Stuttering Foundation celebrates 75th anniversary

Education on stuttering available at local libraries

Stuttering Foundation President Jane Fraser speaks to fellow colleagues inside of a library where her material can be found.
Stuttering Foundation President Jane Fraser speaks to fellow colleagues inside of a library where her material can be found.
The Stuttering Foundation celebrates its 75th anniversary and is gearing up for celebration with the release of an animated film. The non-profit organization has a reach of 137 countries.

Four of the videos have been part of the tri-county Live Oaks Library System are part of an extensive library collection, which includes Savannah, since 2018. They have four DVDs in their system: “School-Age Child,” “If You Stutter,” “Straight Talk for Kids” and “For Kids by Kids.”

“Live Oak Public Libraries is dedicated to supporting literacy and lifelong learning,” said Live Oak Library spokesman Sarah Collier. “We partner with local schools and nonprofit organizations to assist with library resources and specialized services that may help those in our community with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.”

For Stuttering Foundation President Jane Fraser, she’s proudest of how the organization has a more direct reach.

Fraser inherited the organization as president from her father Malcolm in 1981. Malcolm was a Tennessee industrialist who had painful childhood memories as a stutterer and wanted to devote his philanthropic efforts to solving the riddle behind stuttering. He consulted the leading authorities of the era, Dr. Charles van Riper. He made the first donation of $2,500 to the organization.

“In those days a new house cost about $6,000; a new car about a thousand dollars,” Fraser said. “So, it was quite a significant gift.”

Eventually, Malcolm would build up the organization’s endowment to $10 million and run a think talk of many of the greatest experts on the subject through symposia, the application of grants, scientific papers and the publication of books. The first, “Self-Therapy for the Stutterer,” 1960, was written by Malcolm himself.

Since taking over in 1981, Fraser has grown the endowment to $38 million and has shifted the focus from research to public awareness and dissemination of materials. The association’s catalog currently includes 29 books, 35 DVDs and 27 brochures.

“When I started, you used to have to send them a VHS or letter, so it was a week later,” she said. “Nowadays if a parent is really concerned, they can get help within five minutes, or they can go to the local library.”

The Stuttering Foundation has also added a toll-free hotline and website that provides resources and encouragement to dispel the myths surround stuttering. One of their web site’s most well-known features s profiles of famous people who stutter. The list includes actors Emily Blunt and James Earl Jones; singers Ed Sheeran, Carly Simon and Meg Tillis; NBA personalities Kenyon Martin and Bill Walton; and President Joe Biden. The website also has 141 streaming videos and offers continuing education courses.

“It’s a nice way for people to get information about stuttering, for people to think about stuttering to learn about famous people who may have been stutterers, and just to know positive and constructive ways to react to those who might stutter,” said Barry Guitar of the University of Vermont who serves as a consultant to the foundation. According to Savannah-based speech pathologist Devora Gottlieb, media like the type disseminated from the Stuttering Institute is important because stuttering impacts a smaller percentage of the population than most realize. Of the 15% of school age children who have a speech disorder only 2% of those 15% stutter.

“It’s a very small group of people, so sometimes people who stutter come to that result and never have met a person who stutters,” Gottlieb said.

In her practice, Gottlieb directs people to the Stuttering Foundation’s website as well as an app called SpeechEASY. Gottlieb also stresses that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to stuttering.

Similarly, the Stuttering Foundation is an adherent to the idea that there is not one definite way to treat stuttering which is why they don’t open clinics though they do have continuing education programs and put on talks that help further the spread of ideas in the field. Guitar’s approach, for example, is to let patients know that stuttering is ok. Guitar sees “parents who think ‘oh no, my child is stuttering, I need to get rid of this deficiency.’”

Guitar, who is featured in some of the videos through excerpts from his talks at symposia, aims to get patients open with themselves and others so they can loosen up and not feel like stuttering is something they don’t need to fight.

The video collection which dates back to the 1970s. The videos have been made in-house in conjunction with Illinois-based film company Video Design Productions. In addition to her administrative work, Fraser is directly involved with the videos.

“The nice thing is that our videographer is just so sensitive to stuttering and when he’s filming kids, they really don’t feel like there’s someone filming them, which you need because otherwise people are so self-conscious,” Fraser explained.

For information on the stuttering foundation, check out stutterinfoundation.org and find the DVDs at a local Live Oaks Library.