Thursday, May 07, 2009

He blinded them with science, too

So we're back from our first session of the speech and language development study. As I've said here, the study is designed to examine young children who are stutterers and children who are non-stutterers.

It was a good experience, I'm happy to report, and William behaved beautifully, which is noteworthy on its own. They put him in a room and asked him a bunch of questions about a series of cards and pictures. David and I watched him through the two-way mirror and listened through the sound system. The questions started out fairly easy and progressed to become harder. He was quick to point to pictures and identify the rose, the trumpet, the mountain, the circle, the square, the panda bear, and so on. But as they asked him to point to the picture of "dissecting," I think David and I nearly fell off our stools with muffled laughter. I mean, William's smart, but you show me a three-year-old who knows what "dissecting" means. He also did not point to the correct picture when asked to identify "militia." I'm not so worried, you know? But we were very amused when they asked him to supply another word for "big" and he gleefully replied "Gigantic!"

In between "games," they asked him to chew a small wad of cotton, so they could collect saliva to test for cortisol, which is a hormone the body produces under stress.

At the end of one series of photographs, we noticed that he was clearly getting antsy because he didn't seem to be paying as close attention as he had been. But he gamely stuck with it. He did everything he was told, smiled, used his manners, and even stayed in his seat the whole time. I was so, so proud of him.

William even behaved wonderfully during the hearing tests. The head researcher coaxed him to raise his hand every time he heard a "beep!" during one test. I whispered to David that as far as I knew, he had no concept yet of raising his hand. But after a few tries, William caught on. And he completed the test with no problems.

At the end of the whole session, the researcher met with us to share the results. She praised William for being so bright and cooperative, and she commented on his good manners (which made me feel good!). David smiled and said, "Now, if we can just get him to wear underpants..."

Overall, Wiliam has very good language skills, particularly in expressive and receptive language. That was very reassuring to learn. And as it turns out, William does have one vocal tic--they call it a "disfluency"--that puts him into the category of mild-to-moderate stutterers. Who knew? Actually, we probably did. If you've ever spent any time playing with William, you may have heard him do it. He sometimes repeats one word or syllable a number of times before going on to finish his sentence. For example, he might say, "That, that, that, that, that's not where the castle people belong, Mommy." It's not that he's having trouble getting the actual word out, or that he's laboring over the word. though. He doesn't produce the halting, sort of labored sound that people who have a traditional stutter produce. But he does sometimes repeat a word, often when he's excited or is trying to talk too fast and get all his thoughts out.

However, the researcher who was heading up the study assured us that she doesn't think it's anything to worry about right now. Since he's still so young, and because he's very expressive, he may outgrow it. And it doesn't seem to be bothering him or hampering him in anyway. So we're just supposed to ignore it, and it may eventually go away on its own.

Overall, this was a fascinating experience for me. I've always been interested to watch people conduct research, and so I would have been interested even if William had not been involved. But it was fun to learn a little more about how he works, too. William's my only child, and so I have no one to compare him with. It's interesting to learn how others see him and what they are able to learn by evaluating him.

Our next session is scheduled for later this month. If anyone's interested in enrolling their children in the study, they are still accepting subjects (children ages 3 to 5). Let me know, and I'll put you in touch with the research team. Email me at larson_jennifer [at]


Aub said...

Oh wow, that is sooo interesting!!!! I wish I could have seen it!!! Speech and language reasoning and development in toddlers fascinates me!!

Jennifer Larson said...

It seriously was fascinating. I can't wait for the second session, which we have scheduled for May 18. They're going to put electrodes on William to monitor heart rate and other things while he watches snippets of movies like "The Little Mermaid" and answers questions about them.

Aub said...