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New method for treating stuttering in children developed by NMSU professor

A new treatment approach for children who stutter called Microunits For Fluency Shaping (MuFFS) has been developed by Lynn Rodney Wood, an assistant professor of communication disorders at New Mexico State University.

tems from research conducted by Edgar Garrett, New Mexico State University professor emeritus. Garrett developed Microunits, or steps a person with errors in their speech could go through to improve how they make certain sounds. Wood has modified the Microunits to be used specifically for working with children between the ages of 4-10 who stutter.

Wood said there are two main approaches to helping a person or child who stutters. The first is fluency shaping, where the goal is to teach the person to speak without stuttering and is usually most effective on younger children. Of children who are treated with this method, about 75 percent never have problems stuttering again.

The second approach is stuttering modification. This approach is most effective with older children and adults who stutter and teaches them how to stutter better. "When they have a stuttering episode, they can work through it without getting stuck," Wood said.

MuFFS, Wood said, focuses mainly on fluency shaping and the external aspects of stuttering such as repetitions and prolongations of sounds and silent blocks, or the inability to make a sound or say a word. MuFFS also focuses on the internal aspects of stuttering, which Wood said many fluency shaping methods ignore. "Internal deals with the attitudes and feelings developed as a result of stuttering," he said.

MuFFS consists of five word-level microunits that a speech language pathologist (SLP) goes through with a child who stutters. During the first three, the child is asked to repeat a word the SLP says, identify an item in a picture and say what that item is and finally read a word and say it. The last two levels deal with sentence completion and include having the child say a word to complete a sentence the SLP constructs and then lastly the child will create his or her own sentences using a specific word.

Wood said the five microunits deal with the external problems of stuttering and at each level the child also will be able to practice activities related to the internal part of it. They will listen to words and sentences said by the SLP and indicate whether certain words were said fluently or disfluently, Wood said.

Hypothetical "case studies" of other children who stutter will be presented to the child and he or she will be able to identify what disfluencies the hypothetical child may have in their speech. Wood said this will lead to desensitization of disfluency and allows children to express some of the feelings they may have when stuttering.

Other similar methods for dealing with stuttering have been developed and used in the past, but what Wood has incorporated into MuFFS that other methods have not is the element of time. He said a normal stimulus, response and reinforcement or feedback can be spoken in three seconds, but children who stutter usually start off at nine seconds. At each microunit level, the child is required to say words in increasingly shorter time increments.

Some of the feelings and attitudes formed because of stuttering are a result of a lack of control. Adults and children who stutter do not know if what they are going to say will come out fluently or if they will have a silent block or a repetition. "We want to help children learn that by reducing the time it takes them to say these words, their sense of control will increase in a very systematic way," he said.

Wood will be presenting his research in November at the annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Chicago.

MuFFS will be used during the Special Education and Communication Disorders Department's Speech and Hearing Clinics taking place July 7-August 1 and September 2-November 25. Wood said he encourages anyone in the community who has a child they would like to participate in MuFFS to contact him at (505) 646-4313 or lrodwood@nmsu.edu. Interested individuals also may contact the Speech and Hearing Clinic at (505) 646-3906.