4 minute read

Living with a Stutter

By: Christina McGairk

My First-Hand Account

I was painfully shy until the age of 12. It was due largely to my speech impediment. I had an open overbite as a child that made it difficult to sound out words that required tip to tongue movement, mainly “T” words. For example, words like “then” and “that” were hard for me. I pronounced “there” as “dare.” Then there was my stutter. Some thought it was caused by me talking too fast. I would often hear “slow down” or “Maybe you wouldn’t stutter if you weren’t talking so fast.” But that wasn’t the issue. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t get it out in a coherent way. It was as if there was a glitch in my system between my brain and my mouth.

My parents thought I would grow out of it eventually, but by 5th grade, it only got worse. That’s when my teacher suggested that I take advantage of the speech therapy services they had at school. I’m so glad she did because it helped me a lot.

Stuttering is a communication disorder characterized by repetitive sounds, words, and prolongation of sounds, which interrupt the flow and fluency of speech. There are two types of stuttering – developmental and neurogenic. Although there’s not a single cause for stuttering, researchers have found there are a variety of factors that contribute to it: genetics, neurological language development components, and motoric ability.

Stuttering or speech disorders were rarely talked about back when I was in school. I didn’t know anyone in my class or inner circle who stuttered. The only other person I knew who stuttered was my uncle (by marriage). I felt isolated at that time in my life, like there was something wrong with me or I was just odd. But, come to find out, I was not alone.

According to the Stuttering Foundation, it’s estimated that 5% of children stutter. Also, more than 70 million people worldwide and 30 million people in the United States stutter. In fact, many famous people have battled with stuttering, including Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, and even our current president, Joe Biden.

Although there is no cure for stuttering, speech therapy is recommended to help those who stutter. Dana Stewart, owner of Stuttering and Speech Therapy Services LLC in Indianapolis, started her practice in 2017. She serves preschool and school-aged kids, as well as adults who stutter. Stewart, whose Mom is also a speech therapist, mentioned a couple of stuttering misconceptions she’s encountered in her line of work. The first one is that nervousness causes a person to stutter.

“Generally, people who aren’t familiar with stuttering think that people who stutter are nervous when they are speaking and may try finishing their sentences,” she said.

Another misconception is that the stutterer is not intelligent. I dealt with this a lot when I was a child. I had kids who would talk to me very slowly, as if I couldn’t understand them if they spoke normally. Some would even imitate the Looney Toon character Porky Pig as I would stutter. Yet there is no connection between stuttering and intelligence. In fact, a study conducted by the British Stammering Association found that people who stuttered had the same or even higher IQs than their peers.

Thankfully, I had parents and a teacher who cared about my development and I got the help I needed. So what should you do if you notice your child stuttering? Stewart gives a few suggestions. “The first thing they need to do is be calm about it and let their child say what they are trying to say and show them that the message was important and not how the child spoke.” Stewart also suggested that looking at the child at eye level could help, but if the child continues to struggle, it’s best to reach out to a speech therapist. I have to admit, I still catch myself stuttering at times, usually when I’m trying to say a word that is hard for me to pronounce. My thoughts get all jumbled together. But even then, I didn’t let it stop me from reaching my goals. After graduating from high school I went on to study journalism in college, worked a few years in the field, and went back for my master of science in journalism, with a concentration in magazine publishing.

I’m telling you all this to say if you stutter, don’t let it deter you from your dreams. You are as capable and smart as anyone else.

If you need a support system to help you along the way, there are local and national groups and organizations you can reach out to.

Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter: https://www.friendswhostutter.org

National Stuttering Association: Indiana Chapters: https://westutter.org/find-nsa-meeting-near/indiana

Do you have a story you would like to share in an upcoming issue of Special Needs Living? Email us at SpecialNeedsLivingIndy@n2pub.com.


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