Showing Our Stuttering Moves

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We may not know all the reasons for stuttering, but one thing’s for sure—children who stutter want to be heard!

People who stutter want to express themselves, but sometimes fear of potential embarrassment can overwhelm them. Luckily, movies like “The King’s Speech” and celebrities such as Lazaro Arbos from “American Idol” have put stuttering in the spotlight and can help inspire our kids. Together with information offered by the Stuttering Foundation on its website and in books, videos and conferences, the increased attention can help our students tackle the emotional side of stuttering and learn how stuttering can affect their lives in a positive way.

I am lucky that my school allows me to work once a week with a group of students who stutter. We work voluntarily during lunch time to tackle some of the emotional issues related to stuttering, with support from Margarita Torres, a student teacher from Adelphi University. I intend for the sessions to operate much like a support group—a forum in which students can discuss their feelings and thoughts about stuttering. I have tried to adapt desensitization and acceptance approaches outlined in Peter Reitze’s book “50 Great Activities for Children Who Stutter: Lessons, Insights and Ideas for Therapy Success” as I work with the students.

The group consists of two fifth-grade girls, a fourth-grade girl, a third-grade boy—and a fourth-grade boy who does not stutter but is friends with the other group members. One day as we were eating lunch and talking about famous people who stuttered, I shared with the group the story of Lazaro Arbos’ audition on “American Idol.” We showed the students the video and discussed his performance.

A few minutes later, one student broke out into song! He sang only one line, “I got the bounce like Darth Vader,” to the tune of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” We all giggled and were impressed with his musical talent. That one line stuck with me and my student teacher. Then I remembered the New York City United Federation of Teachers Speech Improvement Chapter’s Better Speech and Hearing Month Contest. My student teacher Margarita Torres, the students and I worked quickly to create a music video to submit for the contest.

The March 15 deadline was approaching fast and meeting once weekly was not going to be enough. So we decided to meet three times a week and work on modifying the rest of the song’s lyrics. We changed the lyrics to include information about stuttering (for example, famous people who stutter, including Darth Vader), tips for others when speaking to people who stutter, and feelings about stuttering. The group did an amazing job memorizing and working on the lyrics, and the script before the music video discusses why speech therapy is important.

Hopefully this experience has taught the students that being a person who stutters does not limit their potential. It only can enhance potential.

Kelly M. Enamorado, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist at Public School 36 in New York City. She can be reached at Kenamorado@gmail.com.

“After Words”: The Story Behind the Film

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(photo credit - Aphasia Community Group) 

In 2000 I produced a program called “Faces of Aphasia,” which was held at Boston University. It aimed a spotlight on aphasia and the Aphasia Community Group of Boston. Now beginning its 24th year, the Group is one of the oldest support groups of its kind.

“Faces of Aphasia” introduced aphasia to the community through the performing arts. It featured the first public performance by acclaimed mezzo soprano Jan Curtis following her stroke. Actor/playwright Joseph Chaikin performed “Struck Dumb,” a monologue on the inner thoughts of an aphasic individual. “The Other Voices of Aphasia,” an original piece by group co-founder Judy Blatt, was performed by family members. A staged reading of “Night Sky” by Susan Yankowitz, a play about aphasia, was performed by individuals living with aphasia. It was filmed and used as a teaching tool in communication disorders graduate programs.

Inspired by “Faces of Aphasia,” Emmy Award winning filmmaker Vincent Straggas and I created the documentary “after words 2003,” which premiered in Boston in June, 2003. It featured vivid portraits of members of the Aphasia Community Group as well as internationally acclaimed celebrities such as Tony Award winner Julie Harris, Academy Award winner Patricia Neal, Grammy Award winner Bobby McFerrin, Robert McFerrin, and Annie Glenn Award winner Jan Curtis, all of whose lives were touched by aphasia and related disorders. “after words 2003” opened to wide acclaim and was embraced by the public and in academic, rehabilitation, community, and medical settings.

A new documentary, based on the original film, and comprised of new portraits and interviews has been produced and is currently airing on public television stations around the country. Co-produced by me, Vincent Straggas, ASHA fellow and executive director of the National Aphasia Association Ellayne Ganzfried, the new “after words” features neurologists, authors and clinicians including Nancy Helm Estabrooks, Ellayne Ganzfried, Jerome Kaplan, Howard Kirshner, Marjorie Nicholas, Oliver Sacks, Martha Sarno, and Gottfried Schlaug. It profiles individuals living successfully with aphasia, presents different types and severities of aphasia, including primary progressive aphasia, explores aphasia’s impact on families, discusses legal implications of aphasia, and explores the life participation approach to aphasia.

“After Words” is currently being distributed to public television stations nationwide. However, it is up to each individual station to include it in their schedule. While it has already aired in a number of cities, it has not yet aired on the majority of public television stations. Therefore, the producers of “After Words” encourage the aphasia communityspeech-language pathologists, state and local speech-language hearing associations, aphasia support groups, rehabilitation centers, individuals touched by aphasia—to contact their local public television stations and urge them to air “After Words.” We anticipate a new wave of airings to occur in the months to come, following the program’s re-distribution to public television in mid-January. Thus, contacting local stations, and in particular, program managers at these stations, when the film is re-distributed, would be especially timely.

We hope to bring this important program to the widest possible audience.  Take a look at the trailer:

Jerome Kaplan is an SLP and founder of the Aphasia Community Group of Boston.  Working with artists, actors, musicians, filmmakers, and members of the aphasia community, he has developed projects to raise aphasia awareness and understanding by illuminating the world of aphasia and promoting the life participation approach to aphasia.  His latest project, “after words,” a documentary about aphasia, is currently airing on public television.