Former Vice President Joe Biden opened up about his lifelong struggle with stuttering on Wednesday, offering a rare lengthy and personal reflection on how it has affected him, even to this day.
Biden said at a CNN town hall Wednesday he “still occasionally, when I find myself really tired,” catches himself stuttering.
“It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup,” Biden said. He said he thinks “part of it’s confidence” and that he has to “think in terms of not rushing.”
“You have to break it up, because you get so nervous,” he said.
Biden pointed to the Academy Award-winning movie “The King’s Speech,” which is about England’s King George VI working to manage his stutter, and said he uses the same method depicted in the movie to mark up his own speeches to accommodate his stutter.
“So what I do, if I say, ‘The Democratic presidential town hall is tonight on CNN,’ I’ll say: ‘The presidential town hall, slash, is on CNN tonight, slash, it’s going to have the following people, slash, Anderson Cooper is going to speak, slash,” Biden said.
He said the method forces him to think in terms of not rushing.
Biden said he keeps in contact with about 15 people who stutter, and tells them it is “critically important for them not to judge themselves by their speech – not let that define them.”
He said he’d met one of those people the day before.
At an event Tuesday in Concord – his first day campaigning in New Hampshire – Biden met Owen Harrington and his 12-year-old son Brayden, who stutters.
“My wife and I have always tried to find various people my son can relate to that stutter, and I’d read that Joe Biden stuttered and he was really respectful and kind to others in the same situation, such as children,” Owen Harrington told CNN on Wednesday night, after Biden’s answer at the town hall.
He said Brayden met and chatted with Biden on the rope line after his event.
“He put his focus on Brayden and made time for him, talked to him, explained that it doesn’t define him, he’s stronger, that he’s a good person,” Owen Harrington said. “It was really overwhelming for Brayden. He started breaking down a little bit.”
So Biden invited Brayden backstage to continue their conversation.
Biden showed Brayden the speech he had just delivered, with markings on its pages that showed where Biden could take breaks between words. The former vice president also told Brayden how he’d worked to overcome his stutter as a child, saying he practiced in the mirror.
“He was basically showing him a strategy. He normalized it,” Owen Harrington said. “That meant a lot for both of us.”
He said the conversation with Biden was a moving connection for his son because children who stutter often don’t know other children facing the same struggle. “They see it as something different, that they’re different. And he just did a really nice job really connecting with him.”
Biden asked Brayden for his phone number and said he would call to check on him.
The former vice president’s answer Wednesday came after Biden was asked at the town hall what advice he would give a college student who has struggled with stuttering since he was a young child.
“You know, stuttering, when you think about it, is the only handicap that people still laugh about. That still humiliate people about. And they don’t even mean to,” Biden said.
Biden said he didn’t receive professional help for his stutter, but practiced in the mirror for hours on end reciting poetry written by Irish poets like William Butler Yeats. He also credited his mother when it came to not letting his stutter define him.
He said his mother would tell him, “Joey, don’t let this define you. Joey, remember who you are. Joey, you can do it.”
He said, “So every time I would walk out, she would reinforce me. I know that sounds silly, but it really matters.”