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U.S. President Biden Champions People With Communication Disorders

As someone who stutters, Joseph R. Biden, the 46th President of the United States, is an inspirational figure for reasons apart from politics. In rising to high office, he has set a global example that people with communication disorders can become strong communicators and rise above the teasing and stigmatization that often occur.

Historically, though several U.S. presidents have had disabilities, none in modern times has had difficulty with speech. However, world leaders in other countries have, two notable examples being HRH King George VI of England and former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

Stuttering (also referred to as stammering) involves disruptions or disfluencies in speech. There is no cure for it, though the disorder can be moderated by therapy. Often, a person’s negative reaction to stuttering is more problematic than disfluent speech.

Globally, 70 million people—1% of the world’s population—stutter, with males estimated to outnumber females by a four to one ratio. Approximately 5% of children ages two to five stutter, but about 88% of them recover spontaneously. Those whose disfluencies persist are likely to continue to stutter their entire lives. Speech and language intervention can help with the flow of speaking, acceptance of disfluencies, and creating a positive speaking experience.

U.S. President Biden has been very public about being a person who stutters. When he was young, he was teased by schoolmates and subjected to the same stigmatizing many others face, often manifested by false beliefs that stuttering signals low intelligence or limited ability. In interviews, Biden has cited continued encouragement from his mother as a key tonic when he was a boy. He has followed her example his whole life, keeping ties with others who stutter and encouraging them.

In 2009, when he was Vice President Joe Biden, an International Communication Project co-founder, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, presented him with its Annie Glenn Award. Annually, the honor recognizes individuals who advocate for persons with communication disorders.

Since then, the new U.S. President has continued his advocacy in powerful ways. During his 2020 presidential campaign, he met a boy who stutters, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington, and subsequently asked him to speak at the convention that nominated Biden to run for president. Months later, at President Biden’s inauguration celebration, Harrington spoke again, this time reading aloud from the inauguration speech of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

In addition, at the presidential swearing in ceremony, U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, another person who has had speech challenges, recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Immediately, she became even more of a national sensation, with a forthcoming poetry collection and children’s book soaring to the top of bestseller lists.

President Biden stood next to Gorman as she read her poem. For Biden, the moment must have seemed far removed from his school days, from those times when teasing calls like “H-H-H-Hey J-J-J Joe B-B-B-Biden!” filled the air. Gorman closed the ceremony with her voice ringing out, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Joseph Cerquone
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Further Information About Stuttering

Australia: https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/fs#sttt

Canada: https://www.sac-oac.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Speech%20and%20language%20tip%20sheet_EN.pdf

Ireland: https://www.iaslt.ie/documents/public-information/Childhood%20Speech%20and%20Language/IASLT-Stammering-Advice-Sheet-for-Parents.pdf [PDF]

New Zealand https://speechtherapy.org.nz/find-a-therapist/resources-for-families/

United Kingdom: https://www.rcslt.org/speech-and-language-therapy/clinical-information/dysfluency/#section-2

United States: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering/

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