In 2011, Caroline Pittard gave the commencement address at the Centura College campus in North Charleston, sharing with graduates the idea that life’s challenges shouldn’t get in the way of one’s dreams. Having struggled all her life with stuttering, speaking to a group of people like that was a crowning achievement for Pittard.
“It was the best experience of my life,” she says. “For me, it was a huge accomplishment and an amazing experience.”
Drawing on her own personal experience with stuttering, Pittard became a speech language pathologist and runs her own practice in Mount Pleasant. She specializes in working with children, teens and adults who stutter.
Her own struggles with stuttering make her keenly aware of the challenges her patients face and give her the opportunity to be a role model.
As a child, Pittard’s stuttering was more situational, worsening when she was nervous or had to read aloud in front of her classmates. In a one-on-one setting, she wasn’t likely to stutter so therapists never diagnosed her with stuttering. As she grew older, the stuttering worsened and she finally met a speech therapist who diagnosed her with stuttering and helped her learn the techniques to manage it.
Pittard is a proponent of early intervention, encouraging parents to have their child evaluated if they suspect a problem rather than simply waiting to see if the child outgrows the stuttering.
Many children, especially when they are first learning to talk, may get tripped up on a word or stutter over a syllable. That can be a normal part of developing language and motor skills.
Pittard points to two key red flags for parents: having a relative who stutters and if the stuttering lasts six months or longer.
Parents also should notice if the child continually struggles to get a word out, particularly if it’s a word they know such as their name, or if the child uses partial words.
Signs of stuttering tend to develop between ages 2 and 5. While many pediatricians may suggest a “wait and see” approach, Pittard recommends parents seek out a speech therapist with experience in stuttering.
“Early intervention is key,” Pittard says. “The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat.”
Pittard has a shelf of games from Candy Land to Blurt!, which are therapy tools that help patients practice basic sentences or filling in the blank during a quick, timed game. Another technique is helping people who stutter learn to control their speech so they aren’t trying to push all the words out at once.
To illustrate this technique, Pittard has patients use a Slinky, stretching it as they speak to encourage a slower speech pace.
Eli Braddock was first identified as stuttering when he was 4 years old. He went through a series of speech therapists, but as he grew older, he no longer wanted to attend therapy. His parents let him take a break and, by middle school, Eli was asking to return to therapy.
At that point, says his mother, Jill Braddock, the family found Pittard and the National Stuttering Association, giving them a wealth of information about their son’s condition.
Now Eli works with Pittard, learning techniques for managing his stuttering. They meet at Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant to practice everyday situations that could trigger Eli’s stuttering and work to manage those situations. They go into Barnes & Noble to ask for a book or stop off at a store where Eli has to ask the clerk for a shirt in his size.
“It’s useful meeting and practicing in a stressful, real-life situation,” Jill Braddock says. “It’s easy to use techniques in a controlled setting and be successful.”
Eli attends Charleston Schools of the Arts, where he studies creative writing, plays guitar and sings in a band. His mom says that while Eli has to deal with stuttering all the time, it hasn’t held him back. “He’s working on it and working with someone who can help him, so I don’t think it ever will.”
That’s exactly the outcome Pittard strives to achieve with her patients. As a child, she didn’t talk much and didn’t participate in activities that required public speaking.
“I let it hold me back until I finally got to the point where I was going to have a life and not let how I talked determine how I would live my life,” Pittard said.