualism: A review. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 26, 179-205.
  16. Waheed-Kahn, N. (1998). Fluency therapy with multilingual clients. In Healey, E. C. & Peters, H. F. M. (Eds.),Proceedings of the Second World Congress on Fluency Disorders, San Francisco, August 1822(pp. 195–199). Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Nijmegen University Press.
  17. Watson, J., & Kayser, H. (1994). Assessment of bilingual/bicultural adults who stutter. Seminars in Speech and Language, 15, 149-163.

 

 

 

 

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Why Do I Have to Tell You What’s Wrong with My Child? Or On the Importance of Targeted Assessments

A few days ago I received a phone call from a parent who was seeking a language evaluation for her child. As it is my policy with all assessments, I asked her to fill out an intake and a checklist to identify her child’s specific areas of difficulty in order to compile a comprehensive and targeted testing battery.  Her response to me was: “I’ve never heard of this before? Why do I have to tell you what’s wrong with my child? Why can’t you figure it out?” Similarly, last week, another parent has questioned: “So you can’t do the assessment without this form?” Given the above questions, and especially because May is a Better Hearing and Speech Month #BHSM, during which it is important to raise awareness about communication disorders, I want to take this time to explain to parents why performing targeted speech language assessments is SO CRUCIAL.

To begin with it is very important to understand that speech and language can be analyzed in many different ways beyond looking at pronunciation, vocabulary or listening and speaking skills.

Targeted areas within the scope of practice of pediatric school based speech language pathologists include the assessment of:

  • SPEECH
    • The child may have difficulties with pronunciation of sounds in words, stutter, clutter, have a lisp or have difficulties in the areas of voice, prosody, or resonance. For the majority of  the above difficulties completely different tests and testing procedures may be needed in order to appropriately assess the child.
  • LANGUAGE
    • Receptive Language
      • Ability to follow directions, answer questions, recall sentences, understand verbal messages, as well as comprehend orally presented text
    • Memory and Attention 
      • Also see executive function skills
    • Expressive Language
      • Vocabulary knowledge and use, formulation of words and sentences as well as production of narratives or stories
    • Problem Solving
      • Verbal reasoning and critical thinking skills are very important for successful independent decision making as well as for interpretation of academically based texts and complete assignments
    • Pragmatic Language 
      • Successful use of language for a variety of communicative purposes
        • Initiate and maintain topics, maintain conversational exchanges, request help, etc
    • Social Emotional Competence
      • Effective interpersonal negotiation skills, compromise and negotiation abilities, as well as perspective taking are integral to academic and social success. These abilities are often compromised in children with language disorders and require a thorough assessment
    • Executive Functions (EFs) 
      • These are higher level cognitive processes involved in inhibition of thought, action and emotion, which are located in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe of the brain.  
      • Major EF components include working memory, inhibitory control, planning, and set-shifting. EFs contribute to child’s ability to sustain attention, ignore distractions, and succeed in academic settings. 
  • READING DISABILITIES AND DYSLEXIA
    • Phonological Awareness
    • Reading Ability
    • Writing
    • Spelling 

One General Language Test Does Not Fit All! 

Children with speech and language disorders do not necessarily display weaknesses in all affected areas but may only display difficulties in selected few.

To illustrate, high functioning students on the autistic spectrum may have very strong academic skills related to comprehension and expression of language but may display significant social pragmatic language weaknesses, which will not be apparent on general language testing (e.g., administration of Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -5). Thus, the administration of a general language test will be contraindicated for these students as it will only show typical performance on these tests and will not qualify them for targeted language based services that they need.  However, by administering to them a testing battery composed of tests sensitive to social pragmatic language competence will highlight their areas of difficulty and result in a creation of a targeted intervention plan to improve their abilities in the affected areas. 

Similarly, children at risk for reading disabilities will not benefit from the administration of general language testing either, since their deficits may lie in the areas of sound discrimination, isolation, or blending as well as as impaired decoding ability.  So the administration of tests sensitive to phonological awareness and emergent reading ability would be much more relevant. 

This is exactly why taking an extra step and filling out a simple form will result in a much more targeted and beneficial speech language assessment for the child.  The goal of any competent professional assessment is to eliminate the administration of unnecessary and irrelevant tests and focus only on the administration of instruments directly targeting the areas of difficulty that the child presents with.  Given the fact that assessment of language covers so many broad areas, it makes perfect sense to ask parents to fill out relevant checklists/intakes as a routine part of a pre-assessment procedure.  Otherwise, even after observations in school setting, I would still just be blindly ‘fishing’ for deficits without really knowing whether I will  ‘accidentally stumble upon them’ using a general test at hand.

Of course, even checklists need to be targeted by age and areas of functioning. Here’s how I use mine. When performing comprehensive fist time assessments I ask the parent to fill out the comprehensive checklists based on the child’s age.    These are broken down as follows:

However, oftentimes when I perform reassessments or second opinion evaluations, I may ask the parent to fill out checklists pertaining to specific, known, areas of difficulty. These currently include:

After the parent fills the checklist out, the child’s areas of difficulty literally jump out from the pages. Now, all I need to do is to choose the appropriate testing instruments, which will BEST help me determine the exact nature and cause of the child’s deficits and I am all set. I administer the testing, interpret the results and write a comprehensive report detailing which therapy goals will be targeted. And this is why pre-assessment checklist administration is so important.

Helpful Resources

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Giveaway: Language Difference vs. Language Disorder: Assessment & Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual Children

Language Difference vs. Language Disorder Assessment and Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual ChildrenChild drawingToday, I am excited to introduce to you a brand new product in my bilingual/multicultural series entitled: “Language Difference vs. Language Disorder: Assessment & Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual Children“.

This 113 slide material was created to explain  how to provide effective evidence based practice assessments to bilingual children in order to differentiate English Language Learners from bilingual children with true language disorders. Continue reading Giveaway: Language Difference vs. Language Disorder: Assessment & Intervention Strategies for SLPs Working with Bilingual Children

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SPEECH LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT CHECKLIST FOR PRESCHOOL CHILDREN

Today I am excited to tell you about another product in my assessment referral series: SPEECH LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT CHECKLIST FOR PRESCHOOL CHILDREN 

I created this 9 page guide to assist speech language pathologists in the decision making process of how to select assessment instruments and prioritize assessment for preschool children. In doing that you are eliminating the administration of irrelevant tests and focusing on the administration of instruments directly targeting the areas of difficulty that the child presents with. Continue reading SPEECH LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT CHECKLIST FOR PRESCHOOL CHILDREN

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In case you missed it: The importance of targeted assessments for school aged children

Last week I did a guest post for The Simply Speech Blog. In case you missed it,  below I offer an explanation why targeted speech language assessments are so important, as well as list helpful resources that will aid you in speech language assessment preparation.

In both my hospital based job and in private practice I do a lot of testing. During staff/caregiver interviews I used to get a laundry list of both specific and non-specific problems by the parents and teachers, which did not always accurately reflect the students true deficits.  Experience quickly taught me that administering general comprehensive language testing to every student simply did not work. Oftentimes the administration of such testing revealed one of two things: Continue reading In case you missed it: The importance of targeted assessments for school aged children

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The Efficacy of the Lidcombe Program for Stuttering Preschoolers

While the prevalence of stuttering varies according to age groups (preschool, school-age, etc), the incidence of stuttering is reported to be at approximately 5%, with the onset mainly occurring during the preschool years.  Based on the above,  it is estimated that approximately 2.5% of children under 5 years of age stutter (The Stuttering Foundation).

Despite the strides made by the current stuttering research, much confusion and misconceptions exist with respect to the treatment of stuttering in preschoolers. Many clinicians still continue to recommend that the parents ignore the child’s stuttering or use indirect environment modification approaches in the hopes that the child’s stuttering goes away. Further complicating this issue is that oftentimes many preschool children DO spontaneously recover from their stuttering several months post onset.

While oftentimes, it may be prudent to wait a few months to see how the onset of stuttering progresses, waiting too long may be quite problematic.  This is especially true for those children who become increasingly frustrated with their stuttering or those who begin to develop secondary stuttering characteristics (reactions to stuttering such as gaze avoidance, facial grimaces, extraneous body movements, words avoidance, etc).

When it comes to preschool children one intervention approach which has been highly successful to date is The Lidcombe Program. Developed in Australia, the Lidcombe Program is a fluency shaping program, which is highly effective for children 2-6 years of age who stutter.

It’s goal is to eliminate stuttering.  The program focuses on behavioral feedback provided in response to a child’s fluent speech.  However, it’s not the therapist who provides the treatment but the PARENTS. The researchers who developed the program firmly believe that the intervention has to take place in natural environments, and there’s nothing natural regarding the therapist’s office!

Based on theories of operant conditioning, the premise of the program is simple: parents praise stutter free speech and request for correction of stuttered speech.  The Lidcombe focuses on raising the child’s awareness of stuttering and encourages verbal reactions to stutter free speech.

To start, child and parent/s attend therapy sessions once a week.  The therapist teaches the parents the types of verbiage to use with their child in treatment as well as  how to rate their child’s weekly stuttering incidence on a 10-point stuttering severity scale in order to obtain a percent of stuttered syllables (%SS). Parents and therapist compare severity ratings (SR) and discuss discrepancies, if any. Therapist then supervises as parent administers treatment in session. For the rest of the week parents administered treatment in structured home setting in short increments (10 to 15 minutes each) 1 to 2 times per day.  As child’s awareness improves, parents’ switch from structured to unstructured settings in an effort to initiate generalization.

For more information about whether the Lidcombe Program is right for your child, visit their website or contact the speech language professionals specializing in this approach in your area.