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SALT LAKE CITY — Between 1.5 million to 3 million people in this country stutter. That’s why many within that group are experiencing both fear and victory portrayed in the movie," The King’s Speech.”
Nominated for Oscars this weekend, actor Collin Firth portrays King George VI and his heroic battle to manage a speech impediment.
As a person who stutters myself and had stuttered severely as a child, I can completely relate to that impending fear and impending doom.
–Dr. Michael Blomgren
Becky Heath relates to the movie. She’s one of many going through therapy and retraining at the University of Utah’s Intensive Stuttering Clinic. She says she knows “that feeling of fear and intimidation and not feeling like you are good enough to deliver that speech. It’s real emotions.”
"As a person who stutters myself and had stuttered severely as a child, I can completely relate to that impending fear and impending doom," said Dr. Michael Blomgren, a licensed speech language pathologist. "He (Collin Firth) portrayed the dread perfectly.”
Blomgren not only knows a lot about stuttering, but also the new-generation science now helping people combat the disorder. Crude techniques like putting balls or rocks in the mouth, as portrayed in the movie, are a far cry from where therapy is now.
Becky Heath, Ivan Kingston and Lizandra Hernandez are among many clients going through 80 hours of therapy and retraining. Today’s speech pathology is much like learning a second language. Exercises teach stutterers how to prolong speech, at least in the early stages of therapy. They also learn how to reduce air pressure during speech.
“Gentle vocal onsets,” as Blomgren described, “where people start the vocal cords vibrating gently at the beginning of the utterance.”
“I have to slow down a lot and just try to be light and hit the air pressure target," Ivan said. "That just seems to help and then I have to think of the words I’m going to use.”
Equally important, according to Blomgren, is a recognition that while there’s no cure for stuttering, those who experience it can learn how to control and manage their speech.
Now I feel like I can go out there and conquer, I can go out there and speak. It's a wonderful feeling -- to be able to speak.
“A person who stutters must accept that they stutter,” he said. “That was very clear in the movie.”
Though staged in another time and place, “The King’s Speech” delivers a strong message. Stuttering is not a psychological disorder nor does it have anything to do with personality. Dynamic, well-educated and intelligent people can stutter.
“Too many people feel they need to hide from speaking," Blomgren said. "Many choose jobs requiring very little communication. Though their interest and aptitude may favor a job that requires a lot of communication – they shy away from it.”
After weeks of therapy, followed by continual retraining, Becky knows how to manage her impediment. “Now I feel like I can go out there and conquer,” she said. “I can go out there and speak. And it’s a wonderful feeling – to be able to speak.”
The incidence of stuttering is much higher in children. Three to 5 percent stutter at any one time. While many outgrow it, others don’t.