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Published September 22, 2013, 10:00 PM

Getting it out: Stuttering starts in childhood, but there’s help available for all ages

MOORHEAD – Grant Peterson is a friendly, outgoing guy who loves to talk. It just takes him longer to get the words out.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

More information

• For more info on the RiteCare Children’s Language Disorder Center, located at 1405 N. 3rd St. in Fargo, visit http://ritecarefargo.org, email fargomasons@yahoo.com or call (701) 235-7875.

• The Fargo-Moorhead Chapter of the National Stuttering Association meets at 6:30 p.m. every third Thursday of the month in Room 210 of Murray Hall at Minnesota State University Moorhead. To learn more, visit http://fmstutteringgroup.webs.com or email Bruce Hanson at hansonbr@mnstate.edu.

MOORHEAD – Grant Peterson is a friendly, outgoing guy who loves to talk. It just takes him longer to get the words out.

The 20-year-old college student has been stuttering for as long as he can remember. His parents tell him it started when he was about 4 years old growing up in Sauk Centre.

When he was a kid, Peterson was teased for his speech impediment, but he’s since armed himself with knowledge, coping tools and an “I am who I am” attitude.

Ironically, the junior says, he’s majoring in speech-language pathology at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“I can see how it was a burden when I was younger, but coming to MSUM and experiencing the different parts of this major has really opened my eyes,” he says.

Peterson is one of more than 3 million Americans who have problems with stuttering, but there are local resources that can help.

Since his freshman year, he’s been attending monthly meetings of the Fargo-Moorhead Chapter of the National Stuttering Association, a group for people who stutter or have an interest in stuttering.

In Murray Hall Room 210, F-M Stuttering participants share their experiences, struggles and successes.

Even chapter leader Bruce Hanson, an associate professor in MSUM’s speech, language and hearing sciences department, has stories to tell.

Hanson, who now speaks fluidly, was identified as a stutterer in kindergarten but doesn’t remember becoming aware of it until fifth or sixth grade when he had to give a speech in science class.

“I remember going back to my desk thinking, ‘Hmm, my speech didn’t go very well,’ ” he says with a laugh.

Starting young

Hanson says most kids who stutter start between 2 and 5 years old, and the later it begins, the more likely it’ll stick.

The RiteCare Children’s Language Disorder Center aims to help children with their speech before they hit elementary school.

Run by the Fargo Masons, the organization employs three master’s-level speech-language pathologists from Sanford Health to help kids whose families are unable to pay for the service or receive it elsewhere.

“Speech therapy is available in the school system, but our charity tries to cut it off at the pass,” says Gurnee Bridgman, president of RiteCare.

And they’ve got a waiting list.

“When a kid ‘graduates,’ that child is almost immediately replaced by another child,” he says.

Ashley Worden, one of RiteCare’s therapists, helps her young patients understand the problem by putting it into kid-speak, talking about “smooth speech” versus “bumpy speech.”

Helping children identify the problem makes it less scary for them, she says, and once they get it, they can start working on improving it.

“As kiddos get older, we can teach them more about their breathing and how to relax their breathing to help them have more fluent speech,” she says.

At the center, parents can observe through a one-way mirror or participate in an effort to learn techniques to try at home.

Worden says the most rewarding aspect of her job is when a child recognizes that he or she has made progress.

“Usually their smiles and facial expressions say it all,” she says.

Syncing up

Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech” and Brit Katherine Peterson’s book “Out With It” have helped people understand stuttering, but many don’t know much about it other than what it sounds like.

Hanson says there’s no known cause, but there is a genetic component, adding that the best info suggests a 40 to 50 percent link.

“About half of the kids who will go on to stutter beyond that year or two (of language development) have a relative, probably a grandparent or parent, who stuttered,” he says.

He says stuttering has nothing to do with intelligence, memory or coordination. It’s neurological.

As author Peterson says, “I’m just not quite synced up.”

Certain situations can worsen the problem, mainly because they become linked with anxiety.

“Environmental factors can bring it out, but the environment can’t cause you to stutter unless you had that predisposition going in,” Hanson says.

Peterson, the MSUM student, has a harder time when he’s tired, sick or nervous or has to talk to an authority figure or on the phone.

He says good posture and well-timed pauses and breaths help.

“It (good posture) really opens up your chest, so when you take a deeper breath, your diaphragm can expand more, allowing more air into your lungs, which helps with being able to produce a longer message,” he says.

But Peterson’s biggest frustration doesn’t necessarily come from within.

He doesn’t like when non-stutterers try to finish his sentences for him. He knows what he wants to say and how to say it.

“Listen to the content of the message, not necessarily how it’s produced or conveyed,” he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590