By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
One of the markers of early childhood is the first word. From that first word comes the ability to form phrases and sentences, or to talk – what Merriam-Webster defines as: to deliver or express in speech; or to use (a language) for conversing or communicating.
Well, what about if you stutter? People who stutter know what they want to say, but have difficulty saying it.
Stuttering affects the fluency of speech. It begins during childhood and may last throughout life. The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.”
According to the National Stuttering Association (NSA), people who stutter often experience physical tension in their speech muscles, as well as embarrassment, anxiety, and fear about speaking.
The exact cause of stuttering is not known. However, according to NSA, stuttering is not caused by emotional problems, nor is it a “nervous” disorder, and is not the fault of the family or of the person who stutters.
With over three million Americans who stutter, NSA’s programs and services play an important role in letting people who stutter know that they are not alone.
A stutterer himself, Craig Dawkins is a professor of Personal Finance and Economics at Rose State College and support group leader for “Speak Out!” Oklahoma City’s National Stuttering Association adult support group.
“I focus on adult stutterers,” Dawkins said. “First, we’re not looking for cures. Cures are not available and focusing on a ‘cure’ often gets in the way of coming to terms with a life long disfluency condition which requires acceptance.”
Secondly, support groups help people work their way through the trauma they have experienced in a plethora of speaking situations. Third, support groups help people understand that there are others who have literally been in their shoes and the ‘self loathing’ they experience is not accurate or even helpful.”
In the 2011 Oscar winning film, “The King’s Speech,” actor Colin Firth played the role of King George VI, or “Bertie,” bringing the subject of stuttering to the public’s attention.
John Robinson, a Speech-Language Pathologist for Manor Care Health Service in Oklahoma City, who stutters said, “The King’s Speech coming out is really awesome for stuttering because it is one of the first times stuttering has been portrayed in a non-negative light in the media.
“Stuttering is misunderstood because it is not a visible disorder and it’s prevalence is not that high compared to other disorders. Developmental stuttering typically starts at around 2 1/2 – 4 years of age but may occur during the childhood and adolescent years as well.”
As many as five percent of preschool children nationwide will experience repetitions and prolongations of sounds.
“Some 20 percent of all children go through a stage of development during which they encounter disfluencies severe enough to be a concern to their parents,” said Robinson.
He continues, “If you think your child is stuttering, there are things you can do to help facilitate fluency with your child. Speak in an unhurried way and reduce the number of questions you ask. Help all members of your family to learn to take turns talking and listening, and convey you accept your child’s speech.”
Robinson suggests that if stuttering persists past 6 months, or the child’s stuttering is severe, then parents may want to seek out a speech-language pathologist who specializes in stuttering.
The National Stuttering Association was the first organization to encourage people who stutter to speak out. Started in 1988, National Stuttering Awareness Week is the second week in May each year. International Stuttering Awareness Day is October 22nd each year.
There are many ways that NSA helps in the pursuit to communicate more easily and more effectively. Local NSA chapters provide a safe, supportive peer counseling environment that can help to improve overall communication and coping skills, as well as overall quality of life.
Dawkins added, “Once people start to understand that they are not deserving of all the bad feeling they’ve heaped upon themselves, they can actually learn to make real progress with their disfluency. My personal goal is for people to refuse to allow their disfluency to hold them back from their dreams.”
The Oklahoma City “Speak Out” support group meetings are held the 4th Thursday of each month from 6 – 7 p.m. at the Rose State College Fountain Room, 6420 S.E. 15 St. To attend, call Craig Dawkins at 405-733-7466.
For more information, visit www.westutter.org.