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Speaking of stuttering

February 24, 2011


Portrait of George VI.

The King's Speech, the film about Britain's George VI, rings true to University of Minnesota experts on stuttering.

Some notes on stuttering and where to get help at the U and beyond

By Deane Morrison

Never will Joel Korte forget walking up to a New York City construction worker to ask his opinions for a survey on stuttering.

Korte, then 24, started to introduce himself and explain what he was doing. He maintained eye contact and talked in his normal voice—stutter and all.

"Then he started to laugh at me and mimic me," says Korte. "In the past, it would have crushed me, but I was beginning to desensitize myself to other people's reactions to my stuttering. I stood my ground and asked him what he was laughing at.

"It was one of the greatest feelings in my life. It was a moment, maybe the first, when I truly believed I didn't have to be ashamed."

Now a graduate student in the University of Minnesota's Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, Korte is in training to become a speech-language pathologist for others who stutter. He is learning the ropes with clinical specialist Linda Hinderscheit, who says that while stuttering affects 3 million Americans—75 to 80 percent of them males—the cause isn't known.

A tradition of firsts
The University's speech-language pathology program was founded 83 years ago by Bryng Bryngelson, who was one of the first three graduates of the country's first such program, at the University of Iowa.

Also, "the University of Minnesota was one of the first places in the United States to have a support group for adults who stutter," says Linda Hinderscheit, a clinical specialist in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences.

"There is very likely a genetic element," she says. "Parents don't cause it. But the reactions kids who stutter get from others can exacerbate it."

Korte notes that the film The King's Speech showed people's reactions to George VI's stuttering.

"It's not uncommon to get negative or distracting reactions, for example, when ordering food at a counter," notes Korte. "But more often than not it is either sympathy or apathy."

Some may think that a person who stutters should be able to get over it, based on stuttering role models like the actor James Earl Jones, he adds. "But we don't know exactly why stuttering persists as an issue for some people, but not for others. I think trying to avoid it is part of the problem."

When listening to a person who stutters, it's best to maintain natural eye contact and wait until the person has finished, says Hinderscheit. Comments like "take your time" or "just relax" aren't helpful and can be demeaning.

The University of Minnesota and private organizations both offer help to people who stutter. Here are some examples:

• The Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department runs half-day summer camps for children and young adolescents. Morning sessions are for children entering grades 3-5, afternoon sessions for those entering grades 6-8. Contact: Linda Hinderscheit, hinde001@umn.edu.

• Inquiries about evaluation and treatment of stuttering can be directed to the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at (612) 624-3322. The receptionist will add your information to the clinic's waiting list.

• Joel Korte is involved in a self-help podcast: www.stuttertalk.com.

National Stuttering Association. Linda Hinderscheit co-leads the Twin Cities chapter, which meets the second Thursday of the month. Contact her at (612) 624-8590 or hinde001@umn.edu. National website: www.nsastutter.org/

The Stuttering Foundation. 1-(800)-992-9392 or www.stutteringhelp.org. Hotline: 1-(800)-937-8888, or e-mail AskTheExpert@WeStutter.org for answers from top researchers and leaders in the stuttering community.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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Related Links

Linda Hinderscheit's page

Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

College of Liberal Arts