The purpose of this study was to investigate the relation among speech-language dissociations, one attentional process—specifically, distractibility—and childhood stuttering. Participants included 202 monolingual, English speaking preschool-age children (3;0–5;11 years of age) who do (82 CWS; 65 males) and do not stutter (120 CWNS; 59 males). Speech-language dissociations were identified using a correlation-based statistical procedure (Bates, E., Appelbaum, Salcedo, Saygin, & Pizzamiglio, 2003), which was applied to participants’ scores on five standardized speech-language (sub)tests. Distractibility was measured by the distractibility subscale of the Behavioral Style Questionnaire (BSQ; McDevitt & Carey, 1978). Between-group analyses were conducted to determine whether: (1) more CWS exhibited speech-language dissociations than CWNS; and (2) CWS exhibited poorer distractibility scores than CWNS. Within-group correlations assessed the relation between CWS’s and CWNS’s distractibility and speech-language dissociations. Generalized linear modeling (GLM) assessed whether interactions between distractibility and speech-language dissociations predict children’s frequency of stuttered, nonstuttered, and/or total disfluencies.
Findings indicated that more preschool-age CWS exhibited speech-language dissociations than CWNS, and that more boys exhibited dissociations than girls. Additionally, CWS boys scored lower on the BSQ’s distractibility subscale—suggesting less distractibility—than CWS and CWNS girls. Furthermore, CWS’s, but not CWNS’s, distractibility scores were associated with two out of four measures of speech-language dissociations. That is, for preschool-age CWS, greater attention (i.e., being less distractible) was associated with greater frequencies of dissociations. Lastly, findings showed that interactions between distractibility and frequency of speech-language dissociations were not predictive of children’s speech fluency breakdowns (i.e., stuttered, nonstuttered, and total disfluencies). In conclusion, more preschool-age CWS—particularly boys—exhibit speech-language dissociations than their normally fluent peers, and, for CWS, there is a relation between greater attention (i.e., more non-distractibility) and speech-language dissociations. The latter finding appears to suggest that attentional processes are associated with speech-language dissociations exhibited by preschool-age CWS. However, precise understanding of this association must await future empirical study.