Sports fans know him as MKG, a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), but graduate students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at the University of Redlands got to know a different side of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during his visit to campus last week—as an individual who turned a lifelong challenge with stuttering into a passion for helping others.
A personal journey
Kidd-Gilchrist said he and his family became aware of his stuttering when he was 8 years old.
“It can be a dark place,” he said. “I felt like, ‘What is this? Why is this?’ and I knew what it’s like to feel alone and to feel isolated.” He credits his mother for being the first one to understand what he was going through.
His stutter never cast a shadow over his talent. In high school, his basketball prowess led to his designation as a McDonald’s All-American player. He then continued at the University of Kentucky, where he and his team won the 2012 NCAA Division Men’s Basketball Tournament and landed in the NBA, where he has played for the New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, and Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets.
He shared good relationships with his classmates and teammates, and never felt he had to educate them about his stutter. He did struggle, however, with his professional persona. “I didn’t want to talk to the media, sportscasters, after a game,” he said. “Not everyone knew or understood me as an individual who stutters.”
‘We have a heart’
On the day of his visit to the Redlands campus, Kidd-Gilchrist said he was fatigued from a long flight, and fatigue impacts stuttering. “It can be difficult and exhausting to get through a day of talking.” That did not stop him, though, from answering questions from U of R speech-language pathology (SLP) graduate students whose current coursework with Professor Lisa LaSalle focuses on stuttering.
In fact, Kidd-Gilchrist said, in addition to his mother, it was his own SLP “who made me understand what I really had, and that I had to be present and willing to learn. With my SLP, I felt free to be myself. The relationship with the SLP is especially important for individuals who stutter.”
Students asked Kidd-Gilchrist what he felt they should understand, as future SLPs, about individuals who stutter.
“We have a heart,” he told them. “We are humble and compassionate toward others.”
“Encourage people to be patient when a person who stutters takes a pause,” he said. “One of my methods is to talk in a beat, and sometimes I pause. Don’t walk away or treat what they are trying to say as if it isn’t important just because they pause. Be understanding.”
Kidd-Gilchrist encouraged students to take note of limited services for people of color and to advocate for equity. The group also discussed how to implement better screening processes in schools and how to teach educators to recognize when stuttering is interfering with learning.
“We were delighted to have Michael Kidd Gilchrist visit our campus and share his experiences with stuttering so openly with us,” LaSalle said. “He inspired us as speech-language pathologists to allow people who stutter to truly be themselves, and to help advocate for the speech services they deserve.
Change and Impact
Kidd-Gilchrist said he is more comfortable with himself now than ever before in his life: “Opening up about being an individual who stutters doesn’t just help me, I hope it helps others.”
During the NBA lockdown, Kidd-Gilchrist found himself “contemplating how to turn his knowledge and experience into actionable and meaningful ways to help others who stutter.” He decided to position himself as an advocate for the stuttering community through his organization, Change and Impact, Inc., which he founded this year to improve access to services and resources for those who stutter.
“What I want the public to know about those who stutter is that we are no different,” he said. “When you fall you get up, and you’re going to fall again, and you’re going to get back up. That is the type of example I want to set and show to my family, my friends, and the public eye about those who stutter.”
His foundation’s goals include:
- Working toward a healthcare bill that supports stuttering intervention research and improves speech therapy insurance coverage to support positive outcomes and quality of life for those who stutter.
- Establishing a standardized definition of stuttering that has a global reach to all involved in access to healthcare, services, and resources for those who stutter.
- Educating insurance providers on the efficacy and efficiency of stuttering therapy to improve speech therapy coverage.
- Targeting primary care provider education on speech therapy, strategic referral of patients, to the right specialists, and through the right protocols.
- Empowering families to gain a better understanding of how to navigate the complex healthcare system for speech therapy.
- Enhancing graduate education in stuttering for future speech-language pathologists.
Learn more about programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Redlands.