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Best You: Pike H.S. senior succeeds through stutter while encouraging others

Finally paired with the right speech therapist, Akaiya Bryant is confident and finding her "best you" as she prepares to head to college.

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis high school student is helping those who stutter speak up and advising others on how to listen.

Akaiya Bryant is studying for finals and will soon graduate from Pike High School. 

She stutters and it is isolating.

"I have had people, like, walk away from me," Bryant said. "For a while, I have felt ashamed and, you know, throughout middle school and elementary school... I would just have this wall up I would be where myself, I will be in this big ol' bubble."

But after a series of speech therapists, she finally connected with Dana Stewart.

"She was the first person that kind of just let me know that I was not alone," Bryant said.

While other therapists encouraged Bryant to stay silent or learn sign language, Stewart encouraged her to speak out and address the stutter.

"It's just like a big elephant in the room," Bryant said.

And even prepare for a class presentation. 

"I've had, you know, a good group of boys recorded me where I was presenting and then posted up all over social media," she said. "That was probably the most hardest things I had to go through."

RELATED: Watch Akaiya's vlog "My Stutter Journey"

Again, Stewart was there to talk it through and nudged Bryant to get involved and do more.

She started a vlog called "My Stutter Journey," wrote articles in the school newspaper, advocated at the Friends national convention on stuttering and joined the "Teens Who Stutter" Facebook group.

"They're the only person that I knew that talked like me," Bryant said.

Through Zoom meetings, peers across the nation speak openly. They want you to know stuttering is not connected to intelligence. It's rare, affecting just one percent of the population and more men than women by a 4-to-1 ratio.

"It's a combination of neurological, genetic, environmental and so there's no specific pinpoint, 'this is why you stutter,'" Stewart said.

While stuttering is involuntary, listeners can be intentional.

"You don't interrupt, give them eye contact, listen and respond... just like you would with anybody else," Stewart said.

"It's really out of my control," said Bryant. "I feel like other people realize, or people don't realize, that we're totally capable of speaking, we just need time."

Bryant will start college in the fall, studying education, and said she's grateful for the encouragement to break out and be her best.

"I think that without Dana, I would not be where I am today," she said. "I feel like a 'best me' and, you know, me being involved... so I really think just me putting myself more out there, I mean, I've came a long way with my confidence.

"I do think my best me would have to be like a journey with stuttering. It's been a really long one, for sure," Bryant said.

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