What do singer Carly Simon, comedian Wayne Brady, journalist John Stossel, many top lawyers, President Joe Biden, and King George VI have in common? All speak or spoke with a pronounced stutter from their early childhood days.
Despite this, each achieved a meaningful and highly visible career in music, comedy, law, and leadership, where speech and communication are imperative to success.
Simon, Brady, Stossel, and attorney Eric R. Dinallo were among the public figures who discussed their personal experiences with stuttering at the American Institute for Stuttering’s 15th annual “Freeing Voices, Changing Lives” celebration. The King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler also shared his insight into how King George VI worked with early speech therapists to manage his stutter.
The Gala raised funds to provide free or reduced cost speech therapy to qualifying children and adults throughout the country.
“Stuttering is a neurological condition that, if not treated properly, can negatively affect a person’s self-esteem, education, social interactions, and career advancement,” said Dr. Heather Grossman, Clinic Director of AIS. “Over its 33-year history, AIS has developed effective techniques and strategies to free the voices of people who stutter, allowing them to develop self-confidence and coping strategies to last a lifetime. We have helped over 10,000 children and adults find their voices.”
For Simon, an AIS board member, the strategy was to focus on music.
“When I was a young child, I had a stammer,” Simon explains. “The only time it went away was when I sang. One day, my mother said to me, ’don’t speak it, sing it.’ And that is what I did.”
Brady found his way through improvisational music and comedy.
“My stutter produced a lot of shame and anxiety when I tried to communicate,” Brady recalls at the virtual Freeing Voices gala. “I had words stuck in the back of my throat that I just couldn’t get out. Being able to put a melody to words is one of the tools that I use to be able to deal with my stutter. AIS has therapies that give people the ability to free their words. For people who stutter, that freedom means everything.”
“From King George VI to President Biden, stuttering affects people in all walks of life, in all communities,” said Dinallo, chair of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP’s insurance regulatory practice and chair of the AIS board. “And as underscored by our featured guests, stuttering affects individuals differently, and the ability to manage one’s stutter often takes years to accomplish. Many children who stutter are bullied, and adults who stutter often face economic, social, and emotional difficulties. Fortunately, AIS can offer families and adults tools to manage stuttering and offer a pathway to the future. We are grateful to bring together this illustrious group to discuss openly their struggles, coping mechanisms, and ultimate victories.”
Stuttering resources and information are available on the AIS website: stutteringtreatment.org.