- Associated Press - Sunday, February 6, 2011

CHICAGO | A movie about a stuttering monarch, without sex, car chases or sinewy superheroes, hardly sounds like blockbuster box-office fare.

In a less flashy way, however, “The King’s Speech” is about a hero, one who battles an invisible enemy that torments nearly 70 million people around the world. In demystifying the little-understood speech impediment, the award-winning film reveals myths and fascinating truths about stuttering and has won praise from stutterers of all ages.

For Erik Yehl, an 11-year-old Chicago boy who began stuttering in preschool, the movie’s powerful message is, “I’m not stupid.”

It’s a stigma all people who stutter contend with - the notion that because their words sometimes sputter or fail to come out at all, their minds must be somehow mixed up.

“People who stutter - their minds are perfectly good, and they’re not deaf, and they don’t need to be told to breathe. They know how to breathe. What they need … is to be listened to,” said Susan Hardy, who saw the film with her son Aidan, a 14-year-old Chicago eighth-grader who also stutters.

Aidan’s minireview? “It was great!” he said.

The film depicts King George VI, father of England’s Queen Elizabeth, as a reluctant leader tortured by his stuttering. But with a sense of duty as England confronts a second world war, he musters the courage to seek speech therapy so he can address and calm an anxious nation.

The movie and its actors already have won Golden Globes and other honors, including 12 Oscar nominations. The Academy Awards ceremony is Feb. 27.

The focus on George’s relationship with his eccentric speech therapist, who insists on treating him as an equal, makes the king a sort of everyman for people who stutter.

TV commentator Clarence Page, a nationally syndicated Chicago Tribune columnist, said in an interview that the film heroically depicts a condition he has battled most of his 63 years.

Like the king, Mr. Page had a strong advocate: a coach who helped him as a teen win second place in a speech contest after a humiliatingly bad performance the previous year.

“Every stuttering kid needs optimistic support like that,” Mr. Page wrote in a recent column praising the movie.

Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation of America, said the movie mirrors her experience growing up with a father who stuttered. Malcolm Fraser formed the advocacy group in 1947 to raise awareness and provide resources for people who stutter. Watching the movie, Miss Fraser said she relived the mortification she used to feel on her father’s behalf.

“The impact for me was just bringing home 64 years of trying to get across to people how devastating this disorder is. Just in one fell swoop, this film really got that across,” she said.

Stuttering affects almost 1 percent of the global population, including 3 million in the United States. It typically begins in early childhood as children are learning to speak, and it is more common in boys. About 5 percent of children stutter, but most outgrow it. The condition tends to run in families, and genes are thought to be involved in at least some cases.

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