The association between atypical speech development and adolescent self-harm

Jan McAllister, Jane Skinner, Rosemarie Hayhow, Jon E Heron, Yvonne E Wren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Background: Adolescent self-harm is a major public health issue internationally. Various factors associated with adolescent self-harm have been identified, including being bullied and experiencing mental health problems. Stuttering and speech sound disorder are associated with both of these factors. It was hypothesised that both stuttering and speech sound disorder would be associated with self-harm. This is the first study to explore the relationship between communication disorders and adolescent self-harm.

Method: Secondary analysis of a large, longitudinal, prospective, community sample, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, was carried out. Clinicians identified children who stuttered or exhibited speech sound disorder at age 8. When the cohort members were 16 years old, they were asked to complete a questionnaire about self-harm. Multinomial logistic regression was used to examine the associations between stuttering and speech sound disorder and the self-harm outcomes, adjusting for other relevant factors.

Results: Of 3824 participants with data for both speech status and self-harm, 94 (2.5%; 95% CI 2.0% to 3.0%) stuttered at age 8 and 127 (3.3%; 95% CI 2.8% to 3.9%) displayed speech sound disorder. Speech sound disorder at age 8 was associated with self-harm with suicidal intent in both unadjusted and adjusted models. Differences between the adjusted and unadjusted models were small, suggesting that speech sound disorder is largely an independent risk factor for self-harm with suicidal intent. Stuttering at age 8 was not associated with adolescent self-harm, and there was no association between speech sound disorder and self-harm without suicidal intent.

Conclusions: Compared with individuals without speech sound disorder, adolescents with speech sound disorder at age 8 have twice the risk of reporting self-harm with suicidal intent, even when other important predictors are taken into account.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Publication statusIn preparation - 10 Feb 2023


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