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UNH Stuttering Expert: 'The King's Speech' Gets It Right

By Beth Potier, Media Relations
February 16, 2011

A UNH communications sciences and disorders professor who specializes in stuttering says the portrayal of stuttering in the Oscar-nominated “The King’s Speech” is realistic and enlightening.

Sheryl Gottwald, clinical assistant professor and a board-recognized fluency specialist with three decades of clinical experience, lauds Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George for his realistic portrayal of the complex nature of stuttering.

“The emotional turmoil that dealing with stuttering causes was represented just beautifully,” she says, as was the support offered by the King’s family and friends. “You can’t overcome stuttering all by yourself.”

Decorated with numerous prestigious awards, including a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild awards and 12 Oscar nominations, “The King’s Speech” is based on the true story of Britain’s King George VI, whose sudden ascent to the throne forced him to conquer his debilitating speech impediment with the help of an unorthodox speech therapist.

Gottwald adds that the speech therapy provided by the eccentric Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, is similar to modern treatment of stuttering. “Although this was many years ago, the basic principles of the treatment are the same we use today,” she says. “Encouragement, building his sense of self and sense of self-esteem was such a big piece of King George’s treatment, and it’s still a big piece of what we do today.”

According to Gottwald, stuttering affects people across cultures, languages and socioeconomic status. The prevalence of stuttering has not changed since the World War II era of the film: it affects less than one percent of the adult population and about three to five percent of preschool children. Gottwald and a colleague developed an intervention method for preschoolers who stutter and their families that currently is used throughout the world. 

Gottwald notes that the popularity of the film is enlightening a wide audience to the realities of stuttering. “I hope people start to understand that stuttering doesn’t have to interfere with communication; you can be successful and still stutter,” she says. “This film, and the buzz it’s getting, is showing people another side of what stuttering might be – that it’s just a small piece of who you are.”

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