By Erin Albanese
Aa’Naja Miller knows what it’s like to be unable to get her words out right, but when she stood in front of her classmates to talk about stuttering her voice was strong and clear.
The North Godwin Elementary School fourth-grader recently delivered a presentation, “My Experience with Stuttering” to her class. She has struggled with a speech disorder her whole life, and said children often tease her because of it.
“I stutter,” she said. “I can’t help it.”
There was no teasing that day. Instead, students listened in awe. “She looked like a teacher up there,” said classmate Donnie VanHorn. “She was so brave.”
Aa’Naja and North Godwin speech pathologist Sarah Toering created the presentation to give students a better understanding of stuttering. Toering also wanted to challenge Aa’Naja to speak in front of her peers.
“The purpose for me doing this presentation is for kids to know that I stutter, and that you don’t have to rush me because I know I do have to take my time,” she said. “I’m trying, but it just doesn’t come out right.”
She explained what a speech pathologist is, and how Toering has helped her learn strategies to overcome stuttering. She told students that others who have overcome stuttering include Vice President Joe Biden, NFL player Darren Sproles, actress Emily Blunt and late actress Marilyn Monroe.
According to The Stuttering Foundation, roughly three million Americans stutter. Approximately five percent of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more. Three-quarters of those will recover by late childhood, leaving about one percent with a long-term stutter. The best prevention tool is early intervention.
Aa’Naja included an interactive activity in her presentation, inviting classmates to practice stuttering with partners. She informed them of different types of stutters:
- repetitions, which means repeating a word like “Do, do do you like pizza?”
- blocks, which means getting stuck on a letter, like “D-d-do you like pizza?”
- prolongations, which means holding a sound, like “IIIII like pizza!”
- interjections, which means adding words, like “Um, do you, um, like pizza?”
Aa’Naja also introduced strategies she uses to stop stuttering, which include talking slowly, stretching out her words, taking a deep breath before she speaks and moving her mouth and tongue lightly while talking. She often uses her strategies automatically now, without having to think about them.
Classmate Donnie said “I learned to stick up for people who have stuttering problems and don’t make fun of them.”
Teacher Lisa Koeman said she had tears in her eyes during Aa’Naja’s presentation. Hearing her speak to her classmates, confidently and knowledgeably was inspiring.
“Aa’Naja didn’t stutter once,” Koeman said. “It was amazing. It was perfect. She acted like she was up on stage and has done this 100 times before. It was just breathtaking.”
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