The author's note at the end of Paperboy recounts his own struggles with stuttering. He admits this story is largely autobiographical, which makes Little Man's description of his stuttering that much more poignant:
"The reason I hate talking to people who don't know me is because when they first see me I look like every other kid. Two eyes. Two arms. Two legs. Crew-cut hair. Nothing special. But when I open my mouth I turn into something else. Most people don't take the time to understand what's wrong with me and probably just figure I'm not right in the head"
Stuttering can manifest in the repetition or elongation of a particular sound, or in a complete stoppage of speech. The cause of stuttering, also sometimes referred to as stammering, is unclear. Studies indicate that stuttering most likely is due to genetic or neurophysiological causes, made worse by stress. Although stuttering occurs in both genders, boys are far more likely to experience this communication disability at some time in their development.
On a related note, the Oscar winner for Best Picture in 2010, went to The King's Speech, which portrayed how King George VI overcame his stuttering disability. The movie shows how an elocutionist helps the king (played by Colin Firth, whose performance won him an Oscar for Best Actor) deal with his disability. Primary among these techniques shown is singing. While singing is not used much in contemporary speech language therapy for stuttering, therapists do focus on the rhythm and cadence of speech and have it synchronize with the stutterer's breathing patterns. The movie also shows how stutterers perform better when they can't hear their voice. This is the basis for a type of therapy known as delayed auditory feedback. Stutterers can wear a device that looks like a hearing aid and their talk is repeated back to them with a slightly modified pitch and with a delay of split seconds. While not always effective, when it does work, delayed auditory feedback does so in conjunction with more traditional breathing exercises mentioned earlier and helps the stutterer align breathing and speech patterns. It should be noted that while the movie was widely praised as shining a deserved spotlight on stuttering and portraying much of the disability accurately, critics did find missteps. The movie implied that parental abuse and early childhood trauma can lead to stuttering, a theory which has not been scientifically proven.
Paperboy is about more than Little Man's speech impediment, but it allows us to gain a better understanding of the frustrations that accompany such a struggle. It is important that children with this kind of disability see that they are not alone; and for others to have empathy when encountering someone who stutters. Little Man is an appealing character who provides a positive example of a character dealing with this problem.
The Stuttering Foundation has tips for how to talk to a child (or adult) who stutters:
This article was originally published in June 2013, and has been updated for the
December 2014 paperback release.
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