Research Article: Subtypes of stuttering determined by latent class analysis in two Swiss epidemiological surveys

Date Published: August 7, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, Laura Bechtiger, Stephanie Rodgers, Mario Müller, Wolfram Kawohl, Roland von Känel, Margot Mutsch, Wulf Rössler, Erich Seifritz, Enrique Castelao, Marie-Pierre F. Strippoli, Caroline Vandeleur, Martin Preisig, Peter Howell, Martin Sommer.


Associations between stuttering in childhood and a broad spectrum of risk factors, associated factors and comorbidities were examined in two large epidemiological studies. Subtypes of stuttering were then identified based on latent class analysis (LCA).

Data were from two representative Swiss population samples: PsyCoLaus (N = 4,874, age 35–82 years) and the ZInEP Epidemiology Survey (N = 1,500, age 20–41 years). Associations between stuttering and sociodemographic characteristics, familial aggregation, comorbidity and psychosocial risk / associated factors were investigated in both samples. LCAs were conducted on selected items from people in both samples who reported having stuttered in childhood.

Initial analyses linked early anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety disorder and overanxious disorder, to stuttering (PsyCoLaus). ADHD was associated with stuttering in both datasets. In the analyses of risk / associated factors, dysfunctional parental relationships, inter-parental violence and further childhood adversities were mutual predictors of stuttering. Moreover, comorbidities were seen with hay fever, asthma, eczema and psoriasis (PsyCoLaus). Subsequent LCA identified an unspecific group of persons who self-reported that they stuttered and a group defined by associations with psychosocial adversities (ZINEP, PsyCoLaus) and atopic diseases (PsyCoLaus).

The two subtypes of developmental stuttering have different risk / associated factors and comorbidity patterns. Most of the factors are associated with vulnerability mechanisms that occur early in life and that have also been linked with other neurodevelopmental disorders. Both psychosocial and biological factors appear to be involved in the etiopathogenesis of stuttering.

Partial Text

Stuttering is a common neurodevelopmental disorder which in most cases starts before four years of age and has a lifetime prevalence of up to 8.5% [1]. Remission occurs before teenage in about 75% of cases [2]. Studies designed to identify risk and associated factors for stuttering have examined child samples predominantly [3, 4] because this age-group has a higher chance of being affected than is the case with adult samples [5]. Research into stuttering epidemiology has two important drawbacks: 1) Comprehensive information about risk / associated factors and comorbid conditions obtained from adults and from population studies [6–8] is sparse. However, many potential vulnerabilities are only noticeable post childhood. 2) Epidemiological information has not been used in subtyping of stuttering, even though it has been used successfully to subtype other neurodevelopmental and early-onset neuropsychiatric disorders [9–12]. Clinical, linguistic and neurophysiological investigations are the predominant approaches in subtyping of stuttering [13–17]. Information about the heterogeneity of stuttering subtypes, both in terms of different outcomes and in terms of etiopathogenetic pathways, is only become available recently. For example, Neumann and colleagues [2017 #275] proposed subtypes involving two forms of acquired (psychogenic and neurogenic) and two forms of developmental (syndromal and the non-syndromal) stuttering subtypes. The non-syndromal develops in childhood without a detectable cause [18] and constitutes the commonest subtype of stuttering. This subtype needs alternative and detailed examination.

These are the first studies that identify stuttering subtypes based on a broad spectrum of risk / associated factors and comorbidities derived from LCA models. The data employed were taken from two large Swiss epidemiological surveys and the analysis design allowed a replication of findings across the studies. The ZInEP Epidemiology Survey provided insights into associations with psychosocial factors, and comorbidities with common mental disorders (Study 1), whereas the PsyCoLaus data allowed associations with infectious and somatic diseases and comorbidities with neurodevelopmental disorders to be investigated (Study 2). The results supported the notions that different subtypes of stuttering in childhood exist and that different etiopathogenetic pathways are involved in stuttering. This is a constellation which markedly, and unsurprisingly, resembles other neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders [74].

This study suggests that both psychosocial adversities in childhood and biological factors are independently associated with the risk of stuttering. These factors served to determine two classes in LCA, i.e., two subtypes of stuttering, which were replicated in both samples. One subtype, termed the cross-linked class, is associated with factors such as atopic diseases (hay fever, asthma, eczema) and psychosocial adversities in childhood. It is characterized by a range of comorbidities with other neurodevelopmental and early anxiety disorders. The other subtype, the idiopathic class, showed only sporadic associations with other variables (for example, psoriasis) and smoothed associations with few comorbid disorders. Familial aggregation was present in both subtypes.




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