At Steinhardt, Representatives from the Stuttering Community Assess The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech: Fact or Fiction was the title of a panel hosted by Steinhardt’s Department of Communicative Sciences earlier this month.

The panel brought together artists, scientists, practitioners, and advocates to discuss how the Oscar-winning movie has shed light on a disorder that is frequently, as one panelist said, “ignored at best, bullied and ridiculed at worst.”

What they said:

Taro Alexander, founder and director of Our Time, a non-profit association that helps children who stutter, described the isolation of growing up as a stutterer, and how he devised elaborate acts and routines through which he could avoid saying words that made him stutter. These tricks included claiming he was forgetful, walking

away from conversations, and not getting too close to anyone because people would then discover that he stuttered.

Alexander also described early attempts at therapy that left him frustrated. He remarked that today there is a community of stutterers thatsupports one another. That is becoming even more prominent because of the film. “The King’s Speech changed the game,” he said.

Professional actor and teacher Lee Caggiano, who servesas the director of Friends, the National Association of Young People Who Stutter,noted that “The King’s Speech” brought stuttering into public view.

“It’s now okay to talk about stuttering just as King George (Bertie) began to do as he progressed in his therapy, with Lionel” Caggiano said. “We all want to be heard, to have a voice. The mechanics of fluency is the easy part in therapy. The harder part is helping people overcome their attitudes and feelings — shame, fear, embarrassment on the one hand and high expectations that only perfect fluency is acceptable on the other — that interfere with greater fluency,” she said.

John A. Haskell, board-recognized fluency specialist, noted that most of the treatments in the Kings’ Speech are similar to those employed today. Current therapeutic treatment includes a combination of mechanical, auditory, facilitative, and psychological interventions. Less common might be the specific ones used by Lionel in the movie, such as marbles in the mouth or sitting on a patient’s diaphragm.

“Among those with speech disorders, the drive to communicate (and not to communicate) come into conflict so we are constantly helping clients chip away at avoidance behaviors and helping them develop more effective ways of speaking and communicating,” Haskell said.

Irene Kling, adjunct faculty, Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, NYU, praised the film for its insight into the therapeutic process of “finding oneself.”

“Therapy is about accepting who you are, and often the biggest obstacle is getting patients to see beyond their stuttering. One of the most realistic aspects of The King’s Speech was the portrayal of the long-term relationship between Lionel and the King — one of trust, listening, empathy, confidence.There is no magic pill for treating speech disorders,” Kling said.

Photo: At the discussion, Mitchell Trichon’s (left) presented “self help activities fit for a king’s speech (with Irene King, and Lee Caggiano).