'The King's Speech' Likely to Break Stuttering Stereotypes

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He said he believes that the new film, which he saw at its star-studded premiere Nov. 8, will debunk misconceptions that stutterers are less intelligent than those to whom speech comes easily and help them see that stuttering can't be cured but successfully managed.

Josh Denault, 35, of Berkeley, Calif., agreed that the film has the potential to "put to rest the notion that stutterers are any less capable than people who speak normally."

A biotech researcher specializing in automation and process improvement, Denault said he'll be among a Bay Area stuttering association contingent seeing the film when it arrives there in early December.

On its Facebook page, the National Stuttering Association posted the following message, encouraging its members to turn local showings into teachable moments. "'The King's Speech' is coming to a movie theater near you? Make the most of the experience! Call the theater. … Explain to them who you are and ask the manager if you could host an informational table in the lobby."

Stuttering is relatively rare, affecting about 1 percent of the population, but a diagnosis can bring stigma, embarrassment and leave sufferers open to being bullied, said Jim McClure, 67, who described himself as a stutterer, association board member and the organization's de facto publicist.

An association member survey conducted last year found eight in 10 children were teased or bullied about their stuttering.

Scrutiny, Self-Consciousness Lead Many Stutterers to Practice Avoidance

The withering scrutiny and extreme self-consciousness leads many stutterers to avoid speechmaking or even ordering in restaurants. Some flock to professions that don't demand much talking.

Most "don't talk about the stuttering with co-workers and classmates, or in some cases, family and even close friends," McClure said.

"What is a big step for lots of people who stutter is bringing out stuttering in the open and accepting it."

McClure hopes that when people finally see the film, they'll emerge with an understanding "that people who stutter often come to terms with stuttering in very courageous ways, as the king certainly did. And perfectly fluent speech is not necessarily the ticket of admission to a normal life."

McClure said he worries that while current thinking is that much of stuttering is physiological, "we find that parents of children who stutter often get outmoded advice from pediatricians and speech therapists."

Among children who stutter at some point, the vast majority will become fluent speakers, so many parents hang back to see if their child outgrows the stammer before initiating speech therapy.

At the same time, clinical practice has shown that the best thing for a young child who stutters is expert therapy in the pre-school years, he said.

"If nothing else, it gives the kid a head-start in coming to terms with stuttering before he acquires a lot of emotional baggage. And there is a growing body of experience that the right kind of therapy at pre-school age seems to improve the odds that a kid who stutters will outgrow stuttering."

Early intervention and prevention are crucial, echoed Tommie L. Robinson Jr., president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Md., and director of the speech disorders center at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

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