Take the time to listen, they say

Sunday, April 24, 2005
Karen Farkas
Plain Dealer Reporter

Children who stutter don’t have a problem — it’s the people around them who do.

Friends need to be patient and let them complete words and finish sentences.

Teachers need to encourage them to make presentations and participate in class.

Speech-language pathologists need to realize they will never be 100 percent fluent.

Parents need to support them.

These were the reaffirming messages at a workshop on stuttering Saturday at Kent State University.

Dustin Blaylock and Ryan McDermott, two teens who stutter, said they accept the condition and wish others would, too. It will not stop them from college, a career and success, they said.

“This is who I am, and I am comfortable with it,” said McDermott, 18, of Westerville.

Parents, speech-language pathologists, adults who stutter and youths attended the workshop, sponsored by Friends, the National Association of Young People Who Stutter.

Lee Caggiano, a New Jersey speech-language pathologist and mother of a 21-year-old son who stutters, co-founded the organization in 1998 to provide support for children and their families.

Caggiano told the group her son was 9 before she found other parents of children who stuttered. She realized a group was needed for youths and their parents after attending a convention of 300 adults and two children with her son.

Parents said when they realized their child stuttered, they had no idea what to do. Their first inclination is to try to “fix” it.

“Parents are angry, desperate and have a great fear of the unknown,” said Sue Skrobacs of Brunswick, who realized her son Ralph, now 14, stuttered when he was in kindergarten. “I was alone for two years trying to find help.”

The child may be the only one in his school district who stutters, a situation faced by Dustin, 15, of Medina. He said when he was young he was confused about why he didn’t talk right and thought he was the only person who stuttered.

When he got involved with Friends he found new friends and gained self-confidence.

“I think if people do not take the time to listen to me, it’s their loss,” he said.

McDermott, who may speak in polished, fluent sentences, then pause for up to 30 seconds before he can say a word, said he is annoyed if people finish his words or sentences.

Marilee Fini of Highland Heights, a speech-language pathologist who stutters, said she still faces that problem but children today who stutter face less of a stigma and have more information.

“I had a feeling of being isolated and alone,” she said. “I did not meet anyone who stuttered until I was 22, and it changed my life.”

Caggiano said children who stutter should never be deterred from communicating.

“The stutter does not define the person; it happens to be the way they talk,” she said.

© 2005 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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