It is estimated that more than 60 million people in the world stutter, and this common yet widely misunderstood speech disorder can cause extreme emotional distress in the staggering 5 percent of youth who struggle not only with verbal communication but also with the associated shame, discrimination, and social isolation. Stuttering can claim a child’s desire to speak, and ultimately the ability to achieve his or her dreams.
I have stuttered since age 5, and from a very young age I have been fortunate to benefit from the creative and healing outlet that the performing arts provide. In 2001, I drew upon my experiences and created Our Time Theatre Company in order to offer programming tailored to the needs of youth who stutter.
Our Time is a nonprofit organization [editor’s note: now called The Stuttering Association For The Young] that uses the arts as an innovative and effective approach to improving the confidence and communication skills of children who stutter, ages 8 to 18. Youth who stutter from diverse backgrounds are welcomed into a community of unconditional acceptance, where they feel safe to express their unique and valuable voices. Our Time participants develop vital communication skills, gain enriching friendships, and experience momentous success, giving them the confidence to overcome the challenges presented by stuttering. The company is committed to offering its New York City programming free of charge and providing financial aid for its national program, Camp Our Time.
Effective communication is at the core of the performing arts, and Our Time is the first organization to use this exceptional tool to help kids who stutter overcome their fear of speech. Participants learn how to communicate clearly and powerfully, regardless of their fluency, giving them the confidence to speak in any situation. Through live performances, short films, music recordings, TV appearances, presentations, Q&A sessions, and more, Our Time shines a spotlight on the vast talents and abilities of youth who stutter.
Leading speech professionals agree that Our Time’s programming coupled with speech therapy is a potent combination that can help young people reclaim their voices and reach their fullest potential. Phil Schneider, CCC-SLP, and Uri Schneider, M.A., CCC-SLP, are respected experts in the realm of speech pathology and have emphasized the importance of Our Time and other support organizations that “deal with a person’s attitudes and feelings about stuttering.”
Phil and Uri Schneider emphasized the importance of Our Time’s work while sharing their thoughts on geneticist Dr. Dennis Drayna’s groundbreaking research released in February 2010, which identifies stuttering as a biological disorder rather than an emotional one:
At this moment in time, even with this new genetic research, we are a long way off from understanding underlying brain-function issues which might lead to new treatments [for stuttering]. Perhaps the research’s greatest contribution is to further dispel the many misconceptions about stuttering and to reinforce what many of us have known to be true — stuttering is not caused by a psychosocial disorder.
While researchers continue to search for genetic underpinnings and ultimately for brain function models, our most urgent focus is to provide supportive therapeutic experiences for children and adults who are living with this challenging trait. One important resource is a professional speech therapist who specializes in stuttering. But many young people who stutter also benefit from new, less conventional programs that provide invaluable opportunities:
- to realize they are not alone
- to express their thoughts and feelings, and
- to realize that they can express themselves with joy, depth, and effectiveness, notwithstanding their stuttering.
Our Time Theatre Company and its summer camp program Camp Our Time stands out as a leader in providing young people with these important opportunities; to feel socially connected, to express themselves and to be empowered through creative self-expression.
Interestingly, there is emerging research which links joy, happiness, and other positive feelings with increased relaxation and freedom of speech. If we continue to fuse basic science, with this kind of research, we can truly support the most positive outcomes for young people who stutter.
While recent discoveries suggest that stuttering is a biological problem, its emotional impact can be devastating to youth and have lifelong implications. Our Time fosters a healthy self-esteem in its participants that empowers them to succeed through their developing years and beyond.
For more information, please visit www.say.org.