Speaking of Stuttering

The King’s Speech, which won four Academy Awards, is viewed as an inspiration film to overcoming adversity.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2011) – The day following the University of South Florida’s Youth Day for Children who Stutter, the film The King’s Speech won four Academy Awards for its sensitive portrayal of King George’s battle to overcome his own stuttering problem. 


For the thousands of people who stutter around the world this film’s popularity has brought new understanding and empathy.


The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Lead Actor and Best Screenplay.


Nathan Maxfield, an assistant professor and speech-language pathologist at USF, has witnessed the affects.  He was part of a panel discussion about stuttering at a screening of the film when it opened at the Tampa Theatre.


The King's Speech has captured so much attention because people are generally inspired by watching other people overcome insurmountable odds,” he said. “This movie has given the public a better understanding of how stuttering can control the lives of even the most powerful people.  Were Britain not facing peril, King George VI may never have had enough motivation to confront his stammer.


“The movie also gives a realistic picture of what's involved in overcoming stuttering; especially for adults whose stuttering is severe. Although the speech therapy techniques featured in the movie are obsolete, what is portrayed very well is how hard people who stutter must work to transcend their stuttering, either through speech therapy in which they learn to manage their stuttering, or through self-help in which they learn to genuinely accept that they stutter and live a full live in spite of it.”   


Maxfield hopes the positive effect of the film lasts.


“Beyond King George's story, let us not forget that there are many people today who face stuttering on a daily basis and thrive, including some of our own students and alum from USF. In crossing paths with those people, I hope the general public will remember to give them a voice too; even if they aren't royalty.


“People don't understand what it's like for a child not to be able to say his own name confidently in a classroom on the first day of school, never mind read aloud in class or raise his hand and ask a question about a difficult homework assignment. As this condition progresses into later childhood, the teen years, and adulthood, the impact on educational, social and vocational achievement can be significant and hard to overcome, as shown in The King's Speech,” said  Maxfield, who is personally acquainted with the condition. 


“Even though we’ve come a long way from King George’s day, and though stuttering research is going on around the world, getting the proper treatment for young people who stutter is not as routine as you might imagine it would be in modern times,” he said.  “We are doing our best to get the word out but not everyone who needs to know is aware of all there is to know.”


Youth Day held on Feb. 26 featured age-specific activities that worked to build self-confidence. Promoted as a statewide event, participants came from other parts of the country. 


“Children who stutter may feel isolated due to their stuttering,” Maxfield said.  “A very positive experience for them is to meet other peers who stutter. We show that stuttering is something that can be downplayed in importance in one’s life while showing the importance of building on their strengths.”


The children at Youth Day had plenty of positive role models to inspire them.  In addition to Maxfield, there were a USF graduate student in engineering serving as a group leader, a manager from the Mosaic Company, an employee of the Orlando Magic running a morning session, and other adults who stutter from the National Stuttering Association’s Tampa chapter.  Volunteers for the day were drawn from the ranks of USF’s undergraduate and graduate students studying speech pathology.  Experienced speech-language pathologists who work with some of the children in attendance were on hand to share their insights and learn what’s new in their field.


“Parents who were new to Youth Day were mentored by parents who had been with us before,” Maxfield said.  “That’s inspiring along with the feedback we get about children who attended Youth Day in the past and pretty much immediately started showing greater confidence in their lives in the days following.”


Joseph Constantine, a clinical instructor in USF's speech-language pathology program, has also seen a positive impact on parents of children who stutter.


"The whole experience is as transformative as it is informative.  Parents walk away with a new sense of what it means to be part of a powerful support network for children who stutter," Constantine said.


With or without a popular new film, progress will continue to be made in this area.


“The National Stuttering Association is now represented in all 50 states as of last year,” said Tammy Flores, executive director of the National Stuttering Association.  “Our local support groups, website, facebook, email groups and newsletters are some of the ways that people can share and learn.  People who stutter and professionals in the field benefit from the programs and resources offered by the NSA and then turn around and find ways to give back.  There is an honest and compassionate feeling paired with information and resources which make our organization thrive.”


Youth Day was hosted by the USF Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the College of Behavioral and Community Science and sponsored by the National Stuttering Association and the USF chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.  For more information visit http://csd.cbcs.usf.edu/ or call (813) 974-6190.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.