Russ Frei has spent his adult life ordering Seven-Up when what he really wanted was a Sprite.
There he will be, ready to order a burger and a drink at one of those fast food drive-up intercoms. "Sprite," he'll want to say, but "Sprite" is one of the words that Frei has a hard time with, especially when he feels on the spot. Instead he'll just order a drink he can safely pronounce.Frei's lifelong problem with stuttering has meant a lifetime of making adjustments. During his school years in southern Utah he never spoke up in class, even though he knew the answers. In high school he rarely dated because before you went on a date you had to ask the girl out.
When it came time to get a job, he chose one that required no phone calls. He hates the phone even more than he hates drive-in restaurants.
But Frei has made his life work for him. Surrounded by caring friends and a loving wife, he even feels comfortable enough now to conduct Sunday School meetings at church. And his six children are happy to answer the phone when it rings.
When he is not working the night shift as a forklift operator at Huish Chemical, he attends the bi-monthly meetings of the Utah chapter of the National Stuttering Project.
The goal of the Project, says Salt Laker Merridy Ayer, is to bring stutterers out of isolation and to help them "put aside their stuttering and become who they really are."
Who they are includes Marilyn Monroe, Charles Darwin, James Earl Jones, Isaac Newton, Carly Simon, Winston Churchill and hundreds of other successful people. About one in every 100 adults and four in every 100 children are stutterers.
Although severe stutterers tend to be shy and withdrawn, the National Stuttering Project wants everyone to understand that stuttering is not the result of neurosis or personality disorder. "People who stutter are normal except we have trouble getting words out," notes a Project fact sheet.
Research shows that stuttering appears to be a neurological disorder in which a stutterer's brain pathways send faulty messages when he hears himself speak. Speech therapy can help many stutterers become more fluent.
Despite the large number of stutterers and the new insight into the hereditary and physiological nature of the condition, stutterers continue to be the butt of jokes and the object of bad advice (see box).
But the National Stuttering Project is hopeful. Early intervention for young stutterers can prevent a lifelong handicap, they say. Speech therapy can even help those stutterers, like Merridy Ayer, who spent nearly six decades without help. Support groups can help ease the pain of isolation. And public understanding can make a difference.
For more information about the Utah Chapter of the National Stuttering Project, call 266-5505. The group's next meeting is May 18, in room 114 of Granite High School, 3305 S. Fifth East. There will also be meetings the first and third Thursday of June and the first Thursday of July.
Here are some tips for talking with someone who stutters
The National Stuttering Project, which is celebrating May 8 through 14 as National Stuttering Awareness Week, offers these tips for non-stutterers when speaking with someone who stutters:
-"You will be very tempted to finish sentences or fill in words for us," explains the Project. "Please do not do this. We assume that you are sympathetic to our plight, and no one likes words put in his or her mouth. Furthermore, if you guess the wrong word, the difficulties multiply."
-Refrain from making remarks like "Slow down," "Take a breath," or "Relax." Such simplistic advice can be felt as demeaning.
-Maintain normal, natural eye contact and try not to look embarrassed or alarmed. Just wait patiently until the person is finished.
-Be conscious of your own speech. Talk in a relaxed, slower than normal manner.
-Let the person know by your manner and actions that you are listening to what is being said, not how it is said. Pause a little more than normally before you begin talking.
-"Be aware that we who stutter usually have more trouble controlling our speech on the telephone. Please be extra patient in this situation. And if you pick up the phone and hear nothing, please be sure it is not a person who stutters trying to initiate the conversation before you hang up."
-In general, react the same way to someone who stutters as you would react to someone who is visually or hearing impaired.