The 22-year-old isn’t letting his speech impediment stop him from achieving his goals
Photos courtesy Dylan Bressler
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden makes no secret about his lifelong struggle with stuttering. In addition to sharing his personal experiences in public, most recently during a Feb. 4 CNN Town Hall broadcast, he communicates and meets individually with children who stutter to share techniques and lend support.
Dylan Bressler, 22, is painfully familiar with the challenges of stuttering. He admires Biden for creating awareness about this often-misunderstood speech disorder.
“I am glad someone of that stature, and a person who has to speak so often, is able to shed light on his struggles,” said Bressler, a graduate student at Michigan State University. “It will probably help everyone who stutters through tough situations in which they are afraid to speak.”
Bressler, who plans to attend law school after earning his master’s degree in accounting, says he began stuttering in kindergarten or “as far back as I can remember.” He received speech therapy but stopped during middle school because he felt embarrassed about being pulled out of class.
“A lot of kids didn’t know what a speech impediment was, and I would get made fun of,” he said. “Someone once asked if I was having a seizure. People can be so rude. A stutter is something that has diminished my confidence at times, turned around my day and made it so much worse.”
A reading disability exacerbated his challenges further.
“I struggled in the classroom, was told I’d never get into a good school or play college basketball, but I got in everywhere I applied,” he said. “Being more comfortable with myself and everyone around me made me stutter less.”
Bressler attended high school at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, where he benefited from the smaller class sizes and individualized attention. Despite being 5-feet-10-inches tall and wiry, he successfully pursued his passion for basketball at FJA, where he received several honors. He continued to excel at the sport in college, first at Adrian College and then at Keiser University in Florida, where he transferred sophomore year.
While Bressler says he still struggles with stuttering at times, especially under stress, he refuses to let it overshadow his life.
“When I got past feeling bad for myself, I decided it was not going to hold me back,” he said. “If I stuttered 100 times today, maybe tomorrow I’ll stutter 99.
“My stutter has gotten better no doubt,” he said. “There were times it got worse, like when I started high school.
“I learned along the way I cannot shy away from speaking in front of people, and I have to embrace that I am a person born with a stutter and I cannot control that, but I can control how hard I work to overcome it.”
Statistics and Help
Approximately 3 million Americans stutter, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). While stuttering occurs most often in children between ages 2 and 6, it can affect people of all ages.
Boys have a higher incidence of stuttering than girls, a disparity that increases with age. Seventy-five percent of children outgrow their stuttering, while the other 25 percent continue to stutter in varying degrees throughout their lifetimes.
Stuttering often runs in families, and researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found there may be a genetic component.
“If a child’s stuttering persists longer than six months, or if they’re older when the stuttering begins, you may need to seek intervention,” advised Albiona Rakipi, a speech and language pathologist and clinical supervisor at the Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield.
In addition to seeking professional help, Rakipi suggests parents create an environment that makes it easier for children to speak. This could include reducing a parent’s rate of speech so a child does not feel rushed when producing a response. She also recommends support groups and says support and treatment for those who stutter and their families are important for optimal outcomes.
Bressler credits his parents, Elisa Weinbaum Geisz of Berkley, Michigan, and Jay Bressler of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for helping him gain the confidence he needed to accomplish goals.
“We treated him normally. I think the sports helped … he loved playing basketball,” Jay Bressler said. He advises parents of children who stutter to “find something they’re passionate about and use that to help them build confidence.”
He also stressed the importance of listening patiently to children, which can be difficult when they are struggling to speak. His son agrees.
“Other people would try to finish my sentences, but my mom and teachers would wait, even if it took 30 minutes to get out what I wanted to get out,” Dylan said. “It’s hard for the person listening, I know, but it’s better for the other person.”
Above all, he has learned that stuttering does not define who he is or diminish his accomplishments.
“There will be good days and bad days, but don’t let it affect you as a person. If it affects other people, then that’s their issue.”