An Australian method of combating stuttering which is largely dependent on parental involvement has proved to be effective and long-lasting.
The Lidcombe Programme, which is aimed at children aged three to five, also requires just over 10 hours of the therapist's time on average. This is about one-tenth of the commitment needed for comparative adult treatment.
Parents taking part in the programme are encouraged to praise their children's correct speech and ask for immediate correction of stuttering.
A typical exchange would be: Child: "Mummmy, that's a b-i-i-i-i-g doggy. "
Parent: "Whoops, that was a bumpy word (stutter) there. Try it again."
Child: "A big doggy."
Parent: "Very good, no bumpy words! Say it again!" Dr Mark Onslow, of Sydney University, explained that the programme's therapists study tape-recordings of such exchanges and adjust their strategy to meet the needs of individual children.
For example, if a child reacts negatively to comments about stuttered speech the therapist will suggest that the parent dispense with correction for a set period and only use reinforcement of stutter-free speech.
Dr Onslow said that treatment of children aged under five was continued until they were stutt-ering over less than 1 per cent of syllables.
One group of 12 children were monitored for a year and it was established that stuttering had been almost eradicated after the treatment had finished, even though some of the youngsters had stuttered over more than 20 per cent of syllables before joining the programme.
The improvement in a second group of 43 children was almost as dramatic and the stuttered-syllable target of less than 1 per cent was maintained in all speaking situations over three to seven years.
No relapses were found.