New University Center to Treat Stuttering

    24 October 2020

    About three million people in the United States, including a presidential candidate, find they sometimes stutter.

    It is a condition that causes people to repeat the beginning sound of words, or whole words while speaking. At times, they even have trouble saying a word. People who stutter know exactly what they would like to say but have trouble producing a normal flow of speech, making it difficult to communicate with others.

    Arthur Blank is the owner of the Falcons, an American football team in Atlanta, Georgia. He stutters. Other members of his family also stutter.

    Blank said, "Defining communication by how fluent you are doesn't get at the freedom — the freeing of the inner person, the inner soul, the inner spirit, the inner mind, the intellect of what each person has to say and feel."

    Last week, he gave the University of Texas at Austin $20 million to create a new center for research and education into stuttering. It is called the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Research and Education.

    Courtney Byrd, a professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at the university, will lead the center. She said, "Our focus is on the person, not on the stuttering. We're teaching people as young as 3 years of age to adults over the age of 90, you can communicate effectively, and you can do so even if you continue to stutter."

    FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden kisses Brayden Harrington, 12, at a campaign stop Feb. 10, 2020, in Gilford, N.H. Biden and Harrington talked about their struggle with stuttering.
    FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden kisses Brayden Harrington, 12, at a campaign stop Feb. 10, 2020, in Gilford, N.H. Biden and Harrington talked about their struggle with stuttering.

    A boy who stutters

    Last February, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a campaign event in New Hampshire. Biden spoke about his experience of learning to live with stuttering as a child. He talked about the anger he felt at school. He said other students and a teacher laughed at him for his stuttering.

    "It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup," Biden said.

    Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old boy from Concord, New Hampshire, was at the event. Harrington is a person who stutters, too.

    Biden asked Harrington to talk more about his experience. Biden shared that he had controlled his own stuttering by looking in the mirror while speaking. The presidential candidate also gave the boy a speech he had prepared. It had markings on its pages showing where Biden would take breaks and pause. That way, he said, words would come out more smoothly.

    Help for people who stutter

    Amber Doctrow works with students on speech problems at Montgomery County Public Schools in Silver Spring, Maryland. She told VOA that stuttering often begins in early childhood. Some children outgrow it but others will not.

    She said a person who stutters may have thoughts that stop them from speaking, like:

    "Oh well, I am going to stutter and then this is going to happen, I'm going to stutter, and then they'll think that I'm stupid, or I'm going to stutter and then I won't be able to say what I want to say."

    Or they may move their body or take a deep breath to try to stop the stutter. These things may only work for a little while and then they stop working. Instead, she said, speech pathologists teach the person who stutters to overcome the problem by addressing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of stuttering, such as by reducing tension while speaking.

    "So, for instance, a cancellation is when you reduce the tension in your speech after you stutter. So, if I were to say, p-p-p-p-p–peach, and I have this tension in my speech when I stutter on that word, I could then go back and try it again with less tension: p-p-p-p- peach. And so, I may still stutter on the word but I'm doing it with less tension."

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health says although there is no cure for stuttering, there are several treatments available. The health agency advises the following methods:

    • Provide many chances for the child to speak, especially when the child is excited and has a lot to say.
    • Listen carefully when the child speaks. Do not try to complete the child's sentences. And speak slowly.
    • Talk openly and honestly to the child about stuttering if he or she brings up the subject. Let the child know that it is fine. Adults and older children with stuttering should learn to speak slowly and regulate their breathing.

    In the end, Doctrow said being a person who stutters does not mean you cannot be an effective communicator. Joe Biden is one of many politicians, actors and teachers who stutter.

    I'm Jill Robbins.

    Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.



    The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has information about treatment for stuttering.

    The National Stuttering Association is a non-profit organization for adults and children who stutter.

    FRIENDS (The National Association of Young People Who Stutter) is a U.S. based group focused on children and teens who stutter, and their families.

    The International Stuttering Association has many resources, as well.


    Words in This Story

    fluentadj. able to speak in a smooth and easy way

    souln. the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body

    intellectn. the ability to think in a logical way

    makeupn. the physical, mental, and moral character of a person

    pausen. a temporary stop : a period of time in which something is stopped before it is started again

    pathologistn. a doctor who studies changes caused by a disease or disorder

    addressv. to give attention to (something) : to deal with a matter, issue or problem

    excitedadj. very enthusiastic and eager about something

    Do you know anyone who stutters? How do people who stutter find help where you live? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.