What is temperament and what is its role in speech and language disorders?
There are as many different definitions of temperament. Mary K. Rothbart defines temperament as “individual differences in emotional, motor, and attentional reactivity measured by latency, intensity and recovery of response, and self-regulation processes such as effortful control that modulate reactivity (2007).” Meaning, how reactive you are to a given situation as well as how well you can cope with or decrease that reactivity. These tendencies of temperament are biologically based. They tend to be stable, trait-like aspects of an individual, but are not continually expressed. Expression will depend on the content of the situation or the environmental condition that the individual is in. If a person is in a very calm situation, that reactive aspect of their temperament probably will not be expressed. Whereas if it is a very emotionally challenging situation, then that is when you may see that emotional reactivity being expressed for a given individual.
How can temperament play a role in various speech and language disorders? The various options could be, 1) that temperament causes the speech and language disorder; 2) it could be consequential where the experience of having that serious communication disorder could impact, change, or influence temperament and emotion processes; 3) there could be a bi-directional relationship between the two. For example, with stuttering, an individual’s temperament could interact with their vulnerability to have disfluent speech and that impacts how stuttering develops over time; and 4) it could be that temperament and speech-language disorders are both related to some third-order variable such as gender. The answer is not fully known but we are learning more and more about it constantly.
Robin M. Jones, PhD,CCC-A/SLP, Assistant Professor, Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232. Jones’s primary research interest relate to childhood stuttering, with a focus on emotional (caregiver report, behavioral and psychophysiological) and linguistic contributions to stuttering as well as empirical assessment and treatment of stuttering.