Raising Awareness of Stuttering

Patty Walton King's Speech

Patty Walton observes a graduate student during a speech therapy session with a patient at UNC's Speech and Audiology clinic. Inset: Walton poses for a portrait in front of a poster of the King's Speech in her office.

The acclaimed film The King's Speech, and most recently, TV appearances by an American Idol contestant have brought welcome public attention to stuttering, says UNC faculty expert Patty Walton about the speech disorder that "affects a person's entire life" in the one out of every 100 people who experiences it.

"The King's Speech changed the way the world thought of stuttering," said Walton, who specializes in therapy for both children and adults and supervises graduate students working with clients who stutter in UNC's Speech and Audiology Clinic. "The king was portrayed as being so courageous and strong through everything.

"The movie shed light on what true stuttering looks like."

And that ties in with the message Walton wants to get out about stuttering. The condition impacts a person a person's daily routine at school or work (e.g, reluctance to raise a hand to a question in class despite knowing the answer), in social situations (e.g., choosing to be isolated from others) and shapes self-concept.

"No two people stutters alike," Walton said. "It's like a fingerprint and unique to the person. That makes it harder to treat. Therapy needs to be tailored to meet needs of individuals, not just their speech pattern, but also how it affects their lives. Therefore it is important to seek out a speech language pathologist with expertise in stuttering."

Walton says stuttering is often accompanied by tension and feelings of loss of control. Fear and anticipation can occur before moments of stuttering, which can make the stuttering worsen.

Nervousness, stress and lack of intellect as contributors are common myths. So are the beliefs that a child will grow out of it or that there's nothing that can be done to help. Watching American Idol's Lazaro Arbos compelled Walton to contact him and offer encouragement about finding the right speech therapist when he's ready.

"‘Therapy can help, and you don't have to live this way,'" she told him in her message. "I see changes in people every day at the clinic."

About UNC's Clinic

Since 1958, the UNC's Speech and Audiology Clinic has provided diagnostic and rehabilitative services to people with speech, language, hearing and/or balance difficulties. In addressing stuttering, Walton said there are generally three areas of focus: 1) Fluency shaping: helping people who stutter learn how to produce more fluent speech; 2) Modification: teaching people who stutter to do so better and under control;
3) Counseling: To help shape positive attitudes and emotions. More info at: http://www.unco.edu/NHS/asls/Clinic.htm

Online Resource


FOX News video featuring Walton