From drive-thrus to classroom presentations, stuttering should not hold anybody back
Many college students face extenuating circumstances others may never even think about or be aware of. As a person who stutters and recent graduate of Western Carolina University, Javan Braswell understands what that can feel like.
“The first days of class you have to go around the room and tell who you are and where you’re from. That was just like the worst times of my life,” Braswell reflects.
According to The Stuttering Foundation, 1% of the worldwide population stutters.
Charley Adams is a clinical assistant professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at the University of South Carolina. Although he does not stutter himself, he has done presentations and attended many workshops on stuttering and speech pathology since earning a doctorate from the department in 2002.
“Speech conversation, for most of the world, is effortless,” Adams says. “We hear opinions, we share ideas, we tell jokes, and we don’t think about getting the words out at all.”
Things that may seem like regular activities for many people — reading aloud in class, ordering an entrée when out to dinner, talking on the phone or even introducing themselves to someone for the first time — may be difficult for people who stutter.
When asked if there was a certain experience related to stuttering that he remembers, Braswell brought up Chick-fil-A.
He recalled pulling into one of the restaurant chain’s drive-thrus with one of his best friends while back home. His friend was driving. He was in shotgun.
“It’s one of those drive-thrus where you have two paths you can go on,” Braswell began. “In one path, the speaker is on the driver’s side and in the other path the speaker is on the passenger’s side.”
Braswell remembers feeling nervous as they drove up to make their order.
“I’m thinking, ‘Dude, please go to the one where the driver has to talk’. But he goes to the passenger’s side so I’m having to order for him, order for me.”
“I got to the end of my order, and I really wanted barbecue sauce. And for the longest time I could not say ‘barbecue’ — especially when I was younger — I just could not say it. It was just the worst block ever. I’m sitting there. My friend is staring at me — I’m staring at the microphone. And I’m just struggling through, trying to say barbecue.”
Ninety-nine percent of people would not have thought twice about asking for barbecue sauce in that moment. But for Braswell — and 3 million other Americans who stutter — some words or phrases can take a little bit longer to say.
Given his educational background and professional experience, Adams empathizes with this. He says that speech, which can be taken for granted by many people, can be very effortful for people who stutter.
Ultimately, the difference between people who stutter and people who do not stutter is people who stutter may take longer to say what they have to say.
“I would say that we need to hear a lot more stuttering especially in the popular media. In order to normalize stuttering, we need to hear more and if we can normalize it, it’s going to make some progress in reducing the stigma surrounding stuttering,” Adams says.
Numerous celebrities and other notable people who have experienced stuttering themselves or continued to stutter into their adult lives serve as role models within the stuttering community. They include former Vice President Joe Biden, Houston Astros outfielder George Springer, Dallas Mavericks small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, basketball player-turned-broadcaster Bill Walton, actor James Earl Jones, and the late musician Bill Withers. The six of them, plus many more, help debunk misperceptions about stuttering.
But to Braswell, changes to the way stuttering is perceived can start small.
“It’s way deeper than what you see, and your actions can really impact the communicator. If you ever encounter someone you think might have a stutter, keep this in mind and know that your reactions can really have a profound impact on a person who stutters,” Braswell says.