Dealing With Speech Disorder: Emily Blunt Says, ‘A Stutter Can Be Like A Straitjacket’

While the experience of those who have a severe stutter is not something that tends to get a lot of traction with the world’s press, actress Emily Blunt recently highlighted the issue. In the past decade, the movie star has shown herself to be more than capable of holding her own stutter on the big screen opposite everybody from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) to Tom Cruise (Edge Of Tomorrow), earning an abundance of awards in the process. Now that she is hitting the promotional trail in support of her latest film, Into The Woods, Blunt has taken the opportunity to discuss the speech disorder that once hindered her progress.

Emily Blunt

Speaking to NPR as part of its All Things Considered series, the actress described the way in which her stutter manifested, and the impact it had on her ability to communicate.

“It sort of started to dominate my speech by the time I was about 7 or 8. And then, I think, honestly, got to its most prominent point when I was about 12 or 13. Kids can be so merciless, can’t they? Most of them speak so fluently and they can’t possibly understand why you can’t.”

The Stuttering Foundation of America asserts that there are currently more than 68 million people worldwide who stutter, which is approximately one percent of the global population. The organization estimates that about five percent of all children experience a period of stuttering that lasts for a minimum of six months, and despite assumptions, it is not generally caused by emotional trauma or anxiety.

Emily Blunt explained the way in which those misperceptions affected her own treatment.

“The misdiagnosis [was] that I was a tense child, and I wasn’t. I was desperate to speak. I wanted everything, I didn’t want to miss anything, and I felt like I was missing out. So what I was, more than anything, was just immensely frustrated. A stutter can be like a straitjacket. I struggled with vowels, so ‘Emily’ was like the depths of hell for me.”

The Daily Reveille reports that current research being conducted in the Louisiana State University Stuttering Lab by Professor Geoffrey Coalson – himself a stutterer – includes analysis of the neurological differences between those that stutter and those that do not as Professor Coalson explained.

“There seem to be subtle differences in how well we hold onto the sounds in a word before speaking. One idea of stuttering is that the speech plan that has to be put together has to be complete prior to speaking, and if you’re slow putting together all of the sounds of a word, then what you have at the time of speaking is incomplete.”

This being the case, in terms of management strategies, many people that stutter find it helps to have their speech ‘scripted’ in advance – which is exactly the strategy that helped Emily Blunt. A teacher noticed that when she ‘performed’ using voices or impressions, her stutter was lessened.

“[It was] just extraordinary that somebody who is not a stutterer would have the kind of insight to say, ‘Be somebody else. Remove yourself and try it.’”

The actress experienced a revelatory moment, while performing in a school play about a modern girl who time travels back to a medieval village, and she realized there was a way to deal with her stutter.

“I spoke fluently for the first time in a long time, doing a stupid Northern accent – that helped me. To get through a whole play and not trip up once – I think it was probably more emotional for my Mom who watched. I think that was huge.”

“I think I get a little bit overwhelmed if I think about the odds of this not working out. I’m someone who never thought I would end up in a career where I had to speak fluently. And here I am.”

The Stuttering Foundation Of America recently worked to promote International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22nd – an annual event that aims to highlight the support that exists for those who stutter.

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