Kimberly Garvin was a person who stutters.
“I stuttered until the third grade,” Garvin said. “My grandmother helped me overcome it by learning to speak slowly, and reading for hours at a time in a kneeling position with my hands behind my back to avoid a habit of hitting myself as a way to help me get my words out.”
Stuttering was in her family history.
“My uncle stuttered,” said Garvin, who is a mother of two. “So it wasn’t too surprising to discover that my son, Saadiq Wicks stuttered.”
The term stuttering, a speech disorder, occurs when the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases causing involuntary silent pauses or blocks and the person is unable to produce sounds.
“While my grandmother’s ways remedied my problem, as a child, it felt like torture,” said Garvin, who is a middle school reading teacher. “I wanted to take a different route with my son.”
The Stuttering Foundation states that a parent who decides to seek early treatment rather than use the “wait and see” method can make all the difference between regular speech development and the progression of a severe stutter.
“At first, because of my own experience with stuttering, it was easy for my daughter and me to interact with him,” she said. “However, when he started school, he tended to be quieter around the kids and teacher.”
More than 70 million people worldwide stutter, which is about one percent of the population. In the United States, that’s more than 3 million Americans who stutter. Surprisingly, there are millions who are unaware of what a person who stutters goes through or how to interact with them.
Founded by European League of Stuttering Associations, International Fluency Association and International Stuttering Association, International Stuttering Awareness Day, celebrated on Oct. 22, raises public awareness of the millions of people who have the speech disorder of stuttering, also known as stammering.
“While moms and dads take diligent notice of their child’s growth, oftentimes what can appear as normal delays in speech development — the repetition of a word or the prolonging of a sound — goes unnoticed or ignored,” said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation. “Nearly five percent of children under the age of 7 go through a period of stuttering. For 20 percent of those children, their speech impediment will persist beyond childhood if neglected.”
“My son’s in-school speech therapist focused on his speech fluency,” Garvin said. “She recommended the SAY Foundation to stop his stuttering; however, after some research we found that the focus of the organization is to embrace being a person who stutters, it’s a support group that helps them find their voice.”
Taro Alexander, founder and president of the Stuttering Association for theYoung, created and heads all SAY programs since the organization’s inception in 2001.
“I established Camp SAY in 2008, and in addition to camp, led the SAY’s Confident Voices program, teaching writing, dance, acting, directing, and music to children, 8-18,” Alexander said. He has directed more than 1,000 original plays with music written and performed by kids who stutter.
The discovery of the SAY Foundation and the summer camp came at the perfect time.
“I was being bullied at a party because I stutter,” Wicks said. “I told my mom who was at the party.”
The next time that happened was quite profound.
“Instead of staying hurt and angry, I walked over to the parents of the kid who made fun of me, and told them this is the way I talk,” Wicks said. “I realized the necessity of educating people, even adults, about people who stutter.”
“The SAY Foundation was a turning point for me and helped me became comfortable being a person who stutters,” Wicks said. “I was able to interact with others who stutter.”
Alexander told him, “to dream big and live courageously.” Those words quickly became Wicks’ mantra.
That was in 2013, when he became a proud member of a community of people who stutter.
With the help of his mom, Wicks established a nonprofit to help other kids go to Camp Say. While there are scholarships available and tuition is based on a sliding scale, Wicks wanted to do more.
“I founded “Lllet me Finish” to fill in a gap for funds needed for children to attend the camp,” said Wicks who has attended the camp for several years.
On a train on the way to Camp SAY, at age 12, Wicks decided to write a book, “When Oliver Speaks,” about a kid who also stutters and his journey navigating through grade school. “I plan to write a series of books about my character Oliver for other kids can relate to that journey,” Wicks said. The book is co-authored with his mom and available on Amazon.com.
Things to know about stuttering as outlined by the various foundations dedicated to educating people about the stuttering community are:
• Stuttering is generally not caused by psychological or physical trauma.
• Stuttering is not related to intelligence.
• Approximately three males stutter for every female who stutters.
• Many preschoolers who show early signs of stuttering will outgrow it but it cannot be predicted who will recover spontaneously. Speech therapy at an early age can increase the likelihood that the child will recover.
• There are no cures for stuttering. Speech therapy can help a person manage his or her speech and make long-term changes over time.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of as a person who stutters,” Wicks said. He is among many famous people who stutter: Bill Withers, Emily Blunt, James Earl Jones, John Stossel, Steve Harvey, Michelle Williams (singer); Bill Walton, Mel Tillis, Bob Love, John Updike, King George VI — and went on to have successful careers.
“When speaking with someone who stutters, please let us finish our sentences and don’t interrupt us,” Alexander said. “Please be patient and be a good listener.”
One of the highlights of Wicks’ young career as an activist for people who stutter was meeting entertainer, humanitarian, activist and civil rights movement leader Harry Belafonte.
“When I met with my new friend Mr. Harry Belafonte, we talked about my foundation, ‘Lllet Me Finish,’ and the work he is doing and the things that I would like to do,” Wicks said. “We should all be the change.”
There is no cure for stuttering but there can be acceptance and understanding.
Wicks will be 16 years old Oct. 31.
NiNiSpeech Therapy Center – www.ninispeech.com
The Stuttering Foundation – www.stutteringhelp.org
Power Stuttering Therapy – www.stuttering-therapy.com
Lllet Me Finish – www.Llletmefinish.com
National Stuttering Association – www.nsastutter.org
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders – www.nidcd.nih.gov
FRIENDS: The National Association of Young People Who – www.friendswhostutter.org
International Fluency Association – www.theifa.org
International Stuttering Association – www.isastutter.org
Stutter Aware – www.stutteraware.com
SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young – www.say.org
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.