Researchers have for the first time found that children who stammer have difficulty perceiving a beat in music-like rhythms which could account for their halting speech patterns. The findings have implications for treating stuttering, which affects 70 million people worldwide.
"Stuttering or stammering has primarily been interpreted as a speech motor difficulty, but this is the first study that shows it's related to a rhythm perception deficit -- in other words, the ability to perceive and keep a beat," said Devin McAuley, professor of psychology at Michigan State University and co-author.
"That's important because it identifies potential interventions which might focus on improving beat perception in children who stutter, which then might translate to improved fluency in speech," McAuley noted.
Being able to perceive and maintain a beat is believed to be critical for normal speech because it serves as a pacing signal.
Speech fluency improves dramatically for adults who stutter when speaking in time with a metronome.
The team tested a group of children, who stuttered and a group who didn't by having them listen to and then identify rhythmic drumbeats in the context of a computer game.
Even after taking into account the kids' IQs and language abilities, the study found that children who stuttered did much worse at judging whether two rhythms were the same or different.
The study appeared online in the journal Brain & Language.