Teens Who Stutter
Stuttering is not a mental disease, an indicator of mental disability or an indicator of low intelligence. Stuttering is misunderstood. Stuttering can be detrimental to self-esteem and confidence, but it is a condition that can be overcome and controlled.
The Stuttering Facts
According to the National Stuttering Association (NSA), stuttering is a communication disorder involving disruptions in the forward flow of speech. The word "stuttering" can be used to refer either to the specific speech disfluencies that are commonly seen in people who stutter or to the overall communication difficulty that people who stutter may experience. There are perhaps as many different patterns of stuttering as there are people who stutter, as well as many different degrees.
Where Does It Come From?
There is no single cause of stuttering, but current research is exploring the connections between stuttering and the neurological coordination of speech. "Developmental stuttering usually begins in early childhood, but can develop – and persist – into the preteen, teen and adult years," says Catherine Montgomery, executive director of the American Institute for Stuttering in New York, NY. "Stuttering tends to run in families and affects more men than women. Stuttering can be influenced by behavioral factors but is not caused by emotional problems, a nervous disorder and is not the fault of the family or the person who stutters."
The Stuttering Teen
Stuttering at any stage of life is difficult, but stuttering can be especially difficult in the teenage years. "When a teen practices avoidance, stuttering is more difficult to manage," says Montgomery. "Many teens are more reluctant to discuss their stuttering openly with peers and parents. A great way a teen becomes more comfortable with addressing their stutter is by meeting others who are going through the same experiences. Groups such as the NSA provide help and understanding and can enhance the success of individual therapy programs."
Montgomery explains that the disorder of stuttering takes on a life of its own during adolescence. "Teens not only have to deal with the obvious speech disruptions, but they also have to deal with the roller coaster of feelings that all teens can experience occurring concurrently with their stuttering problem," she says.
Being a Loner
Stuttering is a common disorder, but not so common that it is forefront in the news – or in the hallways. "Because stuttering affects only one percent of the population, it can be a lonely affliction," says Richard Merson, director of the stuttering program at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. "Teens who stutter may never bump into another person who stutters in their high school, so it's natural for them to feel isolated and get a distorted view of the reasons for their stuttering."
"I've only met two people with speech impediments in my life prior to joining the NSA, though only one of those really stuttered," says Andrew, a teen from Issaquah, Washington. "It was amazing that when I commented to someone that I stuttered, they gave a puzzled look and apparently didn't realize that I stuttered. It's so great when someone can be so used to you that they don't notice stuff like that."
Keep it Friendly
"With a little help from my friends" has never been truer than when discussing the best methods to help teens overcome the effects of stuttering. "As far as siblings and friends of teens who stutter, it is important that the teen express [him or herself] directly in order to remove any and all uncomfortable feelings," says Montgomery. "A teen should take the time to simply say, 'Hey, I have a stuttering problem. Please take the time to listen to what I am trying to say rather than listening to my stutter.' This is one of the first things we do in class – learn how to 'self advertise.' It is a wonderful way to get those who aren't comfortable talking one-on-one to learn to be more assertive."
"I've been able to survive the last five years through steady support from friends," says Andrew. "Sometimes just being able to talk to someone directly is great for letting out things that were bottled up, while just spending time with friends. And having mindless fun is best, as you feel comfortable and relaxed. But the biggest support has come from having a one-on-one relationship with someone, and they make you feel welcome to talk about anything or nothing at all. Friends are amazingly helpful."
You're Not Alone
To help teenagers recognize they aren't alone and to help them share their experiences and learn from others, Merson has formed TWIST or Teens Who Stutter Network. The support group helps teens who are already in speech therapy continue working in a non-clinical setting. "It's wonderful to watch the kids tell their stories about frustrating moments and difficult times and admit that they felt like crying," says Merson. "It offers them a catharsis, a way to ventilate their feelings. When you release energy like that, you can evaluate the experience and be ready when the same event happens again and hopefully, do a better job. Once they can buddy up on a problem, they can do very well. The group keeps them thinking, working and sharing. When they get with other kids who stutter, it's quite freeing."
"Stuttering has always been the axis of my life," says Andrew. "Without it I have no clue what I would be like. It made me hard and withdrawn at first, but recently I have overcome that more and am beginning to go out and just be me! I love the thrill of talking to someone because it's yet another victory for me. I can overcome this thing, and accepting it is my ongoing goal."
The National Stuttering Association
The National Stuttering Association (NSA) says since 1977, it has helped thousands achieve career advancements, improved confidence levels, improved speech fluency, an enhanced social life, better family relationships, leadership roles and much more.
The NSA offers a toll-free hotline, a list of publications that can help both a teen who stutters and his parents, local chapters and information on starting a local chapter in your area, informative workshops, as well as many other useful tools. In addition, the NSA publishes a monthly newsletter called Letting Go, which offers up-to-date information, research, statistics, as well as tips and support for those who stutter and their families.
More information on the NSA and all it offers is available at www.nsastutter.org.