There has been a surge of media attention about stuttering lately because of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. Biden has brought his stutter out into the open in his run for the presidency, most notably in late August when a boy named Brayden Harrington from New Hampshire made a powerful appearance during the Democratic National Convention. His speech highlighted the struggle that people with a stutter face, and the courage required to overcome it.

Stuttering is a genetically influenced condition associated with differences in the brain. People who stutter are normal; they just have difficulty producing sounds and words fluently. It’s estimated about 1 percent of the world’s population stutters, though about 5 percent of children go through a period of stuttering. It is a communication disorder involving disruptions, or “disfluencies,” in a person’s speech. Stuttering can begin gradually and develop over time, or it can appear suddenly. Stuttering is more common among males than females: In adults, the male-to-female ratio is about 4 to 1; in children, it is closer to 2 to 1. When people stutter, they feel like they have lost control of their speech mechanism. This sensation of loss of control can be disconcerting and uncomfortable, and it can lead to embarrassment, anxiety about speaking and a fear of stuttering again.

You might not know it, but many people we’ve come to know in the public eye are people who stutter: Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Sheen, James Earl Jones, Nicole Kidman and Shaquille O’Neal, to name a few.

I am also a person who stutters.

My stutter was discovered at an early age when I first entered public school. From there, I spent years in speech therapy trying to learn how to control it. When I reached the early years of high school, I was able to manage my stutter well and live a seemingly normal childhood without giving it thought. Toward the end of high school and my early college years, a host of stressful life events triggered my stutter again. At that point, my fear and anxiety about stuttering prevented me from doing basic things like reading aloud in a classroom, placing an order at the drive-through or even answering the telephone. This made it very difficult to apply for college, jobs or anything else that required person-to-person interaction.

The biggest thing that liberated me from my stutter was music. People who stutter rarely, if ever, stutter when they sing. I was lucky to be born with musical ability; I was always involved in choir, performed in chamber groups and eventually taught myself to play guitar and perform at coffee shops and bars. When getting up on stage and performing solo, I had to overcome that feeling of “stage fright.” It was nearly identical to that feeling of fear and anxiety I felt because of my stutter, but this was an activity where my stutter couldn’t stop me. I eventually became more comfortable on stage, and performing in front of other people became a breeze.

Those moments on the musical stage helped prepare me for a future on the public stage as an activist, advocate and elected official. In my current role as a state representative, public speaking is not only a matter of necessity, but also a crucial factor in the success of convincing others to support an idea that could affect generations of people. Fear of public speaking is pretty common; approximately 25 percent of people report experiencing it. Now, amplify that fear because of a genetic predisposition that literally leaves you speechless. It might give you an entirely new appreciation for Joe Biden and anyone else with a stutter. I feel it whenever I have to present a bill in front of a legislative committee, or make remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives. However, I choose to not let that fear hold me back. I face it head on. The more you face your fears, the easier it gets.

Know that nearly 13,000 Mainers out there, including myself, struggle in varying degrees with a stutter. They aren’t slow, confused, hesitant or uncertain. They are bright, talented and amazing people who affect our lives in many ways.


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