About 30 University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor community members gathered in the Hussey Room of the Michigan League Thursday evening to listen to a talk about vocal stutters with John Hendrickson, a staff writer at The Atlantic and author of “Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter.” Hosted by the Michigan Medicine Department of Psychiatry, the event also featured Dr. Soo-Eun Chang, director of the University’s speech neurophysiology lab, who interviewed Hendrickson. Chang started out by highlighting Hendrickson’s memoir, and how the inspiring stories he shares within it shed light on people’s experiences with stuttering in their day-to-day lives.
Hendrickson said there are positive and tangible skills people often gain from having a stutter.
“It makes you grow up fast and gives you an enormous amount of empathy for people from all walks of life,” Hendrickson said. “It makes you more patient, a better listener; it makes you choose your own words more carefully and it can expand your vocabulary.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Chang spoke on her research lab’s current work in regard to an effective stuttering treatment. She said her lab is unlike other speech research labs because it specifically focuses on young children.
“My research lab focuses on the neural basis of stuttering,” Chang said. “We try to understand what brain structure and functional differences are associated with the onset of stuttering in children. We are unique because we are not only trying to understand the neurobiological basis of stuttering, but we try to do that with young children who stutter.”
Chang spoke about the limited research and treatment types available for individuals who stutter at the event.
“Despite the relatively high incidence (of stuttering) and the sometimes substantial psychosocial, occupational and academic consequences, treatments remain limited — and this has led to higher rates of relapse,” Chang said.
Chang went on to ask Hendrickson about his experience with the different stuttering treatments currently available. Hendrickson said treatment differs for each individual and one type of treatment will not work for everyone.
“There are cases in which fluency-based therapy works, especially for younger kids, and there are also examples of it having no impact whatsoever because of genetics,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson reflected on his own journey with navigating stuttering treatments, highlighting those that worked well for him.
“I saw four or five different fluency-based therapists and a hypnotherapist,” Hendrickson said. “I tried everything under the sun. Finally, I went to another therapist in high school. He told me ‘I can’t teach you to talk smoothly, but I can teach you to become better’ and that changed everything for me.”
Chang and Hendrickson then discussed how stuttering is stigmatized in the media and is often characterized as a weakness for many individuals. Hendrickson said characters who stutter are often forced into a specific narrative.
“It’s always got to be inspirational,” Hendrickson said. “It isn’t ever just another character that happens to stutter.”
LSA junior Sydney Bollinger attended the event and spoke with The Daily about the importance of having an inspirational figure like Hendrickson share his story in front of an audience.
“It means the world,” Bollinger said. “Having a role model that has done so much with his life and someone who can also give tips as to how to succeed really does mean everything.”