State of Union

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.

President Donald Trump recently mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by posting a manufactured video that depicted her “stammering” while speaking. This was followed by a tweet: “Nervous Nancy” has “lost it” — further exploiting the stereotype that people who stutter are crazy or stupid.

Regardless of your politics, you likely know that this characterization of Pelosi was unfair and untrue.

But a child who stutters likely does not. Nor do the bullies he or she encounters at school. And if your child is like most children who stutter, they will be hesitant to mention their stuttering at all, and may even agree with the stereotype, regardless of his or her intelligence. They may simply internalize it, and if you say nothing, assume you agree that stuttering means you’re crazy or stupid.

As 2020 approaches, prepare. Unlike Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden is a person who stutters. This is no shameful secret — he’s been the keynote speaker at several prominent stuttering-advocacy conferences. There’s plenty of footage online, and it will not take long for the opposing party to land on a catchy, pejorative nickname: “Stutterin’ Joe.” (It’s already begun — Google “stutter” and “Biden”). Perhaps none of this name-calling will happen, but given the nature of current politics, it’s likely inevitable.

Here’s how you can help your son or daughter who stutters:

1) Mention it first. Most children do not want to talk about their stuttering, and most parents assume that talking about stuttering will only make it worse. There are no credible data to support this.

2) Learn about stuttering, together. Numerous reputable websites are available to learn about the nature of stuttering, including common myths (Stuttering Foundation of America (www.stutteringhelp.org), National Stuttering Association (www.westutter.org). For the record, zero empirical relationship has been established between mental acuity and fluency disorders.

3) Visit the local chapter of the National Stuttering Association. One of the most unfortunate and frequent comments from children who stutter is “I thought I was the only one who stuttered.”

4) Find a speech-language pathologist with expertise in fluency disorders. Most major universities in Louisiana with a speech-language pathology program can put you in touch with a fluency specialist.

5) Call a bully a bully. Don’t sacrifice your family’s well-being at the expense of politics. It’s our job as a parent to teach our child to stand up to bullying. Our response to bullies in the media cannot be complicit silence.

6) Prepare them. Role-play bullying scenarios for peers (or adults) who harass them. Problem-solve. Let them know that you’re a team.

7) Tell them how you enjoy talking to them, and never doubt the power of their voice.

Geoffrey A. Coalson

assistant professor, LSU Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Baton Rouge