Saturday, May 24, 2008

Anne Foundas' talk at Paris

Anne Foundas, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, gave the first talk after the morning tea break (with free French patisserie) at Paris. I had never met her before, but she is well-known for her pioneering research on the anatomy of the stuttering brain. She was one of the first to report anatomical anomalies using MRI, though apparently the early MRI studies on brain anatomy were quite delicate to do. She is also quite interested in handedness. Check out her web page: here, and a recent article.

Her talk was different to the other talks in that she had a more systematic, top-down, and conceptual approach. She talked about the different types of possible models: anatomical, functional, and timing. She also mentioned a two-factor model of stuttering mentioned in (Buechel and Sommer 2004). This framework is a bit similar to what I had in mind when I wrote about stuttering being a two phase disorder: see here. She also made a distinction between local and global anomalies, and wondered which combination is leading to stuttering. Many people have abnormal brains but not automatically abnormal functionality, and many disorders show similar abnormalities. Interestingly, they are still looking for a left-handed female stutterer, and they just cannot find one. Is it a real effect (i.e. left-handed women are much less like to stutter?) or is it just statistics? Here is my calculation: of all stutterers, 20% are female (1 in 5), and 10% of the population is left-handed, so 2% of the stuttering population should be female and left-handed assuming no gender effect. Lets imagine they asked N stutterers, they should find 0.02*N. I guess they asked a few 100, so there should have been a couple of them. So if you are female and left-handed, post a comment! She also talked about their belief of possible sub-types with the main deficit in either 1) auditory processing-linguistic and sensory processing, 2) motor functions - speech motor planning & production, or 3) attention-arousal-emotion. She also talked about her latest brain imaging results, but again I got lost with too many brain regions. But she did say that the cerebellum in recovered stutterers is greater, (which would make sense if it helps with compensation), and she said that the typical female brains seem to be more variable.

At the end, Christian Kell made a very intriguing comment: Given some similarities in abnormalities across disorders, he was wondering whether stutterers should really be compared to controls as opposed to those with similar atypical brain anatomy? Do they have something in common? To me, this opens a fascinating possibility namely that all disorders have similar abnormalities because they share a common factor, namely abnormalities stand for the failure of brain plasticity: abnormal brains mean lower brain plasticity. Kids have deficiencies, and only the brains with low abnormalities can compensate well, and therefore the persistent ones (in all kinds of developmental disorders) are a biased sample.


Anonymous said...

Two points here:

First, I think it makes sense to see handedness as a continuum, not as a binary division.

Two, try finding a female, left-handed PWS who is also deaf. Now, that will be hard!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I read your blog often and have never posted. Right before reading your post on Anne's talk, I was talking with a friend about handedness and stuttering. Long story longer, I read your post and saw that there is a dearth of left-handed female stutterers. Well, I just so happen to be one of those. Maybe I'll contact her!

Tom Weidig said...

That's cool!

You should definitely contact her or myself: tom dot weidig at gmail dot com.

It would be very valuable for her.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

Great site you have set up here. So glad I found it today.

Lefty female that stutters here. I will contact Anne Foundas and see if I can help.