A scene early in “The King's Speech” resonates with Craig Dawkins, a business professor at Rose State College.
In the movie, Prince Albert, the man who would be king, is about to address his subjects over the radio. A red light beside the microphone blinks on and off a few times, then stays lit.
That staring light is Albert's signal to speak, but he stands there, transfixed by its baleful red glow, his words drying up and thickening in his throat until he can say nothing at all.
“He suddenly realizes that everyone in Britain is waiting for him to talk,” said Dawkins, 48. “And he just locks up. I really identified with that. It's every stutterer's nightmare.”
“The King's Speech” centers on the unlikely friendship that develops between stammering Albert (later known as King George VI) and Lionel Logue, an unconventional speech therapist. The movie won seven BAFTA awards and has been nominated for a dozen Academy Awards.
Among its biggest fans are stutterers such as Dawkins and John Robinson, 25, a speech language pathologist for Manor Care Health Service in Oklahoma City.
“This movie showed that you can stutter and still do anything,” Robinson said. “You can even be the king.”
The film “has provided context for understanding the plight of those who stutter,” Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation, said in a news release. “For a few months now, people have been talking openly and honestly about stuttering. Therapists are seeing an upturn in referrals and inquiries. More families are discussing treatment options.
“Myths are being debunked. ... Hope and healing is displacing ridicule and snickering. ... People who stutter can hold their heads high. This is the movie's greatest accomplishment.”
Louise Washburn, 46, a speech language pathologist at the OU Child Study Center, said stuttering typically begins in childhood and is a lifelong struggle. Early intervention can help, but there is no cure.
The root cause is unknown, she said. There's some evidence that it is passed on in families, but no genetic link has been discovered.
“It's not necessarily a person who is prone to being overwrought or nervous,” she said. “It's more like the stuttering causes the anxiety, not the other way around.”
Stutterers make up about 1 percent of the population. Pathologists treat the malady by emphasizing fluency, changing behaviors and teaching muscle relaxation techniques. In many ways, Logue's methods in the film mirror real life.
“He was kind of over the top with his techniques, but the pausing he did, the singing therapy, the reading out loud — those are all things we do,” Washburn said. “At the beginning of the movie, when he put the headphones on the king and turned the music up really loud, that's a technique called masking. We use that.”
Robinson's stutter had abated until about three years ago, when he stopped practicing the exercises that helped him speak.
“Also I kind of let some of the old fears back in about stuttering,” he said. “When I would think about situations in which I'd have to speak, I'd get scared and think, ‘Oh no, I'm going to stutter.' ... If you let fear back in, you're going to get worse.”
Naturally tense situations, such as delivering a lecture or going to a job interview, often are more difficult for people with communication disabilities.
Dawkins remembers feeling helpless in a former job.
“I was called in to deal with this customer complaint,” he said. “The customer was really upset and angry, borderline abusive. I was trying to talk to this person, but the environment was really tense, just an assault on the senses kind of thing, and I'm trying to tell them what our policy is, and I'm having trouble communicating.
“My speech is blocked, and I can't get it out.”
He was embarrassed and felt humiliated.
“Imagine asking a girl out on a date,” he said. “It's already one of those things that you're nervous about. The one thing you're thinking is ‘Don't stutter. Don't stutter.' And guess what you're likely to do in that situation: Stutter even worse.”
Dawkins and Robinson said they hope the film makes people realize that stutterers are as smart as everyone else. They just have a harder time getting the words out.
“Let people finish their sentences,” Dawkins said. “Let them speak. In truth, their words are who they are.”
Support group meetings
The National Stuttering Foundation holds monthly support group meetings in the student center dining room at Rose State College in Midwest City.