Stuttering treatments to go worldwide via the Internet

26 February 2010

For children and adults who stutter, the Australian Stuttering Research Centre at the Faculty of Health Sciences has been both a comfort and a mine of valuable treatment information since it first opened its doors in 1996.

And this week it was announced that the founding director Professor Mark Onslow and colleagues Associate Professors Ann Packman and Ross Menzies have been awarded a $4,775,000 National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant for research into stuttering treatments driven by information technology.

Professor Onslow was delighted with the grant and confident that it will significantly increase the treatment options of a "horrible condition" that can ruin people's lives.

Professor Onslow at the ASRC
Professor Onslow at the ASRC

"This grant will mean that around the world people who stutter will have access to treatment regardless of their socio-economic status or their location," he said.

"Stuttering is a huge public health problem, particularly at its onset with preschool children, and there are not sufficient resources to stop it. With this technology-driven treatment, we can tackle the problem worldwide."

Stuttering typically starts in 2-3-year olds and can cause a lifetime of anxiety disorders and hinder educational and vocational achievement. Recent research has shown the disorder to be far more prevalent, and more of a public health problem, than previously thought. Efficacious treatments have been developed for children and adults who stutter. However, no country can afford the health care needed for all who have this disorder.

Professor Onslow and his team, which comprises chief investigators Ross Menzies and Ann Packman, and research co-ordinator Sue O'Brien, will develop new and simpler treatments for those affected with stuttering.

"Both speech and psychological treatments for people who stutter, of all ages, will be developed for use on the web and trialled to ensure effectiveness. This will help redress the inequity of access currently experienced by many people when seeking help for this disabling condition," commented Packman.

These will be evaluated in clinical trials and subsequently in a stepped care treatment approach involving information technologies.

Associate Professor Ross Menzies also highlights the opportunities the grant provides to extend the Centre's work in relation to mental health and stuttering.

"We have discovered that the presence of any mental health problem at the beginning of speech treatment is highly associated with poor outcomes. The new program grant gives us the opportunity to develop a complementary suite of programs to address mental health aspects of the condition, and users will be able to access and use both concurrently via the Internet."

Media contact: Sarah Stock 0419 278 715 or Professor Mark Onslow 0400 001 611