Short Wave: The Social Side of Stuttering

Today is Inauguration Day, which got us thinking about speech-making and speeches.

President-elect Joe Biden has spoken publicly about his childhood experiences with stuttering and annotating his speeches to help with fluency.

At the Democratic National Convention, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington took to the virtual stage to talk about meeting Biden at a campaign event in New Hampshire.

“He told me that we were members of the same club,” Harrington said. “We s-s-stutter.”

An estimated 1% of the world’s adults stutter, which in the United States translated to 3 million peopleIn one study, two-thirds of people who stuttered had a family member who also stuttered, or used to.

Yet the condition — which seems rooted in neurobiology and likely has a genetic component — remains misunderstood and even stigmatized. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders describes stuttering as a “speech disorder, characterized by repetition of sounds, syllables, or words; prolongation of sounds; and interruptions in speech known as blocks.”

But speech-pathologist Naomi Rodgers, who has stuttered since childhood, says this definition does not adequately capture it’s like to live with a stutter — that the medical model of disability does not account for the social environment. The Rodgers is an assistant professor at the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders.

Rodgers is pushing for a social model: stuttering as a neurodevelopmental variation, that leads to a unique forward execution of speech sounds, produced in the context of language and social interaction.

She researches how people who stutter make a positive change to their lives and cognitive bias among people who stutter, including the social-emotional impact on adolescents.

“If we think about fluency on a spectrum, we have people that are highly fluent and we have people that are highly disfluent. Then, stuttering reflects just a natural variation in fluency, which I think is really, really important. It situates stuttering as a difference and not as a disorder,” Rodgers said.

Resources For Stuttering and Allyship:

National Association For Stuttering

The Stuttering Foundation and The Stuttering Foundation Podcast

SAY: The Stuttering Association For The Young

Tips For Being An Ally To People Who Stutter

“What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself To Say,” John Hendrickson for The Atlantic

This episode was produced by Thomas Lu, fact checked by Ariela Zebede, and edited by Gisele Grayson. Special thanks Emily Abshire too.


Short Wave Podcast

It’s science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join host Maddie Sofia for science on a different wavelength.

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7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade, Adults

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