AUSTIN (KXAN) — For more than 20 years, the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education & Research at the University of Texas at Austin has worked to empower people who stutter. Now, the center’s research is being recognized through a new memoir published by author and journalist John Hendrickson.
Hendrickson’s book, “Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter” is a memoir centered around his life and journey toward accepting his stutter and communicating with the world around him. In his research process, he spoke with participants at the Blank Center and observed UT’s research and clinical training firsthand.
Dr. Courtney Byrd serves as founding director of the Blank Center. She said the center’s focus hasn’t been on the reduction of stuttering in participants, but rather teaching them how they can advocate for themselves and communicate with those around them.
“I think what has set our journey apart, truly, from any other research institute is that we have focused exclusively on listening to the lived experiences of people who stutter of all ages worldwide,” she said, adding: “We’ve marched toward the aim of stuttering or reduction of stuttering not being the target of treatment. Instead, we focus on communication, advocacy, resiliency and education.”
To date, Byrd said much of the clinical research into stuttering focuses on the reduction of it as treatment’s primary focus. Misconceptions about stuttering include that it’s the result of nervousness or anxiety, as opposed to its link with being a neurophysiological, genetic trait.
Instead, UT’s Blank Center caters to reimagining treatment through the lens of a “whole person approach,” or how to build up a person’s confidence and sense of self and not seeing stuttering as a hinderance to it.
“When people who stutter — whether they’re a child, a teenager or an adult — they leave our program and they are able to stutter openly without any shame or embarrassment,” she said. “They are able to speak confidently, communicate effectively and advocate meaningfully so that their lives are not defined by whether or not they stutter when they speak.”
This past week, Byrd joined Hendrickson for a conversation at Austin’s BookPeople about his memoir and his personal experiences as someone who stutters. “Life on Delay” came to fruition after Hendrickson’s Atlantic feature “What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say” gathered traction and attracted more than two million readers, per his author’s page.
“Though every story is different, the pain, the shame, the anger, the frustration, the embarrassment, all of the things that [Hendrickson] discusses in his book so poignantly are very similar to what many adults experience,” she said. “Our hope is that people will listen and will understand that it doesn’t have to be that way….I think it’s kudos to John for having the courage to share his story, and I think the reason why it’s resonating so much is that every person who stutters who reads that, they see themselves in that story.”
Byrd said she’s proud of the impact the center’s had on participants learning to not see communicating as a “manualized protocol” to avoid stuttering, but rather how to find confidence in communicating without abandon. She said some people have disagreed with the center’s aim to not reduce stuttering; however, she said stuttering is a natural way of communication for some people and shouldn’t be shamed or penalized.
“Stuttering is just a natural way that they talk, and all that you need to do as listeners is to listen and provide them the same that you would want,” she said. “And that is someone just to hear what you say, let you say it how you want to and to stay engaged with that person, regardless of how fluid they are when they say it.”