Newswise — A movie about a British monarch who ruled his country more than a half-century ago is finding an unusual resonance for millions of Americans who stutter.
The King’s Speech tells the true story of King George VI, who must first overcome his stuttering before he can rally his country during World War II. He employs the help of an eccentric speech pathologist who helps him manage his public speaking engagements. The movie has been widely acclaimed, and is a favorite to win an Academy Award for “Best Picture.”
The movie is also earning praise outside the filmmaking community for calling attention to the ancient condition of stuttering, and the unusual techniques that speech therapists employ to help stutterers.
Dr. David Rosenfield, a neurologist and director of the Speech and Language Center at The Methodist Neurological Institute, praises the movie for its fascinating character study and for addressing the topic of stuttering.
“It’s a terrific movie that I believe has created a greater awareness of the obstacles many people face when they try to overcome stuttering,” says Rosenfield. “It also shows in detail some of the maneuvers that are still used today in helping people manage their stuttering.”
However, Rosenfield was disappointed that the film’s script seemed to attribute the king’s speech disorder as a psychological or emotional problem.
“The movie depicted the King’s problem with stuttering as a result of his upbringing and of being nervous, not as a physical problem that is as old as humanity itself,” says Rosenfield.
Nearly 1 percent of the world’s population, including more than 3 million Americans, are stutterers. Rosenfield says stutterers are mentioned throughout recorded history, on Mesopotamian clay tablets and ancient hieroglyphics, and are found in all cultures and races throughout the world.
Many people once believed that stuttering was a psychological condition triggered by anxiety or fear, and The King’s Speech suggests that the future king may have suffered mistreatment in his childhood that caused his stutter. Rosenfield explains that stutterers have different physical conditions in their brains that cause problems in speaking. Recent studies have shown the condition may be genetic, so it tends to run in families.
“For me, that little bit of science would have greatly enhanced the story,” Rosenfield continues. “The movie shows a number of maneuvers used by a speech pathologist to help the king overcome his stammer … it doesn’t make clear why these approaches work.”
As depicted in the movie, Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue used a number of exercises to help King George VI prepare for his coronation as well as for major speeches and wartime radio broadcasts to the British Empire. Those exercises included singing phrases instead of speaking them, breathing exercises and the use of short words and tongue twisters to build the king’s confidence.
“At the time these approaches were unique and unorthodox,” says Rosenfield. “Logue was ahead of his time. Today we have a better understanding of why they work – they change the rhythm and the cadence of speech and allow stutterers to learn new ways to speak clearly.”
The movie’s message of overcoming obstacles is positive, Rosenfield says, and he believes the attention The King’s Speech is getting during awards season can only help focus more awareness on stuttering.
“It’s a movie about friendship, understanding and acceptance,” he says, “and it tells a heck of a story.”