I stuttered. I stutter.

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Atlantic’s John Hendrickson on NBC.

 

An article in The Atlantic about Joe Biden’s stutter provoked some interesting conversations this past weekend.

Needless to say, I am no supporter of Joe Biden. The fact that he has a stutter doesn’t change that at all.

But Atlantic’s senior editor, who has a stutter himself, has written an article that is about way more than Biden.

It is about how we treat differences.

And it is about me, since I had a severe stutter as a child and I still stutter when I am tired or stressed.

I posted about it on my Facebook page.

Stuttering is serious business. I have a stutter. As a child I could barely put two sentences together. Public speaking terrified me. Words that started with a hard C or K were killers for me. It was humiliating and embarrassing for me as a child. Even answering a teacher’s question in class was traumatic. I have it still and it shows up when I am tired or stressed. Most can’t hear it, but I know.

It no longer is humiliating or embarrassing.

Nobody should make fun of Joe Biden for his stutter. It has nothing to do with his fitness for office.

Nobody should vote for Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for President. Not because he stutters but because of the substance of his views.

A former teaching colleague of mine wrote me back.

I appreciate this article, despite it being about Biden.

As a Speech/Language Pathologist, when I read the part about Biden calling Obama, “my boss”, because he feared he would stutter on “Obama”, it reminded me of a student I worked with who stuttered. His “go to” method for being more fluent was substituting words/phrases for words he intended to say initially, because he knew the intended word would be difficult to get out. He was a very bright kid but some of his substitutions didn’t quite work or make him sound very bright. I think this method worked with his friends, but adults would notice some of the more odd vocabulary he would choose. Other kids were shocked when he would read aloud and stutter excessively, because he had to say the exact words on the page. He would talk about how he like to “improvise” during speeches, and not use written copy.

We worked a lot on continuing to have a confident, assertive presence as a speaker, while also confronting the “difficult” words using techniques we practiced. Also, convincing him to announce that he stutters, especially on the phone, was a challenge.

Wait..was this article supposed to be about Biden?

I responded.

As a stutterer, I have very mixed feelings about the way professionals, although well intentioned and sometimes helpful (and remember, I am talking about 60 years ago when I was assigned to a speech therapist – the title then) providing what they thought to be coping mechanisms. At one point I was told to cover my mouth when I spoke, which given the fact that self-image was a major issue and would/did draw even more attention to my stuttering. Like many conditions that our students have that are considered disabilities, much more of our work needs to be directed at making these attributes understood as simply a difference by others rather than as something to be cured.

My colleague:

I’m glad stuttering therapy has evolved. 🙂 I’m sorry you were given such strange advice. I don’t tell kids I’m going to “cure” them or even expect them to stutter less. We focus on being as effective a communicator as possible.

We do teach fluency shaping strategies and stuttering modification techniques, and for some, these work to lessen the frequency or intensity of stuttered moments, but focus a lot on maintaining confidence that what you have to say is important and to be persistent in your attempts.

I also educate parents and teachers so that they can help students who stutter to feel their messages are heard regardless of how they are presented. I don’t remember if it was Biden’s or the author’s account of the nun who mocked him in front of the class, but that is just sickening.

 

3 thoughts on “I stuttered. I stutter.

  1. I wonder how many challenged students quit school early due to speech issues?…or…in my case…mathematics…which for me represent a nearly black hole…I vividly remember being ridiculed as ” either stupid or lazy” by my eighth grade math teacher in front of the entire class…looking back,I’m certain that traumatic experience (along with other examples) were essential factors in my loss of confidence in the student /teacher relationship…and formal schools altogether.

    Different students may require the most talented teachers?

  2. If Joe Biden were able to recite the works of Shakespeare… from memory… in perfect English…He still would not get my vote…for whatever effect it may still have.

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