Problem statement: Although more than 100 000 people of the Belgian population stutter, this complex speech disorder is little studied at academic level in our country. However, stuttering has an adverse impact on different aspects of life and can lead to functional problems in communication, a reduced ability to achieve goals in life and a lower quality of life. Moreover, the majority of international studies on treatment effects focuses on changes in the observable characteristics of stuttering and significantly fewer studies study the wider impact of stuttering. The observable stutter behavior is however only the tip of the iceberg. The internal stuttering behavior, such as anxiety and cognitive disorders, makes someone a stutterer. In short, a niche within the research field that requires urgent attention.
Research questions: In this study we want to unravel the complex interplay between internal and external influencing factors of stuttering, thereby focusing primarily on the relationship between stutter severity and self-esteem. Adolescence is characterized by a strong self-awareness and is therefore by far the most interesting period in life to examine this relationship. Firstly, a longitudinal study design will provide more insight in the association in evolution in stutter severity and self-esteem in adolescence. Subsequently, we will examine mediating internal processes of the relation between stutter severity and self-esteem, using negative communication attitudes, maladaptive perfectionism, and temperamental characteristics. The most unique input of this study is the inclusion of mediating social factors, namely the teacher-student relationship and the peer group status of a stuttering student. After all, adolescence is accompanied by an increasing reliance on peers and a corresponding increase in striving for independence from adults. Finally, we will take into account the influence of teacher's negative attitudes towards stuttering on the teacher's relationship with stuttering adolescents.
Innovative research: This research builds on an earlier innovative, explorative study conducted by one of the members of the research team. However, this study adds several new elements. To date, the association in evolution between stuttering severity and self-esteem as a multidimensional concept is not yet explored using a longitudinal study. Moreover, the role of temperament and social factors as mediating factors are not yet been investigated. Certainly the study of the impact of peer and teacher relationships of stuttering adolescents on their self-esteem is a new and promising study angle.
Added value and gain of the study: To answer these various research questions a multidisciplinary collaboration between ENT doctors within the Faculty of Medicine and the educators and school psychologists from the Institute of Education and Information Sciences is essential. This unique cooperation will not only provide new insights in the theory of stuttering, but will undoubtedly yield new treatment targets. For educational practice, this cooperation will lead to concrete guidelines for teachers to better cope with stuttering students, providing a care policy customised to individual pupils within the current educational context in which teachers are the primary caregivers.