DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN - At age 3, combining words together for the very first time, Eric Jackson stuttered. His parent noticed his difficulties with speech early on. And they did the best they could, taking him to speech therapists who tried very hard to fix his problem. But it was the late 70s and there wasn’t a lot of information about stuttering. Attempting to fix a patient’s speech was the go-to therapeutic practice.
Thirty years later, Jackson is revolutionizing the field with a focus on building a support network for stutterers, creating a space to talk about it, and by not trying to simply fix the problem.
This weekend Long Island University in Brooklyn hosts its second annual Brooklyn Speaks workshop, an intensive therapy program for teens and adults who stutter. Jackson coordinates the event and while there are sessions aimed at addressing the physical difficulties of speech, there are also sessions that focus on the emotional difficulties of stuttering.
“Teens who stutter are self conscience when it comes to dating, going to college, and getting a job,” Jackson said. “We make time for participants to discuss fears they have in each of those areas.
Jackson knows how it feels. After graduating from college he began the job hunt and found that stuttering was a huge barrier to employment. Interviews, where first impressions are important, just caused anxiety and at times made the stuttering worse. After a lot of time and effort, Jackson landed a job as a banker, but the experience left him wanting to do something to help other stutterers.
In his mid-20s, he attended a training program for stutterers, and for the first time, met people like himself.
“It changed everything for me,” he said. “I stopped avoiding conversations and dialogue and actually started to engage with people.”
Jackson went back to school and became a certified speech language pathologist. He now teaches graduate students at the speech clinic at Long Island University.
He also became involved in the stuttering community. He was member of Stutter Talk a non-profit that puts out podcasts about stuttering and he started a Brooklyn chapter of the National Stuttering Association. They hold an annual conference where “people who stutter are the norm,” said Jackson.
But Jackson’s true brainchild, Brooklyn Speaks, which he co-created with speech therapist Lee Caggiano, helps young people and their families deal with what it means to stutter.
“We incorporate families into all aspects of the workshop,” Jackson said. “While a child is talking about being bullied in one sessions, their parents are talking about how to best support a bullied child in another session.”
But most importantly, young people will have the chance to meet others who stutter. “Being around other stutterers makes all the difference,” he said.