Though most people who stutter do not have to lead a country at war as did Britain’s King George VI, even everyday conversation can be daunting for them. The popular film “The King’s Speech,” with its many award nominations and wins, has drawn new attention to speech disorders.
Dr. Rodney Gabel, communication sciences and disorders, offers therapy and support to people who stutter through a number of specialized, intensive clinics at the University — the only such programs in the region. He has also conducted research on how people who stutter are perceived by others.
“We’ve found there is still strong misunderstanding about the causes of stuttering, along with stereotypes of people who stutter,” he said. A board-recognized expert in fluency and fluency disorders, Gabel welcomes the attention the film has brought to people who stutter and the opportunity it offers him to share “positive, correct information about stuttering” with the public.
For one thing, “Stuttering is not an anxiety disorder. Stress can exacerbate the problem, but it does not cause it. Today we consider stuttering a physiological problem that may have a genetic basis. You can think of it as a sports paradigm: you can learn to produce movements and do them well in private, but in the stress of competition you may not be able to perform them as well. When you’ve lived a long time with stuttering, anxiety develops from struggling with it and makes your speech muscles a lot more tense and difficult to control. Nevertheless, anxiety does not cause a person to begin stuttering.”
And although today’s therapies do not include such activities as singing or abdominal exercises, “the film was a historical view of our field. They were working with the best information they had at the time. Today we focus on producing speech in a controlled way.”
One thing has not changed, he said. “My colleagues and I were impressed with how the movie shows the importance of a really good, close alliance between a client and clinician and of having an involved, trusting relationship. People who stutter like the relationship between the king and his speech therapist, who believed in his client and in his potential.”
For more information on Gabel and the services offered through BGSU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, visit