Students reflect on experiences with stuttering

April 1, 2018 — by Karen Chow and Kaitlyn Wang

His pulse thudding and his throat constricting, Kiran Rachamallu, then a fourth grader at Argonaut Elementary School, stepped onto the stage. He looked out at the hundreds of students gathered below, bracing himself to deliver a speech about why he should be the school treasurer.

Years later, Rachamallu’s fellow students would remember the eloquence and persuasiveness of his speech, but what they did not see were the hours Rachamallu, now a junior, had spent behind the scenes, practicing his speech over and over in hopes of controlling a stuttering condition he has battled since his earliest years.

Thanks to hours spent in front of the mirror practicing his enunciation and asking others to correct him if he begins talking too fast, Rachamallu has made huge inroads against a condition that the National Institutes of Heath says afflicts 3 million Americans. In addition, as many as 1 in 10 children has experienced the condition at some point, even if it doesn’t become chronic. Around 75 percent of children outgrow stuttering.

According to Health Line, there are multiple causes of stuttering, including a family history because of an inherited abnormality in the brain, a stroke which causes neurogenic stuttering, difficult family dynamics or an emotional trauma.

For Rachamallu, “stuttering happens when you’re nervous, so if you take out the nerves, it works out just fine. Whenever your anxiety goes up, you start to stutter more.”

Rachamallu remembers his anxiety during presentations in elementary school.

“I would have to redo the presentation because I just got so nervous and had to sit down, and the teacher would later call me again to restart,” Rachamallu said.

Growing up, Rachamallu did not know many other people who stuttered and felt isolated.

"When I was younger, I assumed that it was a problem that only I had, but now I realize that a lot of people have it,” Rachamallu said. “It’s not uncommon.”

Famous stutterers include England’s King George VI, singer Elvis Presley, golfer Tiger Woods, politician Joe Biden and actress Emily Blunt. Stuttering is more common in males than in females, the National Institutes of Health reports, as boys are three to four times more likely than girls to keep stuttering as they grow older.

Although the knowledge that he had to present in front of the entire school was nerve-wracking, Rachamallu recalled, his stuttering did not deter him from pursuing his goals.

“I had to practice a lot, so there was definitely a lot of added time,” Rachamallu said. “It made me concerned at first because I knew I had to say a speech, but I was old enough to understand that if I put in enough practice, I would be fine.”

AP US History teacher Kim Anzalone said that while she did notice Rachamallu’s stuttering at the beginning of the year, she thinks that he barely stutters now.

“He has matured so much and gained so much confidence because he is a really stellar APUSH student,” Anzalone said. “And I think he feels so comfortable in the class that I don’t think he stutters much anymore. If he does, it’s very minimal.”

Anzalone does not remember Rachamallu stuttering once during simulations such as the Constitutional Convention. According to Anzalone, during these simulations it is especially clear that Rachamallu is articulate and thoughtful.

“One of the reasons I think he looks or presents himself as being so thoughtful is maybe he’s slowing down, thinking about what he wants to say, and then that way it’s smoother when it comes out,” Anzalone said.

Another student who has dealt with stuttering is junior Tiffany Pi. In her case, she recalls struggling with stuttering as a child because her thoughts got jumbled in her head, making it harder to articulate sentences.

“Ever since I was a kid, I always had trouble with stuttering and people would make fun of me for it,” Pi said. “I didn’t realize I stuttered because my older brother talked just like me.”

Stuttering is something that Pi and her brother had to overcome together, practicing to slow down and pronounce words fluidly.

“Whenever I wanted to give up and just accept that I would stutter for the rest of my life, my brother encouraged me to keep working at it,” Pi said. “When people called me names, saying I’m stupid or that I don’t know English, it only fueled my drive to prove them wrong.”

In elementary school, Pi was terrified to raise her hand or be called on in class to speak or read because as she spoke, she heard quiet giggles, which increased her embarrassment and added to the severity of her stuttering. She thinks her classmates would not choose her for group projects as a result of the condition.

Junior Colette Doyen, a long-term friend of Pi’s, remembers when Pi was misunderstood because of her stuttering and says that although it was hard to understand her sometimes they easily could have if people took a bit more time.

“I think it is really incredible how far Pi has come with her stuttering,” Doyen said. “If I did not know her when I was young, I would have never guessed she used to stutter.”

Although Pi rarely stutters anymore, she still has to remind herself to slow down and focus on her words.

Said Pi: “Stuttering is something that I used to be ashamed of and tried to hide, but now I realize that it is something that I should embrace and be proud that I overcame it.”

 

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