What do Tiger Woods, Johnny Damon, Joe Biden, Julia Roberts,
James Earl Jones and Carly Simon have in common?
Yes, they're all famous, but that's not it.
They are among the 1 percent of adults and 5 percent of children who
"It's a lonely disorder to have, and often, it's hidden, covert," says
Marybeth Allen, a speech language pathologist and graduate student
supervisor in the University of Maine's Department of Communication
Sciences and Disorders.
To help make things a little less lonely for Mainers who stutter, Allen
coordinates two monthly support groups in Belfast and on the UMaine
campus. At the national level, she serves as the National Stuttering
Association (NSA) cochair for family programs. Each week, she spends
hours editing NSA's Family Voices newsletter, sorting through and
responding to e-mails, and vetting and helping people who want to start
support groups for youths and their parents.
This outreach is both a personal and professional mission for Allen, who
grew up stuttering and also has a son who stutters.
"We all share the common challenge of stuttering and how it affects our
lives, how it affects our participation in life," Allen says. "We all
have parts of who we are that are challenges, but NSA says, Don't let
stuttering define who you are.'"
Because of the multifaceted nature of the disorder, Allen says, it's
important for people who stutter to get together with others who
understand what they're going through. Therapy can work wonders, but
therapy is not the same as support. Often, people have days or even
hours when they're fluent and times when they aren't.
In the past decade, good research is leading to the understanding that
childhood onset stuttering is a neurophysiological disorder, Allen says.
A person who stutters and one who doesn't may say the same words in the
same tone of voice, but their mouths and their brains are going through
completely different processes. Add a little tension to the mix, and
fluency can break down quickly.
"A lot of people experience a fear of public speaking, and with someone
who stutters, you get this anticipatory fear," Allen says. "Stuttering
is like an iceberg. Observers of stuttering see the tip of the iceberg,
they hear the observable speech, but nobody sees what's underneath the
water never knowing when you're going to stutter. I experienced that
growing up, not knowing if someone was going to make fun of me."
For children and young adults, support groups can be critical. But
they're equally important for adults, which is why Allen and Shaleen
Jain, a UMaine professor of civil and environmental engineering, started
the on-campus forum. Jain has led similar groups in Utah and Colorado.
For Allen and the participants, the support groups provide an
opportunity for sharing. The groups also are a learning environment
where graduate students in speech pathology can gain invaluable
UMaine Today Magazine
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