Language and motor abilities of preschool children who stutter: Evidence from behavioral and kinematic indices of nonword repetition performance

Anne Smith, Lisa Goffman, Jayanthi Sasisekaran, Christine Weber-Fox

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68 Scopus citations


Stuttering is a disorder of speech production that typically arises in the preschool years, and many accounts of its onset and development implicate language and motor processes as critical underlying factors. There have, however, been very few studies of speech motor control processes in preschool children who stutter. Hearing novel nonwords and reproducing them engages multiple neural networks, including those involved in phonological analysis and storage and speech motor programming and execution. We used this task to explore speech motor and language abilities of 31 children aged 4-5. years who were diagnosed as stuttering. We also used sensitive and specific standardized tests of speech and language abilities to determine which of the children who stutter had concomitant language and/or phonological disorders. Approximately half of our sample of stuttering children had language and/or phonological disorders. As previous investigations would suggest, the stuttering children with concomitant language or speech sound disorders produced significantly more errors on the nonword repetition task compared to typically developing children. In contrast, the children who were diagnosed as stuttering, but who had normal speech sound and language abilities, performed the nonword repetition task with equal accuracy compared to their normally fluent peers. Analyses of interarticulator motions during accurate and fluent productions of the nonwords revealed that the children who stutter (without concomitant disorders) showed higher variability in oral motor coordination indices. These results provide new evidence that preschool children diagnosed as stuttering lag their typically developing peers in maturation of speech motor control processes.Educational objectives: The reader will be able to: (a) discuss why performance on nonword repetition tasks has been investigated in children who stutter; (b) discuss why children who stutter in the current study had a higher incidence of concomitant language deficits compared to several other studies; (c) describe how performance differed on a nonword repetition test between children who stutter who do and do not have concomitant speech or language deficits; (d) make a general statement about speech motor control for nonword production in children who stutter compared to controls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-358
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Fluency Disorders
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Grant DC00559 from the NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders . We thank Barbara Brown and Janna Berlin for their work on subject recruitment and testing and data analysis. We also thank Tricia Zebrowski and her team at the University of Iowa for their role in data collection.


  • Language and motor interactions
  • Nonword repetition task
  • Pre-school children who stutter
  • Speech motor processes
  • Stuttering


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