By Rick Moore
As a child he had a severe speech impediment. In elementary school, classmates used to call him “Elmer” after the cartoon character Elmer Fudd who stuttered every time he opened his mouth. So many people did so, other classmates began to think Elmer was his real name. In the third grade, his mom took him to a speech class. Unfortunately, in those days at that particular school, the speech class was a holding room for students with discipline problems, so it had very little to do with speech. Mom took him out of that class, but not before he was labeled with even more nicknames than before. The following years were spent with a mixture of both progress and disaster. There are good memories like being able to do well at a school talent show in front of hundreds of people. But there are also bad memories, like the time he froze when giving a presentation in history class and the students erupted into laughter.
Many famous people have overcome stuttering and have gone on to enjoy successful careers. From King George VI to Samuel L. Jackson, many people have overcome their handicaps. Yet, many more with speech impediments never reach their full potential. Although there is more attention given to the subject of bullying today than decades ago, being bullied for the way one speaks is still very much a crisis. School classrooms are filled with bullies ready to mock and ridicule those who do not speak like the rest. Just having a strong accent from another part of the country can bring mockery from peers. But in such cases, the origin of why a person speaks differently is generally understood. It’s not as easy to understand why a person stutters.
There are three types of stuttering: developmental stuttering, neurogenic stuttering and psychogenic stuttering. Developmental stuttering usually happens between the ages of two and five. This is when a child’s speech and language development lags behind. Neurogenic stuttering happens when there are signal problems between the brain, nerves and muscles involved in speech. Psychogenic stuttering usually happens after an emotional trauma. It can also be due to issues with thinking or reasoning. If a person’s brain is racing much quicker than words are being spoken, stuttering often occurs. Complications of stuttering can include limited participation in activities, low self-esteem, poor school performance and social problems.
Here are some solutions to consider with a child struggling with stuttering. Try to provide a relaxed environment. Encourage the child to talk about fun and easy topics. Try not to react in a negative way, and instead, praise the child for correct speech. Don’t interrupt while he or she is speaking. Speak slowly, as this may help them to speak slowly. Pay attention when they speak. Wait for the child to say words or sentences without saying them for him or her. Talk openly about the stuttering if the child brings up the subject. And most importantly, seek medical and professional help.
While attending a youth camp at the age of fifteen, a counselor instructed all of the boys to take a rock large enough to write on and put it in their pocket. They walked to a stream and stood in a line at the water’s edge. The counselor gave everyone a black marker, and they were instructed to write one word on the rock. Whichever word they chose was to represent something they wanted removed from their lives. He thought about writing the word “stuttering,” but instead wrote the word “fear.” No counselor had ever directly said that fear was the root of his stuttering problem, yet somehow, instinctively, he knew it was. Something happened inside when he threw that rock into the water. It’s not to say there were never any struggles with speech issues again, but the fear was now gone.
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