The Australian Stuttering Research Centre (ASRC) based in the Faculty of Health Sciences is leading the development of treatments for stuttering, thanks to the support of the Herbert and Valmae Freilich Research Fund.
Established in 2006, this fund supports post-treatment services for adults and adolescents. It was generously provided by Herbert and Valmae Freilich, who also instigated two Indigenous scholarships at the University, for students of law and medicine.
Stuttering is a widespread public health problem, with recent reports showing that one in 10 preschool children are affected by it. Stuttering can cause extreme frustration and anxiety around speaking, which may interfere with a person’s ability to engage in positive social interactions. More seriously, the long-term implications of stuttering can cause social phobia, a debilitating psychiatric condition involving excessive fear of humiliation and embarrassment. Adult sufferers often struggle to participate in normal occupational, social and interpersonal relationships.
The researchers at the ASRC develop and trial new stuttering treatments and train future researchers to continue the centre’s work. Its research output to date has been prolific. The majority of the world’s clinical trials of speech pathology treatment for stuttering are published by the ASRC.
The basic research conducted at the centre involves clinical trials of innovative treatments to control stuttering. Other types of research include trying to find the cause of stuttering, the mental health of those who stutter, and the effects of stuttering on young children.
The centre’s other major aim is to support those who stutter and their families, providing techniques and strategies to minimise the impact of this prevalent speech disorder in everyday life.
Head of the ASRC, Professor Mark Onslow believes that treatment can be effective. He says: “There are effective treatments for preschool age children that can stop stuttering from developing. There are also treatments for adults that can offset the speech and psychological problems associated with stuttering.”
The problem is so widespread the speech pathology profession worldwide does not have sufficient resources to offer effective treatment to all affected. To meet this challenge, ASRC researchers are focusing on modern technology to improve patient access to treatment, such as online programs that can be used by anyone in the world.