Carter Burks knows dealing with stuttering isn’t easy as a child or an adult.
“In a job interview, they can ask you ‘what’s your greatest strength?’ and you can have a great answer prepared, but you can’t get it out,” Burks said.
That’s the experience he had when job hunting, prior to getting help at the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute at University of Texas at Austin. Burks describes stuttering as something that can be “nerve wracking.”
“Someone can ask you a question that you know the answer to, but you’re unable to express it because you can’t physically get your words out,” he said.
Burks now works as an associate academic advisor at UT Austin.
“One of the greatest ironies in my life was how I have a problem speaking and I chose a career where I was speaking one-on-one for a living,” he said.
The skills Burks learned through the Lang Stuttering Institute, such as maintaining eye contact, have been lasting, he said. It’s stories like his the institute strives to create.
“We understand that stuttering is neurophysiological in nature and that trying to reverse their way of speaking into a way that really isn’t even applicable in a way to people who do not stutter, simply isn’t possible,” Dr. Courtney Byrd, founding director, said.
“We focus on embracing their stuttering.”
According to the institute, more than three million Americans stutter and affects four times as many males as females. Byrd said too often, there’s a stigmatization and a discrimination that exists around the world when it comes to stuttering.
“Ultimately, it also increases their shame and their anger and their frustration,” Byrd said.
The non-profit supports people dealing with stuttering with research, speech therapy programs and “Camp Dream. Speak. Live.” Byrd said targeting communication effectiveness starts with building confidence.
“Here at the institute, we focus on embracing their stuttering, helping them to understand that stuttering is only one part, a very small part of who they are,” Byrd said. “We want them to understand that being different is something we should all be excited about instead of trying to hide that part of ourselves.”
Clinicians use evidence-based practices when helping children and adults. The programs are volunteer-based and provided at no cost to the participants. Children as young as two-and-a-half years old can participate.
“What we feel is that if we can get these children at a very young age and proactively teach them skills to be more effective communicators, then our research shows that even if they’re stuttering to a significant degree, a listener cannot tell you how much they’re stuttering,” Byrd said.
The institute is trying to raise $15,000 by the start of the year to reduce its waitlist and get people through the programs. Byrd said it takes about a year to receive the everyday treatment programs and some people wait as long as three years to participate in the camp. Donations will sponsor research, clinical training and participation in the communication programs. The hope is that the institute can also expand to have multiple camps, to not only reduce the wait list, but also have returning people participate again.
“If we can help people to really embrace who they are, then they can start to dram about what they can achieve,” Byrd said.