People familiar with stuttering explain why Biden's debate performance was extraordinary

As I watched the presidential debate—in horror, like most—I perused Twitter at the same time to see if others were as appalled as I was. About an hour into the blazing tire fire, one tweet stood out to me so much I took a screenshot of it.

Biden has shared publicly his struggles with stuttering, which he's dealt with since childhood. In 2011, he wrote an article for People magazine detailing his experiences.

"I never had professional therapy," he wrote, "but a couple of nuns taught me to put a cadence to my speaking, and that's why I spent so much time reading poetry – Emerson and Yeats. But even in my small, boys' prep school, I got nailed in Latin class with the nickname Joe Impedimenta. You get so desperate, you're so embarrassed."


Biden's success at managing his stutter and rising to public office—a job that requires a lot of public speaking—has served as an encouragement to young people who have stutters. At the Lab School of Washington—a school for kids with learning disabilities or other difficulties—Biden told students in 2010 that he saw his stutter as "a gift from God" while also telling them, "Don't let your disability define you."

As other people with stutters chimed in to praise Biden, it became clearer and clearer what was happening on that stage and how extraordinarily Biden was handling it.

But for those of us who don't stutter or aren't close to someone who stutters, this post by Wes Kennison was perhaps the most helpful in understanding the dynamics on the debate stage from Biden's point of view. Kennison wrote:

"Joe Biden is a stutterer. Like many others, he has overcome the disability by understanding it and exercising extraordinary perseverance and discipline. If you know and love a stutterer and you watched the presidential debate last night, within minutes it became obvious what was going on. Abusive tone of voice, rapid fire interruptions, zigzagging change of topic, personal insult and humiliation, and family pain are all tripwires that scramble a stutterer's ability to speak. There was nothing unplanned or spontaneous in the President's strategy. The bastards did not prep him to attack Joe. They prepped him to attack Joe's disability hoping that by triggering his stuttering they might deceive an audience unfamiliar with the disability into thinking that Joe was stupid, weak, uncertain, confused, or lost to dementia.

If you have ever gotten in the face of a bully on the playground protecting a stutterer that you love, the game being played last night was nakedly and painfully obvious. If you watched with glee while it happened, then you haven't made much progress since the playground.

However, the stutterer that I love taught me early on that he did not so much need my protection. He fought back by owning and integrating his disability into who he is. He learned how to stand his ground as master of perseverance, knowledge, and empathy. Without his example, I would not have recognized the game that was being played last night. I would not have been able to recognize the subtle but intense struggle against the disability that Joe was winning at the same time he was struggling to advance his positions on the issues in the midst of a rhetorical shit storm.

But, like the stutterer that I know, Joe didn't need any help on the playground. I was proud of him.

The President flushed his family fortune down a gold-plated toilet and somehow wants us to believe that he is the poor victim of mean people. Then he tries, and fails, to beat up a kid with a disability on the playground. I'm done with this, guys. I want my country back. Thanks, Joe."

Even those of us who don't have a stutter would find it difficult to stay focused and verbally acute with someone constantly interrupting, insulting, and distracting us. If you dive at all into the methods that stutterers use to compensate, what sometimes appears to be searching for words is simply shifting to a new word when the stutter rears its head.

Trump and his supporters have tried to paint Biden with the "cognitive decline" brush, largely by focusing on his gaffes and verbal slip-ups (as if Trump doesn't have a full montage full of mispronunciations, misspeaks, and mistakes in his speeches). But knowing about Biden's speech impediment, how well he has overcome it, and how impressively he performed during a stutterer's "worst nightmare" scenario at the presidential debate, all questions about his mental acuity should now be put to rest.

Well done, sir. You've offered a hopeful example of perseverance and resilience to all who experience speech struggles.

And thankfully, the debate commission has added the option for moderators to cut the microphone when candidates go overboard, so hopefully the final two debates won't be as much of a nightmare for all of us.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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