Shrewsbury teen considers his stuttering a gift
By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – For as long as Ben North can remember, stuttering has been part of his life. His mother, Julie, says Ben’s stuttering came on gradually when he was between 5 and 6years old.
“Ben was chronically sick for his first three years of life, including chronic ear infections, a ruptured ear drum at 9 months old, and a life-threatening illness at age 2,” Julie said. “His speech was a little bit delayed and when he began talking, he had some articulation issues.”
Julie says Ben’s early health challenges contributed to his speech delay, and therefore, a delay in detecting his stuttering. Ben’s younger brother, Dan, also stutters. Julie noted there is some family history as well as research that says that stuttering can be hereditary.
“I don’t remember not stuttering,” Ben, now 17, and a senior at St John’s High School, said. “Most people think it’s anxiety, like being nervous to talk – it is more like you know what you want to say but just can’t say it.”
Julie points out that there are many different types of stuttering that affect kids, teens and adults
“Stuttering is not related to any lack of cognitive function,” she said. “Ben’s stuttering is referred to as ‘Blocks,’ which is a lack of air. An increase in the tension in the larynx area results in the air flow stopping. It can be brief or last a half a minute –one can literally run out of breath.”
When Ben was 13, Julie, an augmentative communication consultant in the Northborough-Southborough Public Schools, took him to see Judith Butler, a speech pathologist, who specializes in Pediatric Disfluency, in Franklin.
“I was a mom and a speech pathologist, and I realized how little I knew about this,” Julie said. “We met with Judith and learned strategies to increase fluency. She encouraged us to talk about Ben’s stuttering openly with him so he would not be alone with it – that was the best gift. She told us that the National Stuttering Association (NSA) was a great organization and that there was a conference in New Jersey that year. We were told it was for kids, but there was a parent component to it as well, and that it would be good for the boys and us, so my husband, Jeff, and I decided we’d go.”
The Shrewsbury family has been involved with the NSA for five years. Ben has been elected as one of just seven members of the NSA Teen Advisory Council, and Julie hosts shows on the NSA Family Radio, which can be found through the NSA website at www.westutter.org.
Dan, 15, is a freshman at St. John’s.
“My stuttering is more partial or whole word repetitions,” he said. “It’s so minor most people don’t even notice it. When we’re at the NSA conference we tend to stutter more because it is such a free environment that we don’t have to work on it – the people are great. NSA has really helped with my confidence in public speaking.”
The North family has met some of their best friends at the NSA conference they attend every summer.
“It’s so much work to be fluent,” Ben said. “At the conference we can just relax.”
Ben and Dan’s father, Jeff, appreciates what the NSA has provided for his family.
“Being at the conference lets them be,” he said. “Families there have an understanding of each other that nobody else has.”
Julie says stuttering can have cycles where it is better or worse, and that some people can experience a spontaneous recovery.
“There are so many resources such as the NSA that help you realize you’re not alone,” she said. “It can be so isolating. I’m so thankful to have met Judy Butler, and thankful for the NSA, where we’ve made friends who share a common bond. Initially it was about pain and heartache seeing your children struggle. Now it’s a fun time seeing friends and seeing both our boys embrace and appreciate who they are – their strengths and challenges. We are really, really proud of both boys and inspired by them and other people in the NSA. We want parents of children and teens who stutter to know about the resources and support there is for them out there.”
Ben values his involvement with the NSA.
“I like leading and helping others,” he said. “If I had the opportunity to not stutter, I wouldn’t take it. I’m grateful – it’s a gift more than a curse. I meet new people and know what it’s like to be different. Some words can be tough to say so you can avoid them if you want to, but the goal of speech therapy is not to not stutter, it’s to be okay with stuttering.”
“Some kids have trouble accepting that they stutter, but I always figured it was a part of me,” he added. “Stuttering and my martial arts training have taught me discipline, and taught me how to accept others who are different, because I know how it feels.”
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