Stuttering: Lifting the social stigma

Evan Sherman, 27, of Syracuse, stutters -- and has his entire life.

But it wasn't until four years ago, at age 23, that he finally accepted his speech disorder. Why? Because he finally accepted himself.

"Acceptance is a big thing," said Sherman, who is currently working on his master's degree in speech language pathology at Syracuse University. "[Because] that's when you can finally start making a change in your life."

Stuttering, as defined by the National Stuttering Association, is a communication disorder typically characterized by disruptions, or "speech disfluencies," which can be accompanied by physical tension or struggle as a person who stutters attempts to produce sounds and words.

"It's neurological in nature," said Sujini Ramachandar, speech language pathologist at Connections Family-Centered Therapies in Syracuse. "It's genetic. There's no cure for stuttering, [however], you can teach [people who stutter] very effective ways to manage it."

Ramachandar helps lead a local support group designed to bring together adults who stutter. The group meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Connections on West Genesee Street, and typically attracts two to six people. Ramachandar said she hopes more people will come forward as the stigma of stuttering diminishes.

"We're trying to bring more awareness [of the disorder]," she said. "It's difficult because there is such a taboo, people don't want to come. It's 'why would I want anybody to know I do this?' It's kind of a shameful thing for them, which is sad, because there is nothing to be ashamed of."

According to the NSA, many people who stutter experience significant negative emotional or cognitive reactions as a result of their speaking difficulties.

But, according to Ramachandar, there is hope through therapy.

"Part of what we do in therapy is teach people who stutter that the disorder is only part of you, it is not all of you," she said. "So you still go forward."

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