A UT Grad’s Battle With Stuttering Yields a New Research and Treatment Center

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When he was a UT student in the 1960s, Michael Lang skipped a lot of classes. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there; Lang was an ambitious student and an insatiable reader. He skipped class because he dreaded the moment a professor would call on him. “It was constant fear,” he remembers. “I lived in fear that today was the day I would have to speak in class.”

Today, Lang, BBA ’67, JD ’70, Life Member, is a retired attorney and businessman with an impressive résumé straddling law, business, and finance. He’s worked for the government and for leading private law firms, and also founded seven companies that were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Lang is a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He’s also a stutterer and the benefactor, together with his wife Tami, of the new Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute at UT. The institute is the first of its kind in the world.

Sitting in the office of UT professor and stuttering researcher Courtney Byrd, Lang ticks off the demons stuttering has brought him over the years: isolation, shame, fear. In college, he was too shy to ask out potential dates or approach new friends. And even with all he’s accomplished, he still has difficult moments. “When my grandson asked me to read him a book, it scared me,” Lang says. “I didn’t want him to pick up stuttering from me.”

Lang’s experience is typical for the roughly 1 percent of people who stutter, Byrd says: “Stuttering can sometimes rob people of their dreams.” She believes that since stuttering is under-treated and under-reported, the number of Americans who stutter is probably significantly higher than the official estimate of 15 million children and 3 million adults.

Access to therapy is also very limited, since fewer than 1 percent of all speech language pathologists in the U.S. provide stuttering treatment. And even for those lucky enough to find professional help, the cost can be prohibitive, with most insurance plans refusing to cover it. The Lang Stuttering Institute aims to help close that gap. “We support the community by providing free treatment and summer camps for kids who stutter,” Byrd says. At the institute, undergraduate, graduate, and professional researchers will work closely with people who stutter to advance both research and treatment. The summer camps use activities like improv theater, bowling, and open mic sessions to build kids’ confidence and work on their speech in a fun, welcoming environment.

At a reception celebrating the institute’s founding last week, Michael Lang met several children who have attended the camps. “They weren’t shy at all!” he says. “The fear is still there, but I realized it’s a gift. Being able to use my experience to help the next generation … that’s been a dream come true.”

Photo courtesy Moody College of Communication.


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