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New stuttering screening test

A screening test for children starting school that could accurately detect early signs of a persistent stutter is a step closer, experts say.

The Wellcome Trust team says a specific speech test accurately predicts whose stutter will persist into their teens. About one in 20 develops a stutter before age five - but just one in 100 stutter as a teen and identifying these children has so far been difficult. Campaigners said it was key for children to be diagnosed early.

Stuttering tends to start at about three years old. Four out of five will recover without intervention, often within a couple of years. But for one in five, their stutter will persist and early therapy can be of significant benefit.

The researchers, based at University College London, used a test developed in the US called SSI-3 (stuttering severity instrument). They found that the SSI-3 test was a reliable indicator of who would still have a stutter and who would recover - while other indicators such as family history, which have been used, were less so.
It showed the test was highly sensitive and specific in classifying those with a stutter who would recover, those whose stammer would persist and those who were "fluent" - had no communication difficulties.

Prof Peter Howell, who led the research, said: "If we can identify children at risk of stuttering, then we can offer appropriate interventions to help them early on. Primary school is a key time in a child's development and any help in tackling potential communication problems could make a big difference to the child's life."

Norbert Lieckfeldt, chief executive of the British Stammering Association, said: "The crucial thing about this research is that it seems to be able to be accurately predict which children will have a persistent stammer. That would be a huge step forward."

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