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People who stutter find support in Duluth

Members of the Duluth chapter of the National Stuttering Association gathered for a Christmas celebration. The stutter group meets once a month at the University of Minnesota Duluth. (Photo submitted)1 / 3
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According to the National Stuttering Association (NSA), approximately one percent of the world's population stutters. That means over 3 million American adults stutter.

These statistics pushed University of Minnesota Duluth instructor and speech pathologist Kay Wallis to form a local chapter of the NSA and a stuttering support group when she moved here seven years ago.

"We knew that statistically speaking, people who stutter live here and could benefit from a group. I wanted to have solidarity and support for people who stutter in the area," Wallis said.

Since formation, the close-knit support group has met once a month at UMD on the third Wednesdays 5:30-7:30 p.m. Normally the group consists of people who stutter, family members and speech and language pathologists. But on Wednesday, April 5, the group is hosting a free screening of the documentary "The Way We Talk" for the general public 6-7 p.m. in the UMD Life Science Room 185.

"We're hoping for many folks to come and just learn about stuttering. There are so many myths and inaccurate beliefs about stuttering that are floating around. People have these funny ideas about what stuttering really is," Wallis said. "This movie really does a good job of addressing some of those myths and expands your view about the underlying emotions and attitudes about stuttering and how much that contributes to the whole disorder."

One of the most prevalent myths about stuttering, according to Wallis and the NSA, is that people stutter because they are nervous or anxious.

"But the fact is that people who stutter have the same range of personalities that anybody else does," Wallis said.

A more detrimental myth stutterers encounter is that stuttering is a signifier of lower intelligence.

"You see this one in movies a lot. In 'A Fish Called Wanda' or "My Cousin Vinny,' the stutterers are portrayed as stupid or shy and that's just not true," said NSA group member Derrick Kunze.

Kunze, who works as an electrical engineer, has led the stutter support group with Wallis since he moved to the area four years ago. A friend introduced him to a similar group in Vermont several years ago.

"It ended up being a life-changing thing because up until then, I kind of viewed my stutter as a disability. And it just kind of stopped me from doing things. It stopped me from talking," Kunze said.

The greatest benefit for Kunze was seeing fellow people with stutters who lived fulfilling lives with good careers, families and friend networks.

"It also provided a safe environment where I didn't really have to worry about my speech. I could stutter as much as I wanted," Kunze said. "I didn't have to worry about using techniques I learned in therapy because everybody there knew I stuttered and stuttered as well."

The motto of the National Stutter Association is, "If you stutter, you're not alone." Wallis said the main focus of the group isn't therapy but connection and information.

"Because sometimes people go much of their lives without meeting another person who stutters. Imagine how isolated and alone you might feel in that situation," Wallis said. "We try our best to reach out and connect with stutterers around the world. We've skyped with people from other chapters from as far as Australia. Having that connection can make the world of difference."

Each month the group has a different discussion topic. Recent topics have included current research on stuttering causes, finding balance between accepting stuttering vs. continually working on controlling one's stuttering and how to address stuttering with strangers. The last topic is something Kunze has dealt with continually throughout his life.

"I've had some good reactions and bad reactions. I've had people hang up the phone or laugh at me. But I've also had good reactions where people are pretty patient," Kunze said. "That's the main piece of advice for people when they encounter people who stutter: practice patience. Let them get their thought out, don't interrupt or try to finish their sentences. It's worth the wait."

For more information on stuttering visit the National Stuttering Association at westutter.org or visit the NSA Duluth Chapter on Facebook. Questions about the local group or the film screening can be emailed to duluthstutters@gmail.com.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176
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