Monday, December 27, 2010

Peter and Nan on Lidcombe at StutterTalk

The Larry Kings of stuttering discussed Lidcombe's academic claim of treatment success, i.e. the Emperor's New Clothes. When I say to the king: "Wake up! You are naked", they would say: "My Lord you might want to consider the possibility that other people have more clothes on than your Highness."

They made many important points that are frightfully close to the ones I made on my blog. ;-) Therapists should definitely listen to the podcast. Nan made the interesting point that the Lidcombe group needs to publish a lot to get funding. I'll get back to this points in relation to the wwwikileaks documents in a future post.

Here are a few extra comments on their debate:
  • Taking a theoretical perspective bypasses all this esoteric debate on statistics and empirical data: Stuttering starts due to a neurobiological cause due to either genetics and/or developmental issues. So the questions become: Can operand conditioning undo the neurobiological cause? How does natural recovery undo the neurobiological cause? My answer to the second question is: the neurobiological cause is just temporary, e.g. different development schedule. I would answer the first question with a moderate NO. Brain plasticity is a myth. Sure, targeted practise can increase or decrease the brain resources used, and optimizing occurs. But operand conditioning is about learning, which means changing memory to have new behaviour. Kids can speak more fluently, and the conditioning tells the brain to use this behaviour. It does not work on the general structure of the brain.

    It can change your behaviours but not the neurobiological cause. So I would expect kids who undergo Lidcombe to change their behaviours and decrease stuttering behaviours with a better control over stuttering moments. But the neurobiology is not affected. Either the brain naturally recovers or the brain stays. If it stays, the critical question is whether the kids who have shaped their behaviours via operand conditioning relapse or not. But it is clear to me that the neurobiological cause is not going away.
  • Nan Ratner needs to decide whether she wants "1000 kids to get decent statistics" or claims that there is some evidence for success. How do the two square up?
  • They did not talk about the children's version of relapse after stuttering therapy. Rightfully, the dogma states that the majority of adult patients relapse after therapy. It is the norm and not the exception. But I rarely hear people talk about it for Lidcombe. We should expect that a treatment with operand conditioning to be very vulnerable to relapse. Why? Because the cause that led to maladaptive behaviours is still present, because the neurobiological cause is still there. This cause leads to temporary speech initiation delays, which lead to reactions which leads to learning.
  • Peter made the interesting point that decades ago parents were blamed for the stuttering of their kids and now some within Lidcombe blame parents for not properly implementing the treatment. In a sense Mark Onslow is right, with perfect parents you can probably keep shaping the behaviour in such a way that stuttering is minimal. But we do not live in a perfect world. Parents loose influence once kids go to school.

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