My Beautiful Stutter

By Takia Greene

Aliza Layman was six years old when she was diagnosed. “I remember telling my speech pathologist I don’t talk like my friends talk,” says Layman. “The words would get stuck in my throat.” Three million Americans stutter and may have faced a time in their lives when they felt like they were alone, or people didn’t understand them because of how they speak. Children may be teased or bullied and can tend to isolate themselves.

Stuttering is a speech disorder that affects how a child may speak and pronounce words. A child who stutters tends to pause when trying to get a word out or may repeat part of the word until they get the word out fully. Someone who may not be aware that a child stutters may think something is wrong with the child.

“I didn’t meet anyone who stuttered until I was in college,” says Layman, who is a graduate student in speech-language pathology at Lehman College and participated in a panel discussion after the screening of My Beautiful Stutter at the Lovinger Theatre. “I felt alone a lot of times and I was quiet and didn’t have many people to talk to.”

When children stutter, they struggle to pronounce certain words. “I thought stuttering was bad and I had to hide it,” says Layman. “Times where I had to read aloud, I would count to see how many people were in front of me, and then when it was my turn, I would ask to use the bathroom.”

Panel at the screening of My Beautiful Stutter at the Lovinger Theater.

Some feel their stuttering frustrates others around them or they worry a person whom they are speaking to might finish their sentences for them.

The film My Beautiful Stutter follows the lives of the five children who stutter from ages 9 to 18. It shows how they have been bullied and they get a chance to interact with other children who stutter at a camp sponsored by the Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY) program. Camp SAY is a place where the children are free to express themselves without feeling judged or alone.

Children who experience stuttering are diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist who tests the children’s fluency. There is no cure for stuttering but there is treatment available. “Having to tell yourself it is not a bad thing that your child stutters is hard,” says Professor Cheryl Goettsche, a speech language pathologist at Lehman College. “Exposing parents to all the options for seeking therapy to help their child become fluent is very important.”

Stutterers can overcome many of the symptoms of the disorder. A few famous examples of celebrities who stutter include television host Steve Harvey, actor Samuel L. Jackson and hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar. Vice President Biden struggled with stuttering as well. There are organizations, such as the National Stuttering Association (NSA), that work with stutterers of all ages and SAY, which works with the young.

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