The Right Words to Help Stuttering Youths

Article excerpt

Plenty can be said against political correctness, but it has forced many to curb their mean-spirited comments against the physically challenged.

Unless that challenge happens to involve a stutter.

"Stuttering is a highly penalized behavior," says Nan Bernstein Rattner, head of the department of speech and hearing at the University of Maryland. "People will never make fun of a cripple."

Apparently, they don't feel so inhibited about the speech impaired. And those rebukes sting more when the recipients are children.

This Thursday, a group dedicated to helping children who stutter will gather to spread support and information for those youngsters and their families.

"Voices to be Heard," the third annual convention of Friends: The Association of Young People Who Stutter, will be held through Saturday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington.

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Stuttering is speech that is interrupted by the repetition of a word, syllable or sound, according to Lise G. Cloutier-Steele's "Living and Learning With a Child Who Stutters." Often, the stutter involves a gesture or movement, such as eye blinking, triggered by the vocal hitch. Children can be particularly cruel to peers who stutter.

"Kids will walk up to a child who stutters and make fun of them and that gets to them really early," says Ms. Bernstein Rattner.

Researchers have yet to uncover the exact reason why a person stutters.

Parents of children who stutter often go from doctor to doctor, hoping for a miracle cure to straighten the bumps in their child's speech.

"[Stuttering] lends itself to management, not a cure," Ms. Bernstein Rattner says.

Lex Trumble of Centreville, whose 9-year-old daughter Kelsey began stuttering when she turned 3, became concerned when Kelsey entered preschool.

"What are the other kids going to do? How is she going to cope? Kids are very, very mean," Mrs. Trumble says. "Every situation that's new [to her] always worries me."

At home, the determined mom makes sure her daughter enjoys a supportive upbringing, which has helped make Kelsey's entry into school a smooth one. Experts say such parental care can be critical to a child's speech improvement.

"We never made it an issue in the house," she says. "It was never something we tried to hide. She knew if she needed 10 minutes to tell me something, she had it."

That hasn't made all problems disappear. Mrs. Trumble recalls a time when her daughter bolted from the classroom after getting flustered while speaking in class.

Today, thanks to continued support on the home front and therapy, Kelsey has a mature outlook about her stuttering.

"She says, `I stutter, you deal with it,' " Mrs. Trumble says.

To hear Kelsey talk, it's clear she gets a bit stuck at times. But her tone makes it equally apparent she won't stop expressing herself because of it.

It's a message her classmates have no problem understanding.

"They don't tease me because they know and respect me," says Kelsey, who will enter the fourth grade this fall.

Kelsey enrolled in a drama course for the summer, where she dances, makes puppets and rehearses dialogue.

During the just-wrapped school year, she even recited a page-long poem before an audience. …