In the Stuttering and Bilingualism Lab, Assistant Professor Ai Leen Choo and her graduate students are working to better understand how stuttering – a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the flow of a person’s speech – can impact children and adults’ cognitive functioning and their experiences in schools and the workplace.
The disorder affects more than 70 million people worldwide, and those who stutter are often assumed to be less intelligent. But there aren’t any links between stuttering and intelligence but there’s a strong genetic component to the disorder, Choo said.
“Stuttering is not caused by cognitive deficits, nervousness or anxiety. People who stutter tend to have other family members who also stutter,” she explained. “It is also crucial to understand that people who stutter may have difficulties getting their words out, but their words are no less important.”
Choo’s lab, housed in the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, conducts research studies in this area in hopes of developing effective treatment strategies for people who stutter who opt for therapy.
One of the lab’s current studies focuses on how specific cognitive skills related to their speech develop in children who stutter — particularly for bilingual speakers. These same skills are also important in their ability to regulate their emotions and their academic success.
“This is crucial because children who stutter often face challenges, such as bullying and lower high school graduation rates,” Choo said. “Insights from this research can help create strategies to empower and support children who stutter within and outside the classroom.”
In spring 2024, Georgia State University will host a conference for Friends: The National Association for Young People Who Stutter, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource for children and teens who stutter. Choo along with other conference organizers are coordinating presentations, group sessions and other activities that will give children who stutter and their families a chance to connect with and support one another.
For adults who stutter, the lab team is working with researchers at California State University, East Bay to develop guidelines that workplaces can use to support their employees who stutter and create a more inclusive work environment for them.
Choo also co-authored a study, the first on this topic, with Distinguished University Professor Daphne Greenberg, Professor Hongli Li and CEHD alum Amani Talwar on the connections between stuttering and adults with low literacy. Their findings were published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities earlier this year and explore how stuttering could impact reading skills.
“It is important to emphasize that adults with low literacy who also stutter face challenges with communication on multiple fronts,” Choo said. “As such, the ultimate goal of this line of research is to develop effective instructional strategies that also addresses stuttering in this population.”
Communication sciences and disorders master’s student Kelley Ngo works with Choo in the lab and appreciates the opportunity to make a positive impact in stuttering research.
“As a Vietnamese American, I have an appreciation for bilingualism and the intricacies of language,” she said. “And I’ve always been interested in the field of stuttering. Working in the Stuttering and Bilingualism Lab allows me to merge these interests, providing a unique opportunity to contribute to research that addresses the challenges faced by bilingual individuals who stutter. Research is a step to reducing stigma, increasing awareness, advocating and educating others.”