Stutterers share their stories as UT Austin announces new center for research, education

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new center aimed at helping those who stutter is coming to The University of Texas at Austin.

On campus on Monday, Arthur M. Blank announced a $20 million grant to form The Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research in the Moody College of Communication.

Blank is the co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. His granddaughter is a student at the Moody College.

“I’m a stutter,” said Blank at the event. “My uncle was a stutterer, my oldest brother is a stutterer. My youngest son, Max [is a stutterer]. Stuttering has been a genetic part of my family for many years.. but my mother was a strong factor in my own life, and she reinforced for me many, many times that what I had to say is important. Regardless of how fluent I was.”

The center will work to expand the work of Dr. Courtney Byrd, who Black has worked with. According to the University, Byrd uses a holistic model for stuttering treatment and clinical training. Byrd’s work is said to be a scientifically grounded and therapeutic approach for stutterers of all ages.

“Through her impressive research and dedicated practice towards stuttering, I know she will change the world in this area and help as many human beings as she possibly can,” said Blank. “She is the perfect person to lead the charge because she’s hard-wired now in her beliefs, and you see it in her results, the participants, the clinical work that she’s doing, the research, the education, all of which we will be connected to through the establishment of this center.”

Stutterers share what they want people to know about stuttering

A few people who have dealt with stuttering challenges in their lives also attended the event, including eight-year-old Nadia Watson, who explained what she wants people to know about stuttering.

“What I wish the world knew about stuttering is it’s actually a very unique thing that people do and if someone thinks there’s something wrong with you, well, they’re thinking wrong,” Watson said with a smile.

Sixteen-year-old high school junior Jack Donahue took to the microphone to explain his wish for people to help those who stutter. “What I wish people knew about stuttering is to let them finish their words or phrases without interrupting them.”

Another woman, Vivian, stood to say, “I’m a person who stutters and what I wish people knew about stutterers is it does not affect a person’s intelligence or ability to learn.”

Shubham Singh said, “It [stuttering] does not stop me from saying what I want to say… I think once you accept your stuttering, you get rid of the fear of stuttering — and the fear of stuttering is a bigger issue than the stuttering itself.”

Mary Lieberman, who jokingly said she wasn’t going to reveal her age, said, “Stuttering is a part of who I am but it is not all of who I am. The challenge for us is to remember that we have much to contribute… we learn to help each other by learning to help each other.”

A UT graduate Kevin, said, “What I wish everyone knew about stuttering is that it doesn’t hold you back. I think all of us sometimes feel a lack of confidence because of how we speak but I think it’s important in life to have people who support you.”

Sixteen-year-old LaWayne said, “People who stutter are as smart as anyone else and they can accomplish all of their dreams.”

All the people who spoke to share their experiences thanked the Blank Foundation for their contribution and support.

Dr. Courtney Byrd

Dr. Byrd, who is a professor at UT Austin, also attended the event to thank the foundation and explain her 25 years of work and its mission.

“We are going to continue until there’s no child that stutters that think that the way that they talk is not okay… but what if conformity is not the outcome of success? What if that’s no longer how we measure how you’re doing or what you should do?”

Dr. Byrd, who will serve as the executive and founding director of the center, explained that treatment does not equal complete elimination of stutters by using “artificial voices,” but rather expanding stutterers’ confidence and giving them tools to effectively communicate.

‘What Starts Here Changes the World’

During the announcement, UT President Jay Hartzell spoke of Byrd’s work, saying that it not only helps stutterers communicate, but helps them “unlock their personality” and become leaders in their own lives.

“Today is one of those reasons that make us proud to be Longhorns,” said Hartzell. “And proud to see the impact this kind of thing can have on society… we talk about ‘What Starts Here Changes the World,’ and this is one of those moments. At this university we take on the biggest challenges facing people and we do research that makes a profound impact.”

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