By Voon Pang
Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust of New Zealand
As the Stuttering Foundation of America celebrates sixty-five years of helping those who stutter, it is timely to acknowledge one man’s journey to being open about his stuttering. In 1947, Malcolm Fraser met with Dr Charles Van Riper to discuss setting up a nonprofit charitable organisation to help others who stuttered, spurred on from his own personal and often painful experience of stuttering.
Sixty-five years on, I am privileged to continue his cause by talking about the importance of being open about stuttering. As a person and speech-language pathologist who does not stutter, I hope I can capture some key points I’ve learnt from my contemporaries, the pioneers who have shaped our practice and our understanding of stuttering and most importantly, the people I’ve worked with who stutter.
Being open about stuttering transcends all ages. It applies to the parent of a young pre-schooler who stutters, the school age child who stutters, or the teen/young adult who stutters and the adult who stutters. Within each group and life stage, strong feelings such as fear, shame and or guilt can prevent us from being open. For the parent, questions such as “Will I make it worse if I comment on it?” or “Is it OK to talk about stuttering?” often pop up. For the child/teen/young adult, “Will my friends laugh at me if I tell them I stutter?” is a common thought. Finally, for the adult, “Will I get a date if I disclose that I stutter?” or “What will others think?”
To help understand why being open about stuttering helps, I like to compare stuttering to asthma. In my opinion, stuttering and asthma are similar in that an interaction between environmental factors and physiological factors can further exacerbate the difficulty.
For example, in stuttering the demands of talking in a fast paced communicative environment along with the genetic predisposition to stutter can contribute to an increase in stuttering. In asthma, an environment with allergens or dust or a physically exerting activity combined with a genetic predisposition to asthma can contribute to an asthmatic episode. So what would a parent of a child with asthma do if they knew their child was entering a cross-country race? They’d let the teacher or event organisers know. What would an adult with asthma do if he/she knew that they were entering a situation where they needed their Ventolin? They’d let a friend, colleague or family member know.
In stuttering, we have a duty to let our listeners know that we (or our child) stutter(s). The parent of a child who stutters can inform their child’s teacher in advance before the school year begins. This can promote an open conversation about how to best help the child within the classroom. Similarly, older children or teenagers can disclose to their peers that they stutter and most listener reactions will be supportive (if not supportive then at least with some curiosity!). For adults who stutter, being open about stuttering can be the most liberating and freeing experience after many years and attempts at hiding their stuttering and tricking their listeners into thinking that they are fluent speakers.
You can chip away those negative feelings by taking a step forward. For the older child/teen/adult who stutters it may feel like a leap, but I can assure you the benefits are well worth it! For the parent of a young child who stutters, open acknowledgement about stuttering is often the first steps to successful treatment of stuttering in its infancy. It also provides a verbal hug to kids who need it most, where they are at a time in their lives that they are learning to do many things and need comfort for making mistakes.
To conclude, the movie “The King’s Speech” paved the way for openness about stuttering in 2011. I don’t think anything as significant will ever come around again or at least, not for a very long time! We need to continue to ride the success and coattail of “The King’s Speech”. On acceptance of the Academy Award for Best Film, David Seidler triumphantly said, “We have a voice, we have been heard!” I encourage you to find your voice and be heard, whether it is for yourself, your child or a loved one. We could all do with being more open about stuttering. Let’s begin!
|Voon Pang is a Speech Language Pathologist who works at the Stuttering Treatment And Research Trust (START) in Auckland, New Zealand. Since graduating in 2006, he has traveled within Australia as well as internationally (US and UK) to attend workshops and internships to be better equipped at helping those who stutter.|