Kehoe came to Reed in 1978, at the tender age of 16-too young, he now believes, to make the most of the academic environment. He majored in philosophy, wrote his thesis on fin-de-siŠcle Vienna, managed the darkroom, wrote a short history of the Doyle Owl for the student handbook, and edited the Griffin. Although he made several close friends, the combination of his youth and his stuttering made college life difficult, especially because he didn't realize the extent of his disorder. "You may be amazed to learn this," he says, "but when I was at Reed, I had no idea how severely I stuttered."
After graduation he enrolled in a speech therapy course where, for the first time, he watched a video of himself speaking. It was an "absolute shock," he remembers. He was determined to get control of his speech-after all, several great orators had overcome stuttering, including Demosthenes, Winston Churchill, and actor James Earl Jones. But severe stuttering therapy programs produced little lasting effect.
Stuttering: still a mystery
Despite a century of research, stuttering remains a scientific enigma. It is rare, afflicting probably less than one in a thousand. It is more common among men than women. It tends to run in families. It usually gets worse when speaking on the telephone, saying one's name, telling jokes, or speaking to an authority figure. It usually gets better when whispering, singing, speaking alone, or speaking to animals, children, or subordinates.
Academics don't agree on whether stuttering should be considered a psychological or a neurological disorder. Recent studies have found abnormal neural patterns during stuttering, but detect no difference in brain patterns when stutterers and non-stutterers are silent.
More recent theories focus on presumed physiological or neurological deficits: competition between linguistic and paralinguistic systems in the brain, impaired phonological encoding, and so on. But so far, no one has been able to demonstrate any differences in the brains of stutterers and non-stutterers.
Kehoe's own view is that stuttering is a developmental maladaptive motor skill-a set of muscle movements, learned in early childhood, that are conditioned to certain environmental stimuli and become hard-wired as the child matures.