Unlocking the Secrets of Stuttering

Seeking treatments for a speech disorder.

Author | Lilli Khatibi

Photo Courtesy of Soo-Eun Chang

Soo-Eun Chang, Ph.D., moved with her family to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea, when she was a child. Although she picked up English quickly, she watched her parents struggle to speak the language. 

"It really intrigued me that absorbing it came so naturally to me, while my parents never fully acquired the language," recalls Chang. 

The experience ignited her curiosity about the development of language, which led to her undergraduate study of psychology at Seoul National University, and advanced degrees in the U.S. 

Her personal and scholarly background built a base for her current work: the study of stuttering, which fascinated her because the understanding of and treatments for the disorder remain limited. Chang, the Rosa Casco Solano-Lopez Research Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, is principal investigator and director of the Speech Neurophysiology Lab, a joint effort between Michigan Medicine and Michigan State University. Collaborating with investigators from two leading institutions puts Chang in a unique position to pave the way for advancements in the field, she says. 

"Stuttering is extremely interesting to me because it affects the most fundamental human ability: communicating through fluent speech production," says Chang, also an assistant professor of psychiatry. "It's a disorder that is quite common, but to this date, we know very little about its etiology and why some people recover from it while others persist." 

U-M alumnus and donor Matt Smith decided to make a gift to Chang's lab because of his own experience with stuttering. With his support, researchers are testing a form of noninvasive brain stimulation called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), and early successes have led to a grant to conduct clinical trials. This will be one of the first studies of stuttering that could have direct implications for intervention-related research. 

"My goal is to have our research illuminate what we could do to develop effective treatments in people who stutter," says Chang. "Our ultimate goal would be to develop novel treatments that can be applied very early on in childhood to prevent children from having a lifelong speech disorder that can have significant psychosocial consequences." 


More Articles About: stuttering Research speech neurophysiology
Featured News & Stories Minding Memory with a microphone and a shadow of a microphone on a blue background
Minding Memory
The Long-Term Care Data Cooperative: Your One Stop Shop for Nursing Home Data
In this episode, Donovan & Matt talk with health services researcher Betsy White from Brown University about a unique new resource for researchers called the Long-Term Data Cooperative, a provider-led data sharing collaboratory that puts together nursing home EHR data from EHR vendors that can be linked to Medicare claims. This powerful tool is made available to researchers through an online application process.
Health Lab Podcast in brackets with a background with a dark blue translucent layers over cells
Health Lab Podcast
A Recent Study Shows Overwhelmingly Positive Responses from Patients Years After Having Gender-Affirming Mastectomies
A study seeks to determine post surgery outcomes from patients.
illustration of an orange sun behind pale yellow clouds
Medicine at Michigan
Shamanic trance vs. psychedelics
While shamanic trances and psychedelic states share similar subjective qualities, the way they manifest in the brain is different.
Health Lab Podcast in brackets with a background with a dark blue translucent layers over cells
Health Lab Podcast
Increased Travel Barriers Make it Harder to Access Gender Affirming Care for Trans Youth
Rapid state law changes mean 1 in 4 youth now live more than 4 hours from the closest clinic that could provide medications and hormones, and 1 in 4 clinics must stop offering this service.
Health Lab Podcast in brackets with a background with a dark blue translucent layers over cells
Health Lab Podcast
Iron and Mental Health
As evidence of a link grows, people with depression, anxiety and more may want to get tested and eat iron-rich foods or take supplements.
Health Lab Podcast in brackets with a background with a dark blue translucent layers over cells
Health Lab Podcast
Health Disparities May Be Why Trans People Have a Higher Rate of Hospital Admission After Visiting ER
Researchers find higher hospital admission rates among nonbinary people, with a high proportion experiencing a chronic condition or mental illness.