To Speak And To Be Heard: A Western Professor Is Awarded For His Life's Work

Dec 22, 2016

Western Carolina University's Dr. David Shapiro is careful not to describe speech disorders as something people 'suffer' from.

Instead, for Dr. Shapiro, speech disorders are challenges to overcome--for himself, just as much as they are for the thousands of others he's helped throughout his career--a life's work which spans decades, has taken him all over the world and has earned him the prestigious O. Max Gardner award earlier this spring.

It starts at a psychological levels, and for Shapiro, it's personal.

"I, as a person who stutters, you don't notice my disfluency now, but I was without control for probably my first twenty years. It's a tough way to grow up--to be unable to communicate--to have the words in your head, and to be unable to say them."

Being able to speak with relative fluidity is something most of us take for granted, says Dr. Shapiro. It's an essential part of being human. And when one doesn't have the ability to communicate, it can take an enormous toll on their sense of humanity. Growing up as a person who stuttered, Shapiro often felt isolated from the rest of the world.

"Oddly, another thing we know about stuttering, we don't know exactly why, but people who stutter don't stutter when they're alone. They don't stutter when they're talking to their pet. Thankfully, I had a dog for my first seventeen years."

And it was with this dog, whose name was Buddy, that a young David Shapiro set out on his path to become Doctor Shapiro.

"I know this sounds perhaps silly, but I had to find a way to talk. I had to find a way to communicate, and I swore an oath, and not many realized the oath was to that dog..."

Shapiro swore an oath to that dog that if could find a way to help others struggling with speech fluency like he had, that he would do his best.

"I had no expectation of pursuing a doctorate, or becoming a professor or writing books and articles, I just never, I just didn't have that dream, or a dream of that scope."

Fast forward some forty years, and Shapiro now works with people across six continents, who speak numerous different languages. His work, which takes a holistic approach to speech therapy, has won critical acclaim in its field. He recently finished his term as president of the International Fluency Association, and he also coordinated the Eighth World Congress on Fluency Disorders.