When I was younger, I had a stutter. I remember the feeling I’d get when I wanted to say something and the words wouldn’t come out. It usually happened when I was really excited and my brain was moving so fast it felt like my mouth couldn’t catch up.
I never knew when my tongue was going to tie, though. Sometimes it would happen if someone asked me a one word question.
Sometimes it happened right in the middle of me telling a story.
The worst was when it happened as we were doing read-alouds in the classroom. Reading out loud was something that was hard for me and made me feel anxious. So, when I’d come to a word and it wouldn’t get out of my mouth, it shut me down and it was rare I could get my flow back.
One afternoon after moving to a new school from California to Maine, I was reading out out loud from a second grade social studies book. I started to stutter and instead of trying, I just stopped reading. My teacher asked me in front of the whole class if I was “retarded.” It was 1982, and she got a slap on the wrist for that comment. Thank goodness times have changed.
Even in adulthood, my stutter still creeps up on me sometimes. Especially if I’m tired or really excited. If you’ve never struggled with a stammer, the best way to describe is like those dreams you have when you are being chased but you can’t run, or you need to scream for help but as hard as you try, nothing comes out of your mouth.
Our next president, Joe Biden, has a stutter — and he’s been open and unapologetic about that. This is so important because it normalizes stuttering, which affects three million Americans. And while it affects kids who are ages two through six the most and many grow out of it, that’s not always the case. Biden has struggled with it his entire life, and has been bullied because of it.
In an essay for People, Biden talks about how one of the nuns at his private school made fun of him calling him “Master B-B-B-Biden.” Experiences like that could have made him feel defeated and like he wasn’t capable of doing things like speaking in public, much less running for President.
Hearing his story is so meaningful for kids like 13-year-old Brayden Harrington of Boscawen, New Hampshire, who watched Biden debate with the biggest bully we’ve ever seen in front of seventy-three million people. It is life changing to see him face his stuttering and not let it set him back. Harrington told NBC Boston how much our President-elect has inspired him. Who knows how many other kids and adults he’s touched by talking openly about it and not feeling ashamed?
There certainly wasn’t a spokesperson for stuttering when I was growing up, but if there had been, it would have helped me and everyone else with a speech disorder feel more normal.
In order to overcome his stutter, Biden would stand in front of a mirror and recite poetry. If he messed up, he’d push himself and keep trying.
Joe Biden has shared his entire journey, honestly and unapologetically, and is an example of how hard work can pay off. He’s proof to everyone that you can do anything you want to do, regardless of what other people think or say about you. He’s shown people of all ages that you don’t have to give up on something you want because it’s hard or because people might make fun of you.
Just as importantly, Biden’s candidness on the subject has taught people that stuttering is a type of disability. There are times when you have to come up with a different word or take pause when you are talking. And calling it something else, or making fun of a person with a stutter, isn’t okay and shouldn’t be tolerated.
No one should be mocked or laughed at for the way they speak. It’s not something that can be controlled. The President-elect is here to show that it doesn’t have to be limiting, which is really inspiring for the three-million Americans who suffer. Not to mention, he’s not afraid to be real and show that everyone struggles with something in their life and it doesn’t make them weak – it makes them human.
Now, how refreshing is that after what we’ve witnessed for the past four years?
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