Three young adults share their experience with a stutter
Caden Short, Matt Phillips and Carl Coffey come from different parts of the country, but share a common condition.
Each has struggled with a stutter, a speech disorder commonly associated with disruptions in speaking. They have not let the struggle define them.
Coffey, 32, a Bowling Green, Kentucky resident, took a long time to accept his condition. He has been stuttering since age five.
When he started working in an office setting in his twenties, he learned to become more comfortable with public speaking.
“I was working in an office, having to give presentations and to be involved in meetings,” he said. “I just knew that I would be speaking a lot more than I had before, so I just wanted to be comfortable with speaking.”
Short, 19, and Phillips, 21, are involved with the National Stuttering Association’s teen program. Coffey serves as a board member for the Staten Island-based organization. It provides a network of 200 self-help support groups for adults, teen and children who stutter.
Short, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is a freshman at New York University. Being a remote learner and living far away from his family has allowed him to self-advocate.
“I just write a quick email describing what stuttering is, what it can look like in me and others,” he said. “Then I just kind of go over what prefer, that I don’t prefer any accommodations or anything like that.”
Still, remote learning with a stutter can have its challenges.
“There’s not really an opportunity to advertise [that I stutter],” he said. “Most the time, the first time they hear me speak, they don’t really know what what stuttering is.”
Stuttering is a relatively common condition, with an estimated one percent of the world’s population dealing with a stutter. Around three million in the United States stutter, according to the National Stuttering Association.
Those who stutter deal with their condition in varying degrees. Speech therapy is a common treatment for stutterers. Four in five stutterers become “fluent” by the time they are adults.
Connecticut resident Phillips describes having to go through speech therapy in middle school. He then realized that he can embrace life without being completely fluent.
“I didn’t find [speech therapy] that useful,” he said.
Going to a National Stuttering Association conference in 2015 allowed him to meet people who accepted the fact that they stuttered. He resumed speech therapy once he realized that he did not need it to rid himself of his stutter.
“The speech therapy was about acceptance,” he said.
Stuttering made headlines during the 2020 presidential campaign, as now-President Joe Biden received both praise and criticism for having a stutter.
Short stated that President Biden being open about his stutter was important to help people like him feel seen.
“I think it’s very important to have stuttering in the public discourse, and there’s no better way than a president [speaking about it],” he said. “I’ve seen over the past year, a lot more articles just talking about stuttering than I’ve seen probably my entire life.”
Each has arrived at a point where they can present themselves confidently in front of others.
“I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where if I do stutter, there’s nothing bad about it. It’s just that’s how I talk,” said Coffey. “Now I feel a lot more comfortable advocating for myself.”
“I can’t control how some people may choose to respond to that,” said Phillips. “The way that someone responds to me, that’s not a reflection of myself. It’s reflection of them.”
“I really only advertise when I feel like it’s necessary,” said Short. “I feel like that really helps [in] understanding, but it also just makes me more comfortable.”
For more information on the National Stuttering Association, visit https://westutter.org/what-is-stuttering