Even for a King, Stuttering Doesn’t Have to be an Impediment

King George VI, the subject of the Academy Award Winning motion picture, The King’s Speech, had trouble speaking fluently. Namely, he stuttered. But, with the help of an expert speech therapist, he overcame is challenges and gave a radio address that brought his country together during a raging World War.

The King is not the only one who has struggled with stuttering.  James Earl Jones, Nicole Kidman, Tiger Woods, Bruce Willis, and Vice President Joseph Biden, along with a long list of famous celebrities, athletes and politicians, all stutter. In fact, the Stuttering Foundation estimates that approximately three million Americans stutter.

Thankfully, like King George VI, many of these individuals have found the support and strength they’ve needed to overcome their challenges and have successful lives and careers.

Stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions, prolongations or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. Chronic stuttering has its origins in genetics and neurophysiology, and can be influenced by psychological or emotional factors. Episodic or transient stuttering (i.e., short-term stuttering) can sometimes develop following a neurological event, such as a stroke or brain injury.

Certified speech therapists are trained in proven techniques to help individuals overcome stuttering,

In The King’s Speech, Lionel Logue, King George’s speech therapist, constantly reassures his patients that they can overcome their speech problems, which greatly increases their chances of success. He also requires his patients to do daily breathing exercises and to gargle regularly with warm water. He even has them stand by open windows and say vowels loudly.

Speech therapy has changed a lot in 70 years.

At Good Shepherd, we use the SYSTEMS model to address stuttering. It helps patients identify the systems involved in speech production and how their thoughts, language and speech movements contribute to speech.

The model takes patients through five phases:

Phase One – Education: Patients are educated on how speech is produced (i.e., through thought, language, sensory/emotional/psychological feedback, memory and the movement of air and sound through the vocal cords). It is the rhythm, sequence and timing of these systems and movements that work together to create fluent speech. Any disruption or distraction can cause a disruption in speech.

Phase Two – Analysis: Here, speech therapists determine what, specifically, is happening to trigger the stuttering.

Phase Three – Fluid Movements: We instruct patients on proper movements in breathing, voicing, articulation and the sequencing and blending of these movements. We not only focus on the production of the movements, but also on how they feel. It is here patients learn to replace stuttering reactions with more beneficial ones.

Phase Four – Recovery: Here, patients become their own coaches by being able to identify where their speech is becoming disrupted and how to fix it.

Phase Five – Stabilization: Here we teach patients to apply the strategies for fluent speech in a variety of settings with both familiar and unfamiliar communication partners.

Stuttering management is a lifelong process. It becomes easier over time, but to apply proper techniques, individuals must always be conscious of their speaking. It is only the most disciplined, self-aware, positive and courageous people that truly learn to accept their speech limitations without limiting their lives.

Without the belief that proper speech was possible, history would not have had a King George VI. And what a shame if we were denied the heavy breathing of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones in Star Wars) or the fast-action antics of John McClane (Bruce Willis in Die Hard).

Stuttering may be a speech challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a life impediment. Even individuals with disabilities can achieve great feats.

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