When he isn’t scoring points on the court, former Charlotte Hornets Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t stick to the bench–as a person who stutters, he is a passionate advocate for this speech disorder that affects about 1% of the population. Speech-Language Pathology Assistant Professor Mandy Hampton Wray was excited to invite him to the Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) to share his experiences with her class of aspiring SLPs-to-be.
“My goal is to help my students learn how to best support individuals who stutter by helping them become confident communicators,” says Hampton Wray. “Exactly how we achieve this varies from client to client, but if someone can say what they want to say, when they want to say it, how they want to say it (meaning - with stuttering or perhaps using techniques to try to reduce stuttering - but at the will of the speaker), then we have provided excellent support and clinical services for our client.”
For people who stutter, self-expression can be challenging and frustrating.
“A lot of individuals may think a person who stutters is dumb, but that is not true,” says Kidd-Gilchrist.
The athlete-advocate joined a panel of others who have dealt with the difficulties of stuttering, including speech-language pathologists Seth Tichenor (MS ‘13), Caryn Herring (BA ‘09) and Sara MacIntyre (MS ‘13), and Matt Dorn. They each shared the various ways stuttering has impacted their personal and professional lives.
After hearing each of the panelists’ perspectives, the students were eager to engage in a productive Q&A session that stretched over two hours and covered topics ranging from how they can be better clinicians to the ways in which stuttering can be such a powerful force in someone’s life that it can change their professional trajectory and temper their social lives.
“It’s been great to open up to individuals about the need,” says Kidd Gilchrist. “This is the first step–meeting the students and professors.”
A big obstacle all of the guests have faced is frustration with speech therapists whom they felt didn’t quite understand their disorder, which triggered even greater anxiety for them early in life. Each panelist shared how they found their own path to overcoming this anxiety, but one thing they made clear to the students was the need for compassionate clinicians invested in bringing the latest research into their practice.
This is a sentiment Hampton Wray is passionate about incorporating into her classes.
“Stuttering is an area of our field that many people do not receive adequate training in and therefore are ‘afraid’ of or feel intimidated by. What often happens, then, is either clinicians do not pick up children who stutter on their caseloads, or they set goals that do not support their clients well,” she explains.
“One of my main goals is to help students learn how to take a holistic approach to stuttering therapy, and work on speech productions by reducing tension and frustration. We need to help speakers reduce their negative responses to their own stuttering and increase their confidence in speaking, even if they stutter when they talk.”
The work goes beyond the classroom and clinic, and Kidd-Gilchrist is leading the charge to bring attention to it in the community.
“Everyone that knows me knows that I have a big heart, both on and off the court,” says Kidd-Gilchrist. His big heart is exactly what inspired him to establish his nonprofit–Change & Impact, which aspires to improve access to health care, especially speech therapy, for all people.
In addition to raising awareness among future clinicians, Kidd-Gilchrist has spent time raising awareness on Capitol Hill, and despite the challenges he has encountered, he says one of the most important lessons that he has learned is “We get up when we fall. As an individual who stutters, we are always going to fall in our speech every day, but I am not going to lay down.”
Hampton Wray confirms, “The kind of work Mike is doing is important because it helps support people who may not have the power or ability to advocate for themselves. Stuttering is often not covered by medical insurance, so many people have to either pay out-of-pocket for private speech therapy, which is very expensive, or not receive treatment.”
“Society is incredibly focused on the way people talk,” she adds. “We admire great orators - speech quality and fluency is often thought to be indicative of intelligence, trustworthiness and confidence. Understanding that stuttering is simply the way some people talk is critical to develop a more inclusive society.”