New Mexico State University professor hopes to find
appropriate therapies for stuttering in ‘spit’
Writer: Donyelle Kesler
A number of therapies are used to help children and adults who stutter. But, who would guess that the trick to figuring out which therapeutic options will work best for each individual can be found in their spit? One New Mexico State University professor may be able to learn how while conducting her S.P.I.T. lab.
S.P.I.T., an acronym for Stress Profiles for Individualized Therapeutics, is a lab being put together by College of Education Special Education and Communication Disorders Assistant Professor Aishah Ortega. Ortega, who is continuing the dissertation and research she began at the University of Illinois, will actually be studying spit in her lab by testing the saliva of participants who stutter to find how stressors respond to various communication demands.
Ortega said salivary sampling for stress hormones and other biomarkers can provide a comprehensive analysis of the body’s ways of reacting to environmental stressors. The purpose of her lab would provide much-needed information on how individuals with various communication disorders respond to stressors.
“A quantifiable analysis of the body’s reactivity to various stressors is especially interesting for communication disorders known to fluctuate in severity when the individual becomes stressed or anxious,” Ortega said. “The ability to characterize an individual as a high or low reactor to stress may guide therapeutic options to better serve the needs of each client.”
Ortega takes samples by having participants, both those who do and do not stutter, hold a swab under their tongue until the swab is saturated. These samples are used to measure levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, two important stress biomarkers.
The samples are done four times a day for three consecutive days. Two tests are administered in the morning, upon awakening and 30 minutes later, when cortisol levels are higher, and twice more, between 4 and 6 p.m. and 8 and 10 p.m., when there is an increase in alpha-amylase. Completed samples are then frozen and shipped to Salimetrics Laboratory in State College, Pa., where the lab work is currently being done.
Ortega says the initial results from these tests have shown that in comparison to other children, those with a history of stuttering exhibited mean cortisol and alpha-amylase levels that were significantly lower.
“This investigation set out to explore the relation stuttering and stress seems to have by characterizing children who stutter using a comprehensive physiological measure of reactivity. If psychological reactivity measures are paired with individual’s self-reported perceptions, investigators may be better able to characterize the complex relation stress, anxiety and stuttering is believed to have,” Ortega said.
Ortega is currently preparing her research for human subjects approval on the NMSU campus and in the spring hopes to begin recruiting participants. While her past studies have focused on children who stutter, she says that this noninvasive sampling technique would be applicable for a variety of communication disorders. Ortega also hopes to include graduate students in the project if funding allows.
“If particular reactivity profiles prove to be strong indicators of stuttering maintenance, this information could assist service providers in selecting appropriate treatment options for clients based on their individual profile,” Ortega said.