Putting a spotlight on stuttering

An introverted man with a severe stutter who is suddenly thrust into a position of power that relies on his ability to communicate and move people with his words—it’s the true story of Britain’s King George VI—and the plot of this year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, The King’s Speech. The film focused not only on a time in history, but also on the lead character’s stuttering and his speech therapy.

“Stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (llllike this) or abnormal stoppages (no sound),” says Jeanne Preski, MS, CCC-SLP, and Outpatient Speech-Language Pathologist at Augusta Health. “There may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak.” According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, there are more than 3 million people who stutter in the United States.

In the film, and in his life, the King hired speech therapist Lionel Logue to help him overcome his stuttering. Logue’s techniques included breathing exercises and gargling. He also reassured the King that his stammering did not mean there was something ‘wrong’ with him.

“There are no quick-fixes for adults who stutter,” explains Preski, “but a person can become an effective communicator using techniques taught by a Speech-Language Pathologist.” The techniques include pausing, bouncing, light contact, gliding into words, starting words with a slight exhale and monitoring the rate of speech. “Therapies such as marbles in the mouth and smoking to relax the throat are no longer used today,” adds Preski.

Preski notes that approximately 5% of all children go through a period of stuttering that can last six months or longer. Most recover by late childhood, but 1% are left with a long-term problem. Preski recommends that parents who have a child who has stuttered for longer than three to six months should have the child evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist. The therapist can give the parents and the child techniques to help with communication.

As for adults who stutter, Preski also recommends an evaluation. “Most adults who stutter have had speech therapy at least once, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider it again,” she says. “It is common for stuttering to change over time, or for the emotions and attitudes about speech to change as the person has new experiences. An evaluation is the next step to set up goals for communication success.


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