A number of previous studies which investigated listeners’ attitudes towards individuals with different types of communication disorders found that individuals with speech disorders are generally viewed more negatively than those with typical speech. There is an apparent gap in the literature on children’s attitudes towards peers with cleft palate (CP) who have reduced speech intelligibility. Knowledge about peer attitudes is relevant because children with repaired CP will interact in their everyday lives with typically developing (TD) peers. Therefore, this study investigated (1) TD children’s attitudes towards peers with reduced speech intelligibility associated with CP; and (2) whether the attitudes of these children differ depending on their age.
Ninety TD children (30 in each of three age groups: 7-8 years, 9-10 years, and 11-12 years) took part in a social and personal attribute judgement task. Each rater listened to the speech of 10 children (aged between 6-14 years) with various levels of speech intelligibility (see below) – eight of them had reduced speech intelligibility associated with CP and two were TD children. After listening to the speech (audio recordings of three sentences) of a speaker, the rater was asked to make a judgement on eight social and personal traits: (1) naughty-good; (2) sad-happy; (3) mean-kind; (4) ugly-good looking; (5) not clever-clever; (6) no friends-friends; (7) sick-healthy; and (8) shy-outgoing, using a child-friendly 3-point scale. That is, the rater was asked to decide whether s/he thinks the speaker was, for example, “naughty” (negative), “I’m not sure” (neutral), or “good” (positive). To quantify the judgement, a score of 1 was assigned if the rater chose the negative adjective, 2 for neutral, and 3 for positive. The mean rating assigned for each social and personal trait for each speaker was calculated for the three groups of raters. The speech intelligibility of the 10 children speakers was measured by 20 naive adult listeners, who independently listened to each sentence and orthographically transcribed what they heard. An intelligibility score – percentage of words correctly transcribed by the listeners – was then calculated for each speaker.
The results of Kendall’s Tau-b correlation test showed that there was a significant correlation between speech intelligibility and attitude judgements for a number of traits – “sick-healthy” as rated by the children of 7-8 years; “no friends-friends” by the 9-10 years; and “ugly-good looking” and “no friends-friends” by the 11-12 years. Moreover, children of age 7-8 years gave significantly lower ratings for “mean-kind” but higher ratings for “shy-outgoing” compared to the other two age groups. The clinical implication of the present findings is that attitudes of TD children towards peers with reduced speech intelligibility associated with CP need attention to ensure that children are not stigmatised by their peers.