More than words


Senior Cooper Gilman finishes his high school career as a varsity basketball player.

Cierra Hill, Contributor

When senior Cooper Gilman was a year old, his mother realized that something was not right with his speech development.  At 2 years old, Cooper had yet to say his first word. Soon she learned that her son was part of the one-percent of the world population with a stuttering block.

A stuttering affects 70 million people worldwide and obstructs the flow of speech in the lips, tongue and larynx. On average, children are usually diagnosed between the ages of 3-5 years old. Some of the signs include prolonging or repeating sounds, stopped speech or blocked speech.

Though Gilman had friends in middle school, elementary school was a different story.

While his stutter did not drive others away, it made Cooper feel as though it was too difficult to communicate with others; therefore, building friendships seemed like too much effort. Gilman then shielded himself from his peers, some of whom picked on him due to his stutter. 

“They would mimic me a lot as I was reading in front of the class,” Gilman said. “I would just hear them laughing quietly in the back of the room.” Due to his speech impediment, teachers would avoid calling on him to read or answer questions, and the lack of maturity in his classmates made Gilman feel ashamed. “I felt like the laughing stock of the school,” he said.

While his parents supported their son emotionally throughout this time and told him to shake it off and ignore his classmates, they knew they were in over their heads and needed the help of a professional speech pathologist.

The summer going into fifth grade, Gilman’s first year of middle school, he met Sheryl Gottwald, a woman that not only would give him strategies to combat his stutter, as well as his classmates. Gottwald was his first outside speech pathologist. Though Gottwald was 70 years old, the age gap did not stop Gilman from seeing her as his best friend.

 “She was the first person I knew who didn’t care about my stutter,” Gilman said. “I could just talk”. 

Every Thursday, Gilman would visit her office in Bedford for a two-hour session that consisted of practicing speaking at fast food drive thrus, calling retail stores to ask questions, or simply engaging in conversation. 

As a young boy, Gilman built with his confidence with the help of a friend.

The strategies that Gottwald taught Gilman did not obliterate the stutter, but it helped him to move through it faster. These strategies involved breathing through his words and slowing down when faced with a word that was more difficult for him to speak. 

Gilman said that some sounds are tougher than others, depending on how his mouth and throat has to move to create the sound. For example, “H” and “S” sounds are more difficult for him. While these strategies helped Gilman’s speech in school, it did not stop all students from bullying him.

However, Gottwald taught Gilman to stand up for himself and remind his classmates that they’re not perfect, either. 

Finally, she taught Gilman not to ignore the mean words being others threw at him but to confront them head-on. This not only allowed Gilman to shrug off many of the comments, but it also instilled a new sense of confidence, a confidence has stuck with him throughout his school years and allowed him to build friendships.

Gilman stopped seeing Gottwald during his junior year of high school when he got to a point where he did not need the weekly lessons. While he was ready to stop seeing the speech pathologist every week, he was not ready to stop seeing his friend. Gottwald gave Gilman the confidence and friendship he needed at that time in his life. “She was one of the best people in my life,” he said.