Finding his voice

Matt Liasse and Matt Liasse

When a student sits in a 300-person lecture hall and looks around the giant room, they see 299 other students supposedly just like them. While looking, they may discover similarities, such as the appearance of boredom on others’ faces, the representation of Greek letters on shirts or bags and the diligent note taking with hopes of leaving before stomachs demand lunch. However, not everyone has the same things to worry about.

Some students dread the idea of professors calling on them for answers. These students fear the embarrassment they may face when their stutter takes over, and they cannot complete the thought they are trying to make out loud.

Ryan McDermott, senior, is one of these people. He was born with a thick stutter and has had to endure a questioning audience every time he goes to speak.

According to McDermott, stuttering can be very irritating, but it’s not something that can be easily fixed or controlled. Rather, it comes and goes at anytime. McDermott says others should not be scared to ask about his stutter because he will openly discuss it with them. In fact, he insisted he would rather them ask if they are truly curious instead of ignoring it.

McDermott used to be annoyed by his stutter and would get so frustrated with the reactions of others that he would lose his temper. But he has learned to deal with it in a very positive way.

Because he is the kind of person that likes to help others, he has decided to volunteer his time with FRIENDS, a support group for people of any age who struggle with a stutter. McDermott has been a part of the organization for nine years, joining while in eighth grade. Now he is a mentor for other new members and is the fundraising chair. He said being involved with the group has boosted his confidence tremendously.

“I used to have the worst attitude about having a stutter because I had never met anyone with one before,” he said about his younger years. Now, with this group, he gets in touch with kids all over the country that suffer from some of the same things he went through growing up.

FRIENDS, which is organized by director and speech language pathologist, Lee Caggiano, holds different conferences and workshops all over the country helping people from ages 5 to 55 who suffer from stuttering. Past workshops were held in St. Louis and Long Island, and McDermott hopes to one day be able to host a workshop in Bowling Green after attending one himself at Kent State University.

McDermott also said one day he would like to become a leader with the organization.

“Helping others makes me stronger,” he said. Throughout the last four years, he has worked with almost 20 kids. He can tell when they’ve changed and grown in confidence, and working with them has changed his life.

For instance, McDermott once worked with one child who would refuse to speak at all.

“He had a heavy, strong, intense stutter. Because of it, he would give up and quit,” he said. “That is one of the worst things that can be done to confidence. It can hinder [anyone with a stutter’s] life.” After working with the child, he attended another workshop some time later with a boost in confidence and an outgoing personality.

Because there is currently no research explaining why people stutter, it is still unknown as to why this action arises in certain people. Growing nervousness and the anxiety associated with meeting new people can make a stutter more intense. This is the reason FRIENDS came about.

Caggiano started the group after her own kids were forced to deal with stuttering. FRIENDS’ biggest intent is to imply that wherever anyone is who suffers from a stutter, someone is willing to listen and understand.

McDermott is also willing to share things that not many can understand. He encourages people with a stutter to talk it out and be open. He also said there are many things people without stutters can do when talking to someone without the fear of saying something offensive.

According to him, people should not try to help them out when they try to speak. Interrupting is greatly offensive too, and people should make sure to keep eye contact throughout.

McDermott’s voice is representative of students who may be ashamed of their speaking barrier, and the challenges he has overcome demonstrate the impact understanding ‘FRIENDS’ can make.