Stuttering is a lifelong struggle for about 3 million Americans. But Idaho State University is looking to help people worldwide find ways to communicate comfortably and successfully.
Saturday was the graduation day for those who participated in the Northwest Center for Fluency Disorders Intensive Interprofessional Stuttering Clinic, and with graduation comes speeches. For some, speaking in public may be nerve-wracking, but for those who stutter, that feeling can intensify.
“This is actually the first clinic of its kind in the world,” said clinic director Sarah Knudsen. “Speech pathologists have always worked with people who stutter. In that research, we're told and taught that we should include a mental health component. But we don't actually have a single case study of anyone who concurrently treated through a mental health professional as well as a speech language therapist.”
"It's been a very holistic approach," said Knudsen. The clinicians for this program were ISU speech pathologists and counselors. The clients are from all over the world, including Kuwait and Taiwan, with ages ranging from 12 to 34.
Knudsen said one 18-year-old boy took two minutes to say his name the first day of the clinic. Two weeks later, on graduation day, he gave a speech that, while he was clearly struggling, had plenty of insightful components.
"A lot of it is building confidence,” Knudsen said. “One thing that has been in the literature for a long time is that you have to desensitize people to stuttering."
Knudsen said many people don't understand or can be impatient, which causes a lot of anxiety for the stutterer, which can cause their stuttering to be even more of an obstacle. She said one client encountered a perfect example of this mindset during the clinic.
"We actually ran into someone who told one of our clients if they had prayed harder, then maybe they would be fixed,” Knudsen said. “That's something that just doesn't work."
She said that's where the mental health aspect came in, teaching the clients while they can't control other people's reactions, they can find ways to keep their own reactions healthy and overcome that adversity.
She said a major part of that is bonding and finding acceptance. She said eight or nine of the clients had never even met someone else who stuttered before this clinic. And while the clinic attendees may have learned a lot in the two-week program, the clinicians say they too have learned.
"I'm not sure who learned more: the students, the supervisors or the clinicians,” Knudsen said. “It has been a real game-changer personally and professionally. I'm very glad I got to be a part of it this year."
Some well-known people who stutter include Vice President Joe Biden, actor James Earl Jones, Marilyn Monroe and Annie Glenn, wife of astronaut John Glenn.