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The King's Speech

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Who would have thought that a speech disorder would be front and center in a major motion picture? Over ten years ago, "The King's Speech," did just that. I have been a speech-language pathologist for 20 years, and although, I watched "The King's Speech" back in the day, I wanted to watch it again with a more experienced and focused eye. The basic premise of the movie is the (very real) struggle of King George the VI as he tried to overcome his struggles with stuttering ("stammerimg" as it is referred to in the drama) so that he can lead the British Empire in the face of World War II. It displays the relationship that develops between the King and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. This relationship morphs into a true connection and friendship. I can whole-heartedly relate to this. The children I treat in therapy become "my children", and their families become "my families". I feel real love for them and I've often been told that they feel the same for me.

Back to the movie. It's a pretty accurate depiction of not only what it seems King George actually went through, but also, what is often experienced by people who suffer from fluency disorders. There is a social stigma attached to stuttering, and I think the movie depicts this well. When the King tries to deliver public speeches before thousands of British subjects, he suffers extreme humiliation as he stutters his way through it. This kind of shame increases stress and negative thoughts (such as self-doubt) and leads to counter-productive reactions when more fluent speech is attempted. It's a vicious cycle. I speak, I stutter, I feel bad, I try to speak, I felt bad in the past, that makes me stutter more.

Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is interrupted by repetitions (re-re-repetitions), prolongations (prooooolongations), or abnormal breaks in voice (no sound) of sounds and syllables. There may also be unusual facial and body movements associated with the effort to speak. Stuttering is also referred to as stammering. All of this is witnessed in "The King's Speech".

What causes stuttering? There are four factors most likely to contribute to the development of stuttering: genetics (approximately 60% of those who stutter have a family member who does also); child development (children with other speech and language problems or developmental delays are more likely to stutter); neurophysiology (recent neurological research has shown that people who stutter process speech and language slightly differently than those who do not stutter); and family dynamics (high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles can contribute to stuttering). However, there is not conclusive research yet. Such shame not only causes stutterers to endure both stress and negative thoughts, but also leads them to develop counterproductive reactions as they try to speak more fluently.

Some Stats:

More than 70 million people worldwide stutter, which is about 1% of the population. In the United States, that's over 3 million Americans who stutter.

Stuttering affects four times as many males as females.

Approximately 5 percent of all children go through a period of stuttering that lasts six months or more. Three-quarters of those will recover by late childhood, leaving about 1% with a long-term problem. The best prevention tool is early intervention.

Children and adults who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than children and adults who do not. There is no reason to believe that emotional trauma causes stuttering.

Still, there may be no apparent cause in any one child. Sometimes, causes of speech or language disorders can't be identified. What is most important is discovering the symptoms that are presenting and treating them.

The film may celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and the friendship between King George VI and his therapist, Lionel Logue, but it also acknowledges the reality that therapy for stutterers beyond the early years of childhood is necessary to help manage the condition.

King George stuttered all his life. He became a more effective speaker and an easier speaker and certainly a happier speaker, but he never really could get rid of his stuttering."

Many of the therapies shown in the film are still used today. For instance, Logue teaches the king to speak with words connected in groups, tries to desensitize him to the fear of public speaking, and even uses loud music as a distraction to mask the king's learned patterns of stuttering. He also adds a good dose of self-confidence.

Marbles in the mouth? Not so much!

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