Building a strong local voice

National Stuttering Association chapter to form in county
by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

As a commonly misunderstood, vastly complex speech disorder, stuttering can be frustrating to those that must live with it’s many challenges on a daily basis and mysterious to those who are unfamiliar with its many intricacies.

Stuttering, which is defined as a communication disorder involving disruptions in a person’s speech, often carries a stigma that can severely limit a person’s ability and desire to express themselves in social situations, due to physical tension and struggle in their speech muscles, as well as embarrassment, anxiety and fear about speaking.

In turn, stuttering can lead to confusion for people that are not educated on what it is and how it develops.

For Gloria Klumb, stuttering has been a way of life since she began to learn how to speak as a child in Sheboygan in the 1960s.

“Back when I was young and learning to speak, people believed that stuttering could be cured and if you stuttered, there was something wrong with you,” Klumb said. “I was taught that it wasn’t okay to stutter. I had severe stuttering problems until I began to learn more about it. I realized that it was not my fault and that it was okay to stutter.

“When I got over that feeling and I came to realize that it was not my fault that I stutter, I started to relax and things gradually began to improve for me from there,” she said.

Shortly after moving from Sheboygan to Madison in 1999, Klumb became a member of the National Stuttering Association (NSA).

Since becoming involving in the NSA organization, Klumb says she has noticed a drastic improvement in the severity of her stuttering and her overall confidence in speaking and social situations.

As a member of the Madison NSA Chapter between 1999 and 2010, Klumb excelled as a chapter leader, earning an NSA National Chapter Leader of the Year Award in 2007 and Volunteer of the Year honors in 2011.

“There was nothing like NSA in Sheboygan, which was one of the reasons I sought out Madison as a place to live,” Klumb said. “The knew that the Madison NSA Chapter was strong and I was very eager to join it.

“I lived in Madison for over 10 years, and in that time, my stuttering really improved,” she said. “I attended a lot of NSA meetings, functions and socials during those years, which allowed me to meet other people that stuttered and gain confidence in myself.”

Klumb moved back to the Sheboygan area in 2010 and soon after began thinking about forming an NSA Chapter to serve Sheboygan County.

“My experience with NSA in Madison was very good,” Klumb said. “It helped me so much that when I came back to Sheboygan I focused strongly on starting a chapter here.

“I still found myself driving to Madison for NSA meetings on the second Tuesday of the month, but it is expensive to do that,” she said. “I feel there is a need here for people that are struggling with stuttering and all of the issues and challenges that go along with it.”

Through Klumb’s efforts, the Sheboygan County NSA Chapter will hold its first meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15, the Generations Plymouth Intergenerational Center, located at 1500 Douglas Drive in Plymouth, from 6-7:45 p.m.

Klumb said all high school age students, adults, grandparents and teacher interested in improving their stuttering or helping someone who is struggling with stuttering are invited to attend a free NSA chapter meeting.

“We plan to hold meetings on the third Wednesday of the month at Generations in Plymouth as long as people are interested in attending and striving to improve themselves,” Klumb said. “The main goal is to give people that are struggling a place to go to share their challenges and work on ways to overcome fears.”

Klumb is quick to point out that NSA, which was formed in California in 1977, and currently features statewide chapters in Superior, Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Green Bay.

“NSA is not a therapy group, it’s strictly a support group,” Klumb said. “During meetings, we talk about different issues people are facing in their daily lives and focus on a topic of interest to the entire group.”

Additionally, Klumb said NSA chapter members have the opportunity to attend the annual NSA National Conference.

“The national conference typically draws between 500 to 800 people each year,” Klumb said. “It features activities and workshops for people from age 5 to 100. The workshops are presented for and by people that are struggling with stuttering. It is just a nice opportunity to network with others and band together with others going through the same type of problems.

“One year U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who stuttered as a child, attended the conference,” she said. “That was a neat experience, because it showed how it is possible to overcome fears about stuttering and be successful as a public speaker at the highest level. The movie ‘The King’s Speech’ also brought some good attention to stuttering.”

Although researchers still do not know what causes stuttering, its development can be traced to the learned speech patterns of young children.

“Stuttering can occur in kids learning to speak between age 2 and 5,” Klumb said. “As their speech develops, most kids stop stuttering, but for a small percentage of us, stuttering becomes part of our normal speech, which continues throughout our lives.

“Early intervention is the best to help children overcome their speaking difficulties,” she said. “It is important for parents and pediatricians to seek a speech-language pathologist when they become concerned about a child’s stuttering.”

While there is no cure for stuttering, its overall severity can be reduced over time through various types of speech therapy.

“Many people work with a speech-language pathologist, who can teach people to use different speaking techniques that can lower the prevalence and frequency of stuttering,” Klumb said. “Some people stutter on every word, some just hesitate on particular words or in certain situations, while others stutter very seldom.

“Kids in particular tend to fight stuttering and when they enter a stuttering block, they develop what we call ‘secondaries,’ which include actions like closing their eyes, slapping their legs or stomping their feet,” she said. “Speechlanguage pathologists often work with people to stop those secondaries from occurring. When a person cuts out those secondary actions, it becomes much easier and a lot of the fears go away.”

Klumb says some people respond to medicine, while others use an ear device to reduce stuttering.

“Medication can help people, but that is rare,” Klumb said. “There is also speech device that fits in the ear and produces a two second delay in sound that can help a person to slow down their speech and speak without stuttering for a longer period of time.”

Because many people don’t understand what stuttering is and how it occurs, Klumb has enduring her share of mocking, teasing and insensitivity throughout her life.

“There have been times when I’ve had trouble getting my name out and people have asked if I’ve forgotten it,” she said. “Others have thought that I was having a seizure. I’ve also heard people mock the way I talk. I don’t normally get upset by it, because I know that they just don’t understand what stuttering is. Sometimes people tend to think that stuttering is caused by some sort of emotional problem or nervous disorder, but that is not true at all.”

“I’ve worked in retail for many years and most customers forget that I stutter,” Klumb said. “I’ve improved quite a bit over the years. I used to close my eyes and fight it, but now I just go with it and do the best I can to reduce my speech blocks and fears about doing certain things like talking on the phone .”

Klumb says education is the key to helping people understand what those struggling with stuttering are going through.

“Educating people is very important,” Klumb said. “I like to hand out pamphlets and educational materials to get the word out. By forming the NSA Chapter in Sheboygan County, I want to spread the word that just because you stutter, it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. There are others that are dealing with the same situation.”

For more information on the National Stuttering Association, visit westutter.org

For more information on the Sheboygan County NSA Chapter, e-mail Gloria Klumb at gloriaklumb@att.net.


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