Understanding Perceptions of Stuttering among School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists: An Application of Attribution Theory

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Introduction: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether attribution theory could explain speech-language pathologists (SLPs) perceptions of children with communication disorders such as stuttering. Specifically, it was determined whether perceptions of onset and offset controllability, as well as biological and non-biological attributions for communication disorders were related to willingness to help, sympathy, and anger toward children with these disorders. It was also of interest to determine if blame for stuttering was related to perceived controllability of stuttering and negative attitudes toward people who stutter (PWS). Method: A survey was developed to measure perceived onset and offset controllability, biological and non-biological attributions, willingness to help, sympathy, and anger toward middle school children with developmental stuttering, functional articulation disorders, and cerebral palsy. In addition, a scale was developed to measure blame and negative attitudes toward PWS in general. Surveys were mailed to 1000 school-based SLPs. Data from 330 participants were analyzed. Results: Supporting the hypotheses of attribution theory, higher perceived onset and offset controllability of the disorder was linked to less willingness to help, lower sympathy, and more anger across conditions. Increased biological attributions were associated with more reported sympathy. Increased blame for stuttering was linked to higher perceived controllability of stuttering, more dislike of PWS, and more agreement with negative stereotypes about PWS. Conclusions: Educating SLPs about the variable loss of control inherent in stuttering could improve attitudes and increase understanding of PWS. Reductions in blame may facilitate feelings of sympathy and empathy for PWS and reduce environmental barriers for clients.Learning outcomes Readers should be able to: (1) identify the main principles of Weiner's attribution theory (2) identify common negative perceptions of people who stutter (3) describe how disorders of stuttering, articulation disorders, and cerebral palsy are differentiated in terms of perceived onset and offset controllability, and biological and non-biological attributions (4) describe relationships between perceived onset and offset controllability of disorders and sympathy, anger, and willingness to help.



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