For most people, talking is a routine part of the day that doesn't require much thought. From answering questions in class to hanging out with friends, speech is nearly effortless. But for 1 percent of the world’s population, this isn't the case.
Approximately 70 million people worldwide, including 3 million Americans, have a stutter that disrupts their speech patterns and makes communication difficult. This difficulty can lead to anxiety in social situations.
Ph.D. student Scott Van Buren describes his stutter as a frustrating barrier to communication, especially when talking with strangers, trying to place orders at a restaurant or experiencing an unfamiliar situation.
“It’s a very weird feeling that can be difficult to explain to people,” Van Buren said. “It’s like this moment where you know what you want to say, it’s in your head and you can feel it. You know you want to say it, but you can’t get the word out.”
Van Buren worked with speech pathologists to develop strategies to help him deal with his stutter and minimize anxiety. Van Buren has also received help through a program run by Lisa Domby in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine. The program pairs people like Van Buren with graduate students who study speech disorders.
“If I needed to go to a licensed speech pathologist it would be very expensive. I’m not sure the exact range, but it would definitely be more than I could afford to pay,” Van Buren said. “The nice thing is, on campus they have ... I guess you could call it a free clinic, if you are willing to work with graduate students and a supervisor. You go in for free, and they’ll work with you on different ways and strategies to make things easier.”
Another resource for students and community members is the National Stuttering Association. The local chapter provides members with support, education and increased awareness of stuttering. Chapel Hill's NSA chapter began last year and meets on the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in Bondurant Hall Room G030.
“Our meetings are a safe space for individuals to come and be heard without any fear of judgement,” said Vicky Tsakas, one of the chapter leaders. “We bring in guest speakers, we plan things outside of the meetings and we try and plan fun activities so people can come in and get to know each other.”
Neither Tsakas nor the other chapter leader Katie Thayer have stutters, but both study for the speech and hearing sciences minor.
“We’re at least a little bit more familiar with stuttering than the average person would be,” Thayer said. “We want our members to feel more comfortable and have a place to come where they know that we really do understand what they are going through.”
For people like Van Buren, this recognition and understanding is appreciated.
“It’s nice to talk to other people who are aware of it,” Van Buren said. “I don’t have to feel like I have to hide it or anything from them because that is what they are there for.”
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