“It’s dementia”, “it’s the fear of public speaking”, “he’s just not a good candidate” – a lot of comments and opinions have tried to take charge of Joe Biden’s narrative ever since Biden called himself a “gaffe machine” on the debate stage. While there were rumours about Biden losing his edge and falling victim to old age, it is no longer a secret that Joe Biden has struggled with severe stuttering since early childhood.
In Detroit when it was finally Biden’s chance to take control of the narrative something unexpected happened. The entire nation of the United States of America saw Biden freeze, stumble and struggle to get the words out. Biden was experiencing what he had experienced as a child and an adolescent – his stuttering was taking control of the narrative instead.
This continued to happen multiple times – in fact, every time Biden went up on stage on November 2019. So, the world was more than glad when Joe Biden stood up to talk about his struggles with stammering.
Every time we look at the US presidential campaign we are struck by his impeccable demeanour and well-strategized choice of clothing. So, when Joe Biden says, “I haven’t stuttered in so long…but I remember the feeling…”, it indeed offers a view of his very human and vulnerable side. It is evident that Biden’s memories of childhood stuttering make it a difficult and emotional subject for him to talk about. However, that imbibes hope in the millions of people out there who are currently struggling with their speech dysfluencies.
Humiliation and shame come with stuttering says Biden
Nicknames like “Stutter boy”, and “Stut” didn’t leave Biden either during his adolescence although he was popular in school and a prolific athlete. He clearly remembers being bullied by one of his teachers at the Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware. When people see him on TV and glossy magazine covers right now, they mostly see his white privilege – growing up in a wealthy family and attending college on scholarship. It is indeed difficult for anyone to realize that he has to win a small battle multiple times every day even now when he has to face debates and interviews.
According to the presidential candidate, “shame comes with stuttering”. Although he hasn’t felt it in a long time, it has part of his life back in elementary school and high school. He went to an all-boys prep school which meant showing any sign of weakness was nothing less than a liability. And even modern society sees stuttering as a weakness.
Joe Biden went on record stating that “stammering is not a sign of low intelligence. It is the only handicap people still mock.” Humiliation and shame is something every person who stutters has felt at least once in their life. That is one of the primary reason Biden took time to meet with 12-year old Brayden when he was in Concord this February. Biden showed Brayden his speech complete with the markings that showed where Biden should pause to ease his stutter. He showed a strategy to Brayden and helped him normalize his speech dysfluency with that small step.
Stuttering doesn’t define or limit a person
Joe Biden, the 47th Vice President of the US, could come this far because he didn’t let his stutter define him. He credits his mother for that. “Don’t let it define you. You can do it. Remember who you are, Joey” she said every time Biden was about to face a new challenge. She was the person who reinforced the belief that a person is more than their speech dysfluency and that was crucial for his self-confidence.
Biden still finds it difficult to pronounce all the words, especially when he feels the pressure mount. He hasn’t had professional speech therapy while growing up, but only his teachers (nuns) who taught him to put a cadence to his speech. It has inspired his love for poetry, but it has also helped him stutter more fluently.
How did Biden manage to stutter almost effortlessly for decades?
He tried to control his stutter and speech by reciting poetry in front of a mirror at home, studying every expression closely. Not stuttering and just saying the feared words gave him the confidence to carry on as a popular student who would later go on to become the Vice President of one of the most powerful nations of the world. His small everyday achievements filled him with empathy and understanding for other people’s handicaps that we clearly see when he interacts with his fans and interviewers off-stage.
Speech therapy is important for anyone who faces speech dysfluencies, especially, since people rarely have understanding friends or compassionate family members. For any adult who stutters, the ultimate goal is not 100% fluency, but stuttering with ease.