Student aims to raise awareness about stuttering

By ROBERT LINNEHAN

The Cherry Hill Sun

A Rosa Middle School student is looking to raise awareness and funding for a common speech disorder that many don’t view as a disability. Try telling that to Josh Cohen, who sometimes stutters so badly he can’t communicate with the outside world.

Cohen, 12, who will go through his Bar Mitzvah ceremony next October, is organizing a fund-raising event to raise money and awareness for a common speech disorder that makes life difficult for millions of Americans. According to the Stuttering Foundation of America, more than 3 million Americans stutter — more than 1 percent of the population.

Cohen and his family are organizing a Zumbathon for Friday, June 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Cherry Hill Community Center. Eight Zumba instructors will lead the group in a fun-filled dance-workout. Interested participants can take part in the event for a $10 minimum donation.

Wendi Cohen — Josh’s mom — stressed that every cent taken in during the event will be donated to the Stuttering Foundation of America.

Check in time for the event is 6:30 p.m. and participants must be 13-years of age and up. The event is sponsored by Beyond Hair Salon and Spa.

Zumba is a dance fitness program that combines Latin and international music in a workout designed to be fun with a party atmosphere. Wendi is a registered Zumba instructor and will be leading the group with seven other instructors.

Cohen said he hopes he is able to raise even more money than a May car wash he and his family held to benefit the Stuttering Foundation of America. The car wash brought in more than $850, he said.

It’s important to get information out to the public in regard to stuttering, Cohen said. Most people don’t know that Vice President Joe Biden was a stutterer. Cohen wrote to Biden and told him of his difficulties with his stutter, and he was thrilled that Biden wrote him back.

Biden gave Cohen some pointers on how he was able to overcome his speech problem. Cohen said Biden even taught him an important life lesson.

“I know that I can do anything I want to in life,” Cohen said.

It can be frustrating, Wendi said, to watch her son be subjected to ridicule and struggle through life with his stutter. Josh needs a certain amount of speech therapy, she said, and it’s difficult to provide it to him within the state.

“As my son he has spent time in therapy, but he needs more than he has gotten and just this week our insurance has denied him that coverage. Unlike many states that mandate speech be covered as the medical condition that it is, New Jersey does not mandate it,” she said. “In fact the insurance industry considers stuttering a developmental condition.”

It’s also a shame that stuttering is a disability that the public deems as being fine to laugh at, Cohen said. Children know it’s wrong to laugh at someone overweight or with other disabilities, she said, but find that it’s acceptable to laugh at someone with a stutter.

Hopefully this event and Josh’s efforts will help shed some light on the disability, she said.

It’s not uncommon for 20 percent of children to go through a stage of development where they encounter a stutter, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

Checks for the event should be made payable to the Stuttering Foundation of America.

Registration is available at the time of the event, but there is a maximum of 95 people.