DEAR ABBY: My problem is that I have a terrible stutter. I am 38 years old and my co-workers make fun of me. I try not to show how much it hurts, and go along with whatever they are saying.
Is there anyone or anything that can help me? I recently heard about some kind of surgery that can help people who stutter. Do you know anything about it? Please help me. -- AFRAID TO SPEAK IN SAN ANTONIO
DEAR AFRAID TO SPEAK: I am unaware of a surgical procedure that can help people who stutter. But your letter arrived not long after another from a reader who shares your problem, and what she had to say should be of interest to you. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am almost 18 years old and have been afflicted with stuttering most of my life. It hurts when I see people's ignorance of stuttering reflected through discomfort or ridicule.
Those who are unfamiliar with stuttering often think it consists only of initial sound repetitions like "C-C-C-Can you help me?" However, stuttering also consists of "blocks" such as getting stuck and becoming unable to utter a particular sound. This block can last varying amounts of time.
A common misconception is that stuttering is associated with fear and anxiety. It's true that these factors can increase stuttering, but it's uncertain what actually causes it.
Believe it or not, many notable personalities have stuttered, including Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Bo Jackson, and even the great Winston Churchill.
In 1993, I discovered a group called the National Stuttering Project. It is one of the greatest things that have happened to me as a person who stutters. The group publishes monthly newsletters, has 79 local support groups in the United States, and holds a large convention every summer.
If some of your readers stutter or know someone who does, or are simply interested in learning more about stuttering, they should write to the National Stuttering Project, 5100 E. La Palma Ave., Suite 208, Anaheim Hills, Calif. 92807. -- MARGARET HANSEN, SNOHOMISH, WASH.
DEAR MARGARET: Thank you for a helpful letter, and one which I am sure will be of interest to those who are trying to cope with that problem. The National Stuttering Project was founded in 1977 to let people who stutter know they are not alone. Its goal is to bring dignity, education and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, as well as assist their families and the speech-language pathologists who work with them.
An estimated 4 percent of all children stutter. Seventy-five percent of them will outgrow it. If children receive appropriate therapy at an early age, four out of five will not become chronic stutterers. Most adults can learn to manage their disorder with the help of a speech-language pathologist who specializes in stuttering. However, there is no universal treatment or cure.
I recently spoke with Annie Bradberry, director of development at the National Stuttering Project. She was on her way to speak to a group of schoolchildren who had been teasing a young classmate who stutters. Her mission was to help the students understand that children who stutter are no different from those who do not stutter except for their speech patterns. What a wonderful example of hands-on advocacy!
Readers, May 12-18 is National Stuttering Awareness Week. The toll-free number for the National Stuttering Project is 1-800-364-1677. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.