© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

Joe Biden Among Millions In U.S. Who Battle Stuttering But He Must Also Battle Donald Trump

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate in Cleveland
Brian Synder | Reuters
/
X90051
U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 29.

More than three million Americans have a stuttering condition, including Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate. After the last presidential debate, some speculated that President Donald Trump deliberately interrupted Biden to take advantage of his condition.

International Stuttering Awareness Day was Oct. 22, which happened to be the same day that Biden and Trump met for their second and last debate before the Nov. 3 election, and experts planned to closely watch that performance.

Contrary to popular belief, stuttering is not caused by anxiety, nor does it indicate a psychological disorder. But experts said it can run in the family.

Carl Herder, clinical director of the American Institute for Stuttering in Atlanta, said that "we know that this this is something that many people are born with a predisposition to starting treatment for."

He said the field gradually evolved over the years as scientists deepened their understanding of the "fluency disorder."

"Our field has focused on either modifying moments of stuttering or teaching people how to learn to create more fluency by developing certain mechanic skills," Herder explained. "What we're progressing towards now as a field is getting better at talking about the feelings and attitudes related to the lived experience of stuttering."

Biden may well be one of the best known persons in the country who fought to overcome stuttering.

However, Herder advised, Biden has spoken about his stuttering in the past tense. Herder said Biden's debates and interviews indicate that it still affects him.

"We do hear some stuttering in his speech," he explained, "and we hear other moments where he may be searching for a word."

Trump consistently interrupted Biden during the last presidential debate. Herder said time constraints on speech can pose problems for people who stutter.

"In a small window of time, in a conversation ... that time pressure can also be external pressure that others are putting on you to finish talking or make your point as fast as possible before you're interrupted," he added.

More information about stuttering is at StutteringTreatment.org.

Stuttering Q&A
Below is a Q&A on stuttering, based on a conversation between Carl Herder and TPR's Jerry Clayton. It has been edited for clarity

Clayton: Stuttering is also known as the fluency disorders. What is it that causes these issues?
Herder: Stuttering is a neurological condition and a biological condition. [It] that tends to run in families. [G]enerally, we know that this is something that many people are born with a predisposition to it. And a lot of young kids who stutter outgrow it. But for those who continue to stutter, it tends to be a chronic condition that is neurological and biological in its origin.

Clayton: How do you treat someone with a stuttering disorder?
Herder: For a long time, our field has focused on either modifying moments of stuttering or teaching people how to learn to create more fluency by developing certain mechanic skills. What we're progressing towards now as a field is getting better at talking about the feelings and attitudes related to the lived experience of stuttering.

Clayton: So it sounds to me like you're saying a person that that has this issue, they'll never be able to completely overcome it. Is that true?
Herder: Well, in our field, the word "overcome" is a heavy one. A lot of folks, when they talk about celebrities who stutter, for instance, they often want to talk about how these celebrities have overcome their stuttering. And a lot of folks like to talk about their stuttering in that way.

Clayton: Joe Biden may be one of the highest profile persons right now who have a stuttering issue. How difficult do you think it's been for him to deal with that issue?
Herder: It's a really tricky subject because Joe Biden is one of those well-known celebrity types who feels he has overcome it, and he often talks about his stuttering in the past tense. And so we believe that he should have the right to see it that way. But it gets tricky because we do hear him stuttering in the public light. [I]n his debates and interviews, we do hear some stuttering in his speech, and we hear other moments where he may be searching for a word or or maybe even struggling with stuttering and then switching to a different word.

Clayton: Is it true that constantly interrupting someone could cause their stuttering to be worse across the lifespan?
Herder: One of the biggest challenges for people who stutter if time pressure and that can be time pressure that a speaker puts on themselves to start to talk in a small window of time in a conversation, or to finish a speech block as quickly as possible. Or it could be to say as many words as possible before the next speech block, for instance. And that time pressure can also be external pressure that others are putting on you to finish talking or make your point as fast as possible before you're interrupted.