ST. LOUIS – When a mother sees her child in pain, she thinks of how to fix it.
“You know, as a parent, when you see your child hurting, you want to make it go away,” said Jamie Saunders.
Saunders’s 13-year-old daughter stutters. As a social worker for 30 years, she said she knew nothing about stuttering and needed support.
She contacted the National Stuttering Association (NSA) for assistance. After attending the family chapter group meeting, Saunders approached NSA with the idea of having a support group for parents and caregivers of someone who stutters.
Saunders felt a sense of guilt as a parent for not thinking of a solution sooner.
“Just the guilt of maybe I waited too late to get her involved in the NSA,” she said. “Maybe I wasn’t doing enough by not pressuring her to read out loud or order her food or do all the things that I heard some parents do to assist their children.”
Saunders said most parents feel guilty because they want to fix the problem. They do not want their child to have a challenging time in life. Many want solutions to get rid of it.
Saunders said her daughter went to other speech therapists in the past who told her if the stuttering did not go away between the ages of 7 and 9, then it would stay.
NSA has over 250 chapters across the country, from adult chapters to family chapters, providing support groups and educating parents or caregivers of people who stutter. The organization is spreading awareness about stuttering and letting people who stutter know that it does not limit their abilities.
Christine Rose is a speech-language pathologist and clinical instructor at Saint Louis University. She is also a speech-language pathologist at City Garden Montessori School. Rose said stuttering is not curable, but there are some techniques she will use for her clients to cope with it.
“In general, for young people who are just starting to stutter, what I try to do is work collaboratively with their caregivers to make the environment where they have less time to communicate, and that might be speaking at a slower rate, putting in pauses,” Rose said.
Rose worked with Saunders’s daughter at City Garden. She and Saunders are co-leaders of the parents and caregivers’ support group at the St. Louis chapter of the NSA.
Rose said that techniques are individualistic; there is no specific answer. It does not matter how frequently someone stutters. What matters is whether they are able to relay their message and get their point across. Rose said she works with her clients to help them communicate.
She said she likes that the NSA honors people who stutter by letting them know there is nothing wrong with it, it is a part of you.
That is why Chad Mannisi, leader of the St. Louis adult chapter of NSA, said stuttering should be normalized.
“At some point, I would love for stuttering to just not be defined, but to be. It’s just something and not a focal point, but it can just be,” he said.
Mannisi, who stutters, said it does not define who he is. He said when he was in school, his teachers and classmates were aware that he stuttered. Mannisi said he did not let it stand in his way.
According to Rose, stuttering is a verbal diversity. However, in the media and entertainment, like movies, it is constantly being ridiculed.
“My experience through my daughter is you’re not trying hard enough to make it go away. That’s the adult perspective,” Saunders said. “And the child perspective is, it’s funny. You talk funny.”
Saunders recalled when her oldest daughter brought her tickets to see her favorite comedian for her birthday. She said for the first 10 minutes of his show, the comedian made jokes about people who stuttered.
“People laugh cause, you know, it’s a comedy club… But as he kept going and going, the room got quieter and quieter, and he said, ‘Oh, so now you guys got an attitude cause some of y’all out here probably stutter, and you don’t think this is funny?’” Saunders said.
She said she wrote to the comedian expressing how his jokes were offensive because she has a young daughter that stutters.
Some of the misconceptions about stuttering stem from the media and entertainment.
“If you watch any movie, it’s made fun of. I was watching a news briefing with the police. Officer talking about sex trafficking, and he was talking about the perpetrator, and he said, ‘Yeah, did I stutter?’ And I was like, ‘Where did that come from?’” Saunders said. “Why was that even part of your communication in this news brief?”
It is also implied that if someone stutters, then that means they are lying or nervous.
“Fluent people stutter as well, not as often, not as frequently, not as severely,” Mannisi said. “Their experience tends to be that they stutter more when they’re nervous, when they are lying and trying to make something up.”
Mannisi constantly hears non-stutters telling him to slow down and pause.
“They want to help, but they don’t know that after 35 years of hearing stop and slow down, it gets annoying, and it doesn’t help,” he said. “And what it does is it builds anxiety and fear in certain situations that then have lasting effects all throughout your life.”
Mannisi said he heard that people who stutter are not smart because non-stutters assume they do not know the words. Another myth or misconception is that stuttering limits you from doing things.
As the vice chair of the board and the adult program chair on the board of directors, Mannisi said NSA dispels myths by bringing awareness of accurate portrayals of stuttering. NSA is an organization that supports people who stutter and offers them a safe place to be themselves without being judged.
The organization holds annual conferences for people who stutter and their families. Mannisi said the conference is attended by many professionals who stutter, which is an inspiration for many guests, especially children.
“Children can see adults who are doctors, lawyers, cops, firemen, and accountants. And all these jobs that they may think are unattainable or maybe have been told that are unattainable because they stutter,” he said. “So, they can see people who are doing what they want, doing what they love, and didn’t let stuttering stand in their way.”
Mannisi said the NSA wants everyone at the conference to feel welcome, especially first-timers. He said you can form bonds with people from all over the world and make lifelong friendships.
Saunders and her 13-year-old daughter attended the annual conference for the first time in Newport Beach, California.
“It has changed my life and my perspective on what the future looks like for a person who stutters. The conference that happened in July had a huge impact on my 13-year-old. Seeing other people who stutter just made a world of difference for her,” she said.
Mannisi said the NSA is big on showing support and being there for one another. He said it is like a family.
“I think for some children who have never met or heard someone who stutters, the first time that they get to meet someone else who has something in common with them, the bond and the ability to lean on one another it’s almost instantaneous,” Rose said.
Mannisi said NSA offers an outlet to uplift people’s confidence and welcomes you as you are.
“There are others out there who have dealt with things that you are dealing with, who have seen the things that you may not have seen,” he said. “It’s an organization where everyone can talk about all their experiences, the good and the bad. We can laugh together, we can cry together, we can yell at a situation in frustration. And there’s always going to be someone that’s going to say, ‘I understand. You’re not alone.’”
To find more information about the National Stuttering Association, click here.