The movie, The King’s Speech, a portrayal of the life of stuttering British King George VI and his relationship with his speech therapist, is — in addition to be a strong contender for the Oscars — also being lauded for putting the often misunderstood speech disorder in the limelight.
According to the National Stuttering Association, stuttering afflicts about 3 million people in the United States and 65 million worldwide. It is a speech defect, for which the cause is still not known, in which sounds, syllables, or words are repeated or last longer than normal. These problems cause a break in the flow of speech and if stuttering becomes worse, words and phrases are repeated.
Many are hopeful that the film will help to bring the speech defect out of the shadows and change some of the perceptions about stuttering. In fact, the film seems likely to do for stuttering what Rain Man did for autism and As Good As It Gets did for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Norbert Lieckfeldt, CEO of the British Stammering Association (BSA), speaking about the misconceptions of the disorder, said: “The obvious one is ‘if only you’d take a deep breath and think about what you want to say, it’ll come out. ‘People who stammer know exactly what they want to say. It’s just that their body at that point will not allow them to produce the right sounds in the right order.”
“There is a misconception that people who stammer are stammering because they are nervous, or more shy, or more intelligent or forced to be right-handed when they are left-handed: all urban myths.”
Lieckfeldt offers the following tips for anyone meeting someone who stammers for the first time:
- Always listen to what is being said, not how it is being said.
- Keep eye contact, don’t look away. That would indicate to the person with the stutter that you are feeling embarrassed.
- Try not to finish their sentence for them, even if you think you know what they want to say. If you get it wrong, the person with the stutter has to start all over again which is exhausting.
- Try to slow down your own rate of speech. If you talk very fast without pauses, that speeds up the general level of conversation.
The King’s Speech, which sees Colin Firth tipped for an Oscar for his portrayal of the stuttering monarch, is being praised by stutterers and medical professionals alike for its raw and honest portrayal of the speech defect. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Gerald A. Maguire , who underwent speech therapy and mediation treatment as a child, said: “It really captured well that anticipatory anxiety, the fear around the speech, the frustration that people who stutter have even today in seeking help and seeking relief of their symptoms.”
“The movie gave an accurate portrayal of the stuttering problem, and especially captured the frustration stutterers have in public speaking situations and the great lengths they will go to alleviate the problem.”
Click here to read about Oscar contender psycho-thriller Black Swan, which shines the spotlight on psychosis and about the late comedian Charlie Callas, who often played off physical tics such as stuttering, speech problems and shaking.
Images: Wikimedia Commons and soundsandsights.org