Thursday, January 10, 2013

Overcoming Communication Disorders

Photo by Karen D. Austin.
Children are little scientists.  They play a number of games centered on manipulating various aspects of communication.  Children explore the boundaries of language by using tin cans as an atypical medium, speaking in made-up code as a secretive symbol system, and playing telephone as a way to test consistency of content. While playing these games, they make small changes that affect the way they encode and decode information. 

These playful changes strain their friends' cognition, hearing, and speech to the point that the message is distorted. Communication then fails in entertaining ways. But when people have real problems communicating, the fun and games are over. 

For 50 years, Annie Glenn--childhood playmate and wife of astronaut and Senator John Glenn--struggled to communicate because of a serious stuttering problem.  She had difficulty talking on the phone, asking store clerks for help, giving directions to taxi drivers, greeting people at socials, and speaking in front of groups. Even reading aloud to her children was too difficult.  Her speech impairment was seriously affecting her day-to-day activities. 

In 1973, she participated in an intense three week program to help her better control her stuttering.  After receiving the help of qualified professionals, Annie can now manage her stuttering. She can talk on the phone, ask store clerks for help, speak publicly, greet people spontaneously  and read books to her grandchildren.  In addition to improvements in the quality of life with her husband, children, grandchildren and friends, Annie is now very active in a variety of organizations as a teacher, adviser, advocate, and public speaker.

Her success in producing more fluid speech has inspired the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) to develop the "Annie Award."  The award is given to people who show Annie Glenn's indomitable spirit and who work to build public awareness of an array of communication disorders, ranging from aphasia, hearing impairment, balance problems, central processing disorders, as well as stuttering,

In 1987, the first recipient was James Earl Jones, an actor who also overcame stuttering. The most recent recipient is politician Gabrielle Giffords. She has overcome aphasia, which is the absence of speech.  Some recipients are acknowledged for their support of others, such as singer Joey McIntyre (from the group New Kids on the Block). His son Rhys was born with severe hearing loss, but once fitted with hearing aids was able to improve his communication.1

Previous recipients include Joe Biden (politician), Julie Andrews (actress), Mick Fleetwood (musician), Jane Seymour (actress), Bob and Lee Woodruff (journalist and wife), Bob Love (athlete) and David Seidler (playwright / screenwriter for The King's Speech).2

Communication disorders affect people of all ages. Unfortunately, some people feel as though the nature of aging involves accepting losses to hearing, speech, and cognition as inevitable. Many of these challenges can be reduced if not eliminated with the help of a professional.

Addressing communication disorders is no child's play. An audiologist, speech-language pathologist (SLP), or another expert in communication disorders can help individuals of all ages improve their ability to hear, think, read, write, talk and swallow through appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 

For more information on communication disorders and the programs, services, and professionals available to address them, see  This page provides a good starting point for individuals looking for more information.  For a tool that helps you search for a professional near you, see this page. Or find ASHA on Facebook.

Related Posts:

Hear We Go. Gender and Hearing Loss
Glasses, Hearing Aids and Dentures Not Covered By Medicare

1. Polovoy, Carol. "Awards Ceremony Recognizes Outstanding Contributions Achievement." The ASHA Leader. August 3, 2010.

2. I found various press releases listing former recipients by searching the site, such as the one above. Here is another one: 

At the invitation of of the BoomBox Network campaign to increase awareness of, I am writing to explain the challenges of communication disorders and the availability of ASHA's services. I received payment as a result of my participation.  All the language and opinions in this blog post are mine.


  1. Great post. I'm listening to my grandson begin to babble, so I especially enjoyed thinking about kids and communication. Love reading about the Annie Glenn Award!

  2. That's an impressive list of award recipients - I've never associated a speech difficulty with many of them. I imagine that the movie The King's Speech has inspired some to seek help.

  3. Barbara: Thanks for reading/commenting. I think the award is a great idea. I have a friend who is a SLP. She actually attended the award banquet one year.

    Mandy: I haven't seen The King's Speech yet! And I love so many of the actors. I usually go to movies with my kids, and at age 11 and age 14, super hero movies are more appealing. But this sounds like a movie about a few real, live mortal heroes! I'm going to put it in my Netflix queue.

  4. I learned much from this post. There is an assumption that we know what one means when they say someone has a communication disorder. But one has to be vigilant, especially with children as another person mentioned above.