Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Would You Take a Magic Pill to Cure Your Stutter?
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Below is our reader discussion sparked by the question posed by Jillian Kumagai, a lifelong stutterer, after reading Emma Alpern’s dispatch from the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. Send your own story to hello@theatlantic.com.

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Would You Take a Magic Pill to End Your Stutter? Cont'd

A reader, Samuel Dunsiger, revives the series sparked by Jillian’s story:

About four years ago, I was interviewing for a PR internship at a non-profit organization. I disclosed the fact that I stutter—which is something I normally do at interviews. But this time, the employer’s reaction shocked me.

“I actually stutter too,” he said.

When only one percent of the world’s population stutters, the odds of sitting across the table from someone who also stutters are incredulous (unless you’re at a National Stuttering Association conference). The interview turned into a 40-minute conversation about stuttering. Later that afternoon, he emailed me. I got the internship.

I asked myself that famous magic pill question and talked about it with others many times. Stutterers, like those with other disorders, are splintered into many ‘camps.’

Another stutterer among our readers, Roisin McManus, emails hello@:

This is in response to the question of “the magic pill”—a topic debated in our stuttering community for years, sometimes usefully, sometimes not. Thank you for the forum!

I began stuttering when I was three, when I began speaking. I have never stopped stuttering. I have never spoke fluently without the constant word switching and willful silences that so many stutterers know.

After all this time, I believe that this is my innate way of speaking, my language. It is not unique, because 1-2 percent of the world speaks this language—across centuries, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses. I suspect there will be no magic pill to absolve any of us from our innate way of speaking, the same way there is no magic pill to absolve a man of his innate way of loving, or a black woman of her melanin. Instead, there are ways to change the way we view each other, and allow for diversity of speaking, appearance, sexuality, and opinion.

I’m sick of the magic pill question. I would rather talk about why a kid who stutters does not feel comfortable in the world.

And another reader, Yasmine Amin, sends probably the most eloquent email yet (followed by a note from Emma Alpern, whose piece sparked this whole thread):

For a long time I felt as though my stutter was robbing me of the person I wanted to be. I was the shy girl who didn’t really say much, which in today’s world is somehow synonymous with not knowing much, and I was always viewed as less capable.

A reader can relate to Jillian’s story, but only to a point:

I’ve stuttered since age five. I cannot think of one moment over the past 20 years when I would have refused a magic pill for stuttering.

I would have taken the pill in the second grade, when it felt like I was choking in front of the entire class while trying to read out loud.  I would have taken the pill when I interviewed for a promising job and failed to get out more than three coherent sentences. I would have taken the pill when struggling to say “my name is John” on the thousands of occasions I’ve been unable to identify myself.

I can understand non-stutterers wanting to imagine that stutterers would reject the pill.

At the end of third grade, my class gathered to meet our fourth-grade teacher. We were supposed to go around the room and say our names in introduction. When it was my turn, instead of saying my name, I spelled it out: “J-I-L-L-I-A-N.” Someone else picked up after me and said it: “Jillian.” Following that ordeal, I strategically took bathroom breaks in order to miss my turn when we went around the room to read aloud.

My stutter continued to follow me around my entire life. My favorite restaurant dish growing up was fish and chips, but I rarely ordered it myself because I couldn’t say it. My college-admissions essay was about stuttering. The college I went to begins with “B” and I loved it, but I don’t like to say its name. Nor do I like to say “boyfriend,” nor mine’s last name, which starts with “G.” My bad letters remain: B and G, along with D. When J became easier, I was grateful, but sometimes my heart still pounds when I have to introduce myself in a group.

Emma Alpern, a writer and stutterer herself, reported for us last week on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. When she interviewed the association’s chairman of the board, Kenny Koroll, he said, “There’s always that question. If you had a magic pill [that could cure a stutter], would you take it? And for me, the answer is no.”

Stutterers share a debate that splinters other communities whose members are disabled in some way.