Most people have struggled, at some point, to put their thoughts into words. But for someone with a speech disorder like stuttering, that experience can be constant.
Stuttering disrupts the flow of speech. And it can be so disruptive that those who stutter might avoid talking altogether. They might even question if what they have to say is worth the effort, and self-doubt can affect their self-esteem.
Courtney Byrd is a University of Texas at Austin communication disorders researcher and the founder of the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute. She’s also the creator of the free summer camp, Camp Dream. Speak. Live., for kids who stutter, happening this week. Byrd says stuttering is a neurophysiological disorder.
“People who stutter are not stuttering because they’re nervous; they’re not atypically anxious, and many of the people who stutter who we work with are unusually bright,” Byrd says. “So, to suggest that they aren’t intelligent is another fallacy that they, as people who stutter, have to navigate every day of their life.”
Byrd says she got into stuttering treatment and research after working with children several years ago. One 13-year-old, in particular, stuck in her memory. He stuttered, and she says he understood his limitations, but he didn’t know how to overcome them, especially in his daily life.
“He could maintain fluent speech within the sterile clinical environment, but whenever we’d move outside of the clinic, the stuttering was there in full force,” Byrd says.
After that, Byrd decided to get more specialized training, and, eventually, she started the camp. One of the goals of the Camp Dream.Speak.Live. is to help kids feel empowered. Byrd says she teaches kids what stuttering is, and also teaches them how to talk to other people about it. People who stutter can be mocked by others, Byrd says, or talked about in hushed tones, which can make them feel ashamed. But Byrd says these kids learn to face those conflicts head-on.
“ ‘I talk like this because my brain is different in the way that it processes things,’” Byrd says one of her clients told a dentist who mocked her speech. “ ‘It doesn’t mean that I am any less smart or any less capable than anybody else that you’ll ever meet.’”
But the camp isn’t necessarily meant to “cure” a stutter. Byrd says people who stutter can learn to communicate effectively without getting rid of the speech imperfection.
“We focus [in] the camp on their overall communication, so teaching them how to engage the listener, showing a positive demeanor … using eye contact, using meaningful gestures, staying on topic,” Byrd says.
She says these techniques can help people “transcend” the stutter even if it doesn’t go away.
This story has been updated to include that the summer camp is free.
Written by Caroline Covington.