Victoria Tumanova, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders in the College of Arts and Sciences, recently received a $10,000 New Investigators Research Grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The award supports new scientists who have earned their doctorate degree in communication sciences within the last decade and who are pursuing research in audiology or speech-language pathology.
Tumanova, who has been at Syracuse since 2013, focuses her research on the roles of temperament, linguistic and speech motor control abilities in the development of stuttering in young children. She received a Ph.D. in speech and hearing science in 2010 from the University of Iowa. She is also the author of several published studies looking at the behavior and speech development of young children who stutter.
In her project, titled “Effects of emotional processes on speech motor control and speech motor learning in preschool-age children who do and do not stutter,” she investigates why young children may stutter more when excited or sad and how the emotional reactivity may be associated with stuttering development during preschool years.
“Several studies have shown that children who stutter are more reactive and less able to regulate their reactivity and attention than nonstuttering children. We’re trying to uncover how these differences in emotional reactivity and regulation may affect speech production, specifically speech fluency in these children,” Tumanova says.
A&S news staff caught up with Tumanova to gain more insight into her important work.
1) What was the impetus for your research with speech motor control and preschool-age children?
Stuttering typically emerges in preschool years (between 2.5 and 4 years of age) during the time when children undergo rapid development of their speech, language, and emotional regulatory processes. It has been proposed that in speech motor control, linguistic as well as emotional processes may act together to contribute to the onset of stuttering and its progression. However, despite the possibility that emotional processes (i.e., emotional reactivity and regulation) are thought to contribute to childhood stuttering, the effects of emotion on speech motor control in young children who do and do not stutter have not been studied to date.
2) What resources are you able to benefit from during your research here at Syracuse University?
We are taking advantage of the Syracuse University Stuttering Research lab’s state-of-the-art equipment, such as an infrared motion tracking camera that allows us to track movements of the lips and jaw during speech. We also have specialized equipment to collect and analyze human psycho-physiology data (e.g., skin conductance and heart rate variability). These pieces of equipment are used to study speech motor control and autonomic nervous system response to speech in children who do and do not stutter.
3) Why is this type of research so important in regards to childhood development?
Empirical evidence from fields outside of communication sciences and disorders, such as sports psychology and music performance, points to adverse effects of stress and anxiety on skilled motor performance. Because speech is a skilled motor activity, we hypothesize that it would be affected as well. Clinically, there are numerous reports of increased disfluency in stuttering children when they experience emotional arousal, even when it is positive in nature. Thus, continued adverse effects of emotional processes may contribute to frequent disruption of speech motor control leading to more frequent stuttering in these children and greater chances for developing a persistent stuttering problem. Given the significant negative impact of this relatively frequent communication disorder it is imperative that we develop a data-based understanding of the role of emotional processes in the development of stuttering in young children. The clinical significance of this research project is in its potential to inform our assessment of risk factors for stuttering persistence, which may eventually contribute to improved intervention strategies.
4) What was your reaction to receiving this research grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association?
This is very exciting to know that your work has been recognized as promising and important. I am happy to have the resources to continue my work with children who stutter and their families.
5) How will the research grant be utilized throughout your project?
Funding supports participant recruitment and reimbursement costs, as well as pay for graduate and undergraduate students working in the lab.