Local speech experts praise film's accuracy on struggle

Adontae Spivey struggled to say the word "pop."

The 4-year-old boy kept forgetting to add the final "p" sound to the word and it came out sounding like "po," instead.

Granted, there are a lot of distractions for Adontae. During a recent, regular visit to the MCG Children's Medical Center, Adontae -- wearing a Buzz Lightyear T-shirt and carrying a toy monkey -- seemed enticed by the toys, games and books in the room.

But his therapist, Brittany DeJarnett, a speech language pathologist, kept the rambunctious little guy focused on the task at hand. She had him slow down and repeat the word. She urged him to remember to put the "final sound" on the end.

After a few tries, he exclaimed "pop," and a bright smile crossed his face.

"Good job!" DeJarnett said. "Great talking! Good job putting your final sound on there."

Like King George VI, whose struggles overcoming a lifelong speech impediment are portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film The King's Speech , Adontae is one of the millions of people throughout the world who has some kind of problem speaking clearly.

In his case, he is working to overcome a phonological disorder, sometimes called an articulation disorder, that occurred because he has not fully developed the ability to produce some or all sounds necessary for speech that is normal for his age.

In the film, which is nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, the king is depicted as a reluctant leader who must overcome a debilitating stutter in order address his anxious nation in the days before World War II. And just like Adontae has been doing, the king undergoes a series of exercises to improve his diction.

DeJarnett, who recently saw the movie, said she was not only impressed by the acting but by the accuracy in some of the stuttering-therapy techniques.

"I thought it was a great movie just for entertainment," she said. "But it really had a lot of meat to it as far as what goes into stuttering therapy."

A lot of the work that Lionel Logue, the king's speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush, does in the film is centered on dealing with "secondary behaviors," she said.

Often, adults who don't seek treatment when they are younger avoid certain situations, and the therapist must work with them to overcome those fears in order to progress.

"It's built up over the years -- the fear of talking," she said. "You kind of have to break that boundary at first."

Typically, stuttering appears at about 4 years old.

Dr. Jennifer Jones, a speech language pathologist in Augusta, said the cause is something that is still not known, but if left untreated, patients will often adopt a tic along with the stuttering -- such as blinking their eyes or moving their arms. The tic is an attempt by them to try to get over the stutter.

"That's when you know it's a problem," Jones said. "Because then it's become so noticeable to them that they are putting something else into it to try to get over it."

While pathologists don't have their patients roll on the floor, as is done in the film, they do use several of the techniques depicted, Jones said.

These include slowing down the speech, deep breathing, relaxing and the use of pauses between words.

In one scene, the character played by Rush puts headphones on the king and has him speak while listening to music. Without the sound of his own voice in his ears, the king speaks perfectly.

"That actually is a technique, using singing," she said. "When you sing, it's a right brain activity, not a left brain activity. So singing is a task that is used a lot to help stutterers."

One technique that isn't used is yelling curse words. In several scenes, the king is able to sprinkle loud profanity throughout his speech to stop the stuttering.

"I'm pretty sure they added that part for entertainment," DeJarnett said.

But the use of a technique called pre-block connection was dead right, she said. In the part, the king couldn't say "people" so his therapist had him lead into the word with "a people's."

It basically let him bypass the letter which was giving him trouble.

Incidentally, that letter just happened to be a "p."

Online resource

Read more about stuttering at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's Web site at www.asha.org. Search for stuttering.

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