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March 14, 2012

On the tip of the tongue

by Puck Bregstone, Print Op/Ed Editor
At the age of four, junior Tranelle Dodson was sitting in her living room when her aunt collapsed from a stroke. Dodson rushed into the kitchen to warn her mother, but the words just would not come out.

Dodson had a stutter. Dodsonís aunt was fine and as Dodson grew up, Dodson learned to manage her stutter. Though Dodson and about another 62 Blazers who stutter are categorized as disabled by law, they say their speech impediment is less a disability than a difficult challenge, one they have worked hard to overcome, and now plays only a minor part in their lives.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amendments of 1997 state that local school districts must provide special education in the form of speech pathology for students who have been screened and identified as having a speech impediment. When teachers notice a student is having trouble speaking, the teacher must notify a counselor. The student will then be tested with parental permission. Kae Denning - Evans, Blairís speech pathologist, conducts these tests, and in some cases, begins to work with identified students.

Learning curve

According to Kae Denning - Evans, Blairís speech pathologist, the effect of a speech impediment on a studentís life varies greatly from case to case. Some students will have trouble pronouncing certain words but can still participate and learn in class. In other cases, a studentís speech impediment will be so severe it will prevent him or her from participating in class, which can greatly affect a studentís learning, she says.

Over a period of time, Denning - Evans will take students out of one of their non - core classes for half a period to work on their speech. She works on exercises that apply directly to a certain studentís disability. If a student is having specific difficulty in a subject, Denning - Evans will go through vocabulary pertaining to that class. They will look over worksheets and homework together and make sure the student can actively partake in a conversation concerning the subject. Class participation is an important part of the scholastic experience. That is usually inhibited by a studentís insecurity to speak, Denning - Evans says.

Legally the Americans with Disabilities Act includes stuttering as a disability. Senior Rose Kalala, who stuttered as a child, she says occasionally still stutters, but believes that her speech impediment is mislabeled. "I donít think I would call my stutter a disability because of the connotations of the word disability," says Kalala.

Treatment options

Both Dodson and Kalala were recommended to see the free speech pathologists at their elementary schools but both opted to instead take matters into their own hands. Dodson practiced reading from a chalkboard until she stopped stuttering. Kalala managed because her stutter was never debilitating enough to affect her education and grew out of her stutter.

Dodson says her stutter was inhibiting as a child and would show up whenever she was excited or upset. Her mother at first took her to a speech pathologist, but then decided instead to help Dodson herself. "She would have me read out loud for hours and every time I stuttered my mother would have me repeat the sentence until I had it perfect," says Dodson. In kindergarten, Dodson was put into a special class where a teacher worked with her one - on - one for a period of time. She was not put in a class with other children.

Kalala also developed a stutter at a young age. When she was in kindergarten, her teacher recommended her to the schoolís speech pathologist. Everyday, Kalala was taken out of class for 15 minutes to work with the pathologist.

"It was kind of controversial because they asked my mom if something was wrong at home, like, the cause of my stutter was a poor family environment. My mom thought that was offensive and since the stutter wasnít greatly impacting my schoolwork she took me out of that therapy," says Kalala.

Kalala says that she sometimes stutters occasionally when she is nervous or speaking French a second language. Her stutter, although not drastically affecting her schoolwork, has affected her social life. "Socially it was the opposite of a confidence booster. I didnít really like to talk because it took forever," says Kalala.

Speech is key

Speech is essential in almost every academic class says Denning - Evans. "Speech is the underpinning to educational achievement," she says. Teachers are able to gauge how well a student understands a subject by what a student says in class. If students are afraid to participate because of their debilitating speech impediment, their chance of success is diminished, she explains.

But elementary school has long since passed for both Kalala and Dodson, and over time have learned to mask their stutters over time. While most people can never truly eradicate their speech impediment, many learn to hide it says Denning - Evans. "My family can still detect my stutter every once and a while," says Dodson. Having diminished their stutters, Kalala and Dodson have overcome a great challenge and are excited for the future.



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