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Stuttering ‘Speech’ gives insight into the speechless

By Gabby Katz

Section: Arts

March 4, 2011

Welcome back from February break! Hope everyone had a relaxing time and that you’re ready for the home stretch of this semester! One thing I’m sure many people did over break was catch up on their television watching and may have watched the Academy Awards. Even me, the self-proclaimed anti-television watcher, couldn’t help but notice all the attention a particular Academy Award winner was getting, especially “The King’s Speech.” I then decided to watch the movie and discovered a graphic portrayal of the struggle a man goes through in order to communicate with others due to his terrible struggle—all while becoming king of a nation. I couldn’t help but wonder if this movie was an accurate depiction of the disorder, so I did some research.

According to The Stuttering Foundation of America, “stuttering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this) or abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables. There may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak. Stuttering is also referred to as stammering.” These long stoppages and prolongations were consistent with the king in the movie; however, I think his outburst of swears was more Hollywood than anything else.

The disorder affects about five percent of all American children and usually begins between the ages of two and six with more than 50 percent of those children having another family member who stutters. Boys are twice as likely to stutter and four times as likely to continue stuttering through adulthood. Seventy-five percent of diagnosed children will stop stuttering; however, because little is known about the disorder, this statistic cannot be attributed to one single therapy regiment or pill. The disorder is often difficult to predict until the very onset of problems like pronounced grammatical errors in their speech and has been proven not to be directly linked to traumatic childhood experiences. This is unlike what is depicted in the movie, in which his horrible stutter is the result of the king’s mistreatment by his nanny and family.

In trying to explain the science behind stuttering, researchers believe it may result from a misfiring in the brain or in the muscles used to produce words.

In an interview with MSN, speech pathologist Luc De Nil described stutters in the following words: “They don’t have difficulty developing words or syntax, although they may process language differently. They have difficulty with efficient coordination of motor movements, and speech is such a high-demand fine-motor skill that requires extremely fast sequencing and timing.” He goes on to explain that the speech part of the brain is also responsible for hearing, planning, emotion, breathing, movement of the jaw, tongue, lips and neck, all of which can subsequently be affected.

One of the most effective methods of treatment for stuttering is speech therapy with a trained professional, which is why the king built a relationship with a doctor in order to overcome his condition. Although the movie portrays the king as incapable of uttering a fluid sentence, stuttering has a range of effects and varies among individuals.

Despite the over-dramatization, the movie creates awareness of a disorder that over three million Americans suffer, which is important in understanding how it affects their daily lives. The movie also proves that a person’s intelligence or heart isn’t defined or hindered by his or her stutter. I give the movie a thumbs up for plot and for the accurate portrayal of this disorder.

If you or someone you know is suffering from this condition, the web site http://www.stutteringhelp.org/ has a list of local speech pathologists and therapists who can help.

As always, tune in for more health tips and send me an e-mail at gkatz10@brandeis.edu with any health-related questions you may have.

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