10-year-old educates classmates on battle with speech disorder

'Hard taking,' a form of stuttering, makes it difficult for student to communicate

By Tracy A. Blankenheim
Staff Writer

Saint Francis Reminder January 15, 1998

Ten-year-old Noelle, a fifth-grader at Deer Greek Elementary School, is an honor student, is loved by her teachers and her classmates and is described as a leader.

However, Noelle has had to work harder than most of her peers to achieve her goals.

Noelle experiences hard talking, also referred to as stuttering. Although her words ate articulate, it takes Noelle slightly longer to get her message across to others.

"A lot of people think that it's just stuttering," explained Noelle. "But it's also for-getting what you are going to say next. And the muscles in your mouth get tired then from talking too fast."

Recently, to inform teachers and class mates what it feels like to have this problem, Noelle and her speech and language teacher, Marie Quast, decided to write an article on the subject and have it published in the school newspaper.

"Noelle submitted the article to four or five other teachers and we used the article as part of a language arts assignment," said Quast, who has been Noelle's teacher since she was in the second grade. She wrote the article, Noelle said, to help people better understand what hard talking is, hoping that they don't tease people with it or make them feel any different. The article was to make people aware of the differences between hard and easy talking, and offered various strategies people with easy talking can use to make people with hard talking feel more comfortable.

"People should understand that people who stutter or have hard talking are just like any other people,' Noelle said. "They shouldn't be teased. Some people just have a harder time talking than others." Hard talking, Noelle explained in her article, is when "you speak too fast and the muscles in your mouth get tired. You might take short, quick breaths, making it difficult to get enough air to speak smoothly Sometimes, she explained, people with hard talking might get worried about being teased, making it even more difficult to get across what they want to say.

Easy talking, though, is when the communicator speaks slowly, and takes deep breaths, enabling them to get their point across quickly. How you can help

In addition to making others see that people who have hard talking are just like anyone else, Noelle wanted people to walk away with strategies they could use to help someone they know who may experience hard talking.

"Usually if someone's not paying attention, you have to wait and do something to get their attention," Noelle said, explaining that eye contact is one of the keys to making talking easier.

Reminding the person to speak slowly, maintaining constant eye contact and complimenting the person when they are having easy talking are among the ideas Noelle said in her article that "will make the person with hard talking feel better about it."

Lots of hard work

A few days each week Noelle and Quast work together to make the hard talking a bit easier. Creating posters, logging on to a Web page designed for students with hard talking, reading stories about children with hard talking and keeping a daily journal are just some of the activities Noelle participates in.

"Noelle is just a delight' said Quast. "Noelle is really a group worker. She's a really good reader and a good helper." In addition to the projects, the books and the Web page, Quast said her students focus on self esteem and are involved with continually learning and practicing talking strategies.

"I have seen a tremendous improvement in Noelle's ability to cope with more challenging situations," said Quast, who came to Deer Creek four years ago." Noelle is much more open now. She has an increase in awareness of strategies and she by no means lets it impede her progress."