Stuttering affects 70 million people worldwide. Speaker and children's book author Sherrikka Myers, who was ridiculed for her stutter as a child, shares her story and some practical tips to help children and adults who stutter find confidence.
At age 11, Sherrikka Myers stepped up to read the morning announcements over the school PA system. What could have been a proud moment instead led to ridicule from her peers because Sherrikka stuttered.
Today, Sherrikka is a national speaker who travels across the country to help schools close social gaps that often lead to bullying. She is the creator of the African American mascot, Lil' Herbie, who is featured in her children's book, Herbie's New Home.
Through Lil' Herbie, Sherrikka wants to help children who stutter overcome their obstacles. She reminds kids to never give up or let anyone or anything stop them from fulfilling their dreams.
We talked to Sherrikka about her experiences and gathered some practical tips to help children and adults overcome stuttering and gain self-confidence.
How widespread is stuttering? Are many children and adults affected by it?
Stuttering affects 70 million people worldwide, including three million Americans. Children from ages three to six are more likely than others to have a communication disorder. Stuttering is also more prevalent among boys and non-Hispanic black children.
You're outspoken about your childhood problem with stuttering. What was it like growing up as a child who struggled to speak clearly?
Growing up as a child who struggled to speak was very frustrating and isolating. I knew what I wanted to say, but I was unable to say it. Other kids laughed at me and ignored me. It was one of the worst feelings ever as a child.
Growing up as a child who struggled to speak was very frustrating and isolating. I knew what I wanted to say, but I was unable to say it.
People who stutter face different challenges like low self-esteem, bullying, and increased stuttering in the midst of over-excitement and overwhelm.
You created Lil' Herbie, an African American mascot and the subject of your children's book, Herbie's New Home. What was your inspiration for Herbie? How do you see Herbie's story affecting children who struggle with stuttering?
My inspiration behind Lil' Herbie is my grandson. His name is Lil' Herbert, and he stutters, too.
I finally decided to birth this character to help kids just like my grandson. Lil' Herbie is confident and helps kids improve what I believe to be the root issue of stuttering—low self-esteem—through singing, reading, and dancing.
Through our book, Herbie’s New Home, a part of the Lil' Herbie book collection, kids who stutter are inspired by reading about exactly what they are going through and learn how to overcome difficulties surrounding stuttering.
Although I named the mascot after my grandson, the real Lil Herbie is me—the little kid who has been inside me all these years who grew up ignored and teased as a result of stuttering.
In your experience, are there some emotions stutterers often have in common? Do you have any advice for coping with those feelings?
Yes, stutterers have a lot of emotions in common. They include low self-esteem, embarrassment, frustration, low self-confidence, and isolation.
Here are a few ways to cope with those feelings.
- Realize that your stutter does not define you
- Know that your voice still matters even though it may take you longer to get your words out
- Join a community or resource program for stutterers
Embrace your uniqueness and remember that some of the world’s greatest entertainers (including Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Harvey, and Bruce Willis) stuttered, too. They’ve gone on to do great things and you can, too! Even historians like George Washington Carver, an agricultural scientist and inventor, stuttered. He developed approximately 300 products including peanut butter, flour, soap, shaving cream, and skin lotion.
You've said that reading aloud helped you overcome stuttering. Would you share some additional tips for helping stutterers conquer their communication challenges?
- Slow down while speaking. When you're having a hard time saying something, pause for a moment and then start talking again.
- Think about what you want to say before you start to speak.
- Try not to get over-excited when you want to talk about something. Both over-excitement and being overwhelmed can trigger stuttering.
- Avoid big words. Normally, when you use more complex words it’s easier for you to trip over your words. If there is a word that I know is complicated for me to say, I replace it with a similar word that means the same thing.
- Take deep breaths
- Sing! According to research, a 90% reduction in stuttering was seen following 10 minutes of singing.