For many students, introducing oneself to a class can be a daunting experience. For students who stutter, like Alexandria Burke, a third-year in speech and hearing sciences, the fear goes far beyond typical public-speaking jitters. The fear isn’t just that she is nervous to talk, the fear is that she won’t be able to talk at all.
“I’ve encountered some people who think that stuttering (occurs) because you don’t know what to say. You know exactly what you want to say,” Burke said, adding that it’s a physical difficulty to get those words out.
Students who Stutter Promoting Environments of Awareness and Kindness is a new group for students and faculty who stutter, have close friends or family who stutter, or simply want to learn more about the fluency disorder. Rebecca McCauley, a professor in the Speech and Hearing Department and co-founder of SSPEAK, said that the group will not be focused on speech therapy, but rather providing a safe place for those who stutter and those who support them, where they can share their experiences.
According to the National Stuttering Association, over 3 million Americans stutter.
A common misconception of stuttering is that it relates to other emotional or intellectual challenges, which McCauley said is not the case. The exact cause of stuttering remains a mystery, but it is believed to be subtle neurological difficulties involving the rapid information processing required for planning speech-related movements.
Many eloquent and famous people throughout history have stuttered, including Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, and one of the university’s most famous friends, Annie Glenn — a speech and hearing activist and wife of astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn, for whom the College of Public Affairs is named. SSPEAK is also an official chapter of the National Stuttering Association. Its chapter name is The Annie Glenn Chapter.
Burke is a co-founder of SSPEAK. She received speech therapy in high school, but once she got to college, she didn’t feel like her stutter was enough of a distraction for her to need therapy. Then, she was in car accident and wasn’t able to go to school for a period. When she returned, the stuttering had become worse.
“It was really difficult to find help for someone my age,” Burke said. “I was lucky to come into contact with Dr. McCauley and receive speech therapy through OSU. But I noticed that there were not a lot of outlets for people who stutter. I didn’t even know anyone who stuttered. Even my speech and hearing major friends didn’t really know much about fluency speech disorders like stuttering.”
Together Burke and McCauley decided to form SSPEAK to spread awareness and support fellow stutterers.
Common struggles stutterers face, Burke said, include speaking on the phone, introducing oneself to a class, ordering food, and meeting someone for the first time. Burke said she hopes SSPEAK will be a place for the OSU community to learn about what these students are facing, as well as a way to meet new people and collaborate with faculty members of the Department of Speech and Hearing.
“I know a lot of acquaintances who don’t even know I stutter and what a problem it can be,” Burke said.
SSPEAK’s first meeting will be this Wednesday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room 120 of Pressey Hall, on West Campus.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify a quote from Alexandria Burke.