You could hear the stutter in Brayden’s lungs, all those heavy inhalations, his search for sounds that wouldn’t come. The 13-year-old stared into a stationary camera and told the world about his problem, the affliction he shares with 3 million Americans, one of whom is now the Democratic nominee for president.
“Without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking with you today,” Brayden began. A big smile revealed braces. “About a few … months ago I met him in New Hampshire. He told me that we were members of the same club: Wuh-w-we … sssssss … sssssstutter.”
That last word—the S-word—took the air out of American living rooms tonight.
It’s one thing to wake up every morning with a neurological disability and face your classmates. It’s another to address a national audience when you know what’s going to happen—that a particular letter or sound is coming down the line, that it’ll all fall apart.
You probably first noticed Brayden’s disfluency on the w and s sounds. Purse your lips and say we as you read this sentence. Do you feel that tension around your mouth? That contraction of your jaw? Now say the word stutter, but hold the s for a few seconds before getting to the t. Do you feel that pressure? That twinge in your chest? Odds are you’re lucky, and you could finish those words on demand. Now imagine you can’t. Imagine it’s not just w and s, but j and l and m and at least a dozen more. The h sound is notoriously difficult, as in here—the thing you’re required to say each morning at the start of school. Many stutterers have trouble with b, as in Biden. Or Brayden.