09:43 AM

‘Advocacy and kindness’ for students with speech disorder

Alex Kohler’s experiences are typical for a first-year student at The Ohio State University. He left his hometown of Troy, Ohio, started new classes, moved in with new roommates and met a new circle of friends. As they would be for any new student, those changes were stressful. Adding to the stress: Kohler stutters.

Kohler believes the stress of his new surroundings increased the frequency of his stuttering.

“I was completely fed up,” he said. He went looking for help – and found it on campus.

It’s called SSPEAK, Students who Stutter Promoting Environments of Awareness and Kindness. It’s the Ohio State chapter of the National Stuttering Association.

Alli Burke started a SSPEAK chapter at Ohio State
Photo by Zach Woofter

Alli Burke, a third-year speech and hearing science major, started SSPEAK with the help of Rebecca McCauley, a professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science. SSPEAK meets once a month and offers a safe space for people on campus who stutter to learn more about the issue and to meet university speech and hearing experts.

“That’s the primary goal, just to offer individual support to people who stutter,” Burke said. “The secondary goal, which is almost as important, is to spread awareness and to advocate for fluency disorders.”

Kohler and Burke have a similar experience. Until they arrived at the university, they had never met another student who stuttered.

“I never met any other students who stutter on campus. I had actually never met anyone else who stutters,” Burke said. “So I realized there wasn’t really an outlet or a support system of any kind. That’s what made me want to start this.”

The National Stuttering Association estimates there are 3 million Americans who have what is known as a fluency disorder.

“It was nice to be able to talk to people who also have a stutter,” Kohler said after attending his first meeting in October.

Alex Kohler turned to SSPEAK for help. He says he doesn't stutter when rapping.
He has ambitions of going to law school and working to protect the environment. Kohler says he appreciates the support from SSPEAK.

“I would like to learn how to control my stutter,” Kohler said. “It will be helpful just to learn new tactics and just have a person to talk to without having any shame or guilt.”

For Burke, it’s gratifying to see her efforts reaching other students in need.

“It’s good to know people are hearing about it and the word is being spread around,” she said.

SSPEAK meets Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Pressey Hall. For more information, the group can be reached at sspeaknsa@gmail.com