Make Room For The Stuttering

Even When Stuttering Is Safe

Posted on: August 10, 2012

Even when stuttering is safe and encouraged, and in the majority, some people still struggle with the social interaction. It may be because they never learned how to be social. They missed out on learning conversational skills because they feared  judgment

I was one of those people. I was ashamed of my stuttering, so I tried to hide it. Which meant that I rarely talked to people I didn’t know. If someone approached me, my response was usually a head nod or one word answer.

I definitely was exposed to social interaction. As the oldest of 6 kids, there was constant competition among my siblings to be heard. That competition was intimidating for me as a stutterer, but I did get to see kids talk to each other and negotiate the back and forth of communication.

I may not have talked much, but I knew what to do.

I always wanted to be social, but I just wouldn’t risk it. I didn’t put myself into talking situations, whether safe or not.

Six years ago, I found stuttering self-help and Toastmasters, safe and supportive environments that felt comfortable. It took a while, and I hit some potholes, but I allowed myself to express myself, stutter and all. And I got better and better at it. And comfortable.

I am acutely aware of how many people who stutter are NOT comfortable in social situations. Even amongst other people who stutter. I recently returned from two stuttering conferences, where meeting other people who stutter, while stuttering, is encouraged and expected.

A lot of people never learned how to introduce themselves or join existing conversations or have the courage to join existing groups. Even among stutterers, it can still be intimidating.

I saw first timers at both recent conferences. At the large NSA conference, I noticed some people by themselves, on the fringes of conversations, clearly unsure how to break into established groups.

I also saw first-timers at the FRIENDS conference, which is much smaller. It appeared easier for new comers to break into established groups because they saw children do it. And at a smaller conference, it is more obvious if you are sitting alone. Someone will draw you into a group and get you talking.

I’ve heard it said that you have to take some responsibility and initiative to introduce yourself at stuttering community events. But for those who never learned how, or are painfully shy (regardless of the stuttering,) it can be hugely intimidating.

I think it would be a good idea to have small group sessions at the stuttering conferences to discuss how to actually socialize in real-time, face to face with each other, and practice doing it.

What do you think?

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7 Responses to "Even When Stuttering Is Safe"

Pam,
On the last day in St. Petes I had a discussion with Lee Reeves about workshops dedicated to first-timers, the idea being that we must actively engage them and not expect them to simply go up to strangers and introduce themselves. Some might be able to, but I reckon most are like us: very afraid of exposure and rejection. Workshops like you suggest will, I am sure, be eagerly attended.

Great article. It definitely encapsulates how I have felt. As someone who is painfully shy it is very hard to go up and talk to people, even other stutterers. I very much want to be more social, but I just can’t seem to do it. I am really
trying to change. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now, thinking back on the conference, speaking at the open-mic empowered me a bit. I kind of feel like I could get up and speak in front of crowds. And I feel that I have a story to tell now. Back when I was in college I took a public speaking class (because they would not let me waive it… I desperately tried), but with the accommodation of video-taping myself. I now want to do it the right way. So I have decided to enroll in a public speaking class — for personal enrichment. And I am going to get up and speak in front of the class. I am also considering taking an interpersonal communications class, which would help with some of those social skills.

Wow, Josh – good for you! Think also about Toastmasters – it’s not just a one-shot class, it’s ongoing opportunity for practice, with feedback, from others who dread public speaking as well, not just those of us who stutter. I have been involved with Toastmasters for over 6 years.
I am so happy you shared your personal experience – that’s what I always hope for when I take a chance and write, that it will remind someone of themselves and that they will share their experience, so we can all maybe benefit from it.

Hi Pam. One trick is a different type of nametag for first-timers, When you get three signatures (or happy faces or…) on your nametag, you can upgrade it to a normal one. Several old and new will make it a mission to help others collect happy faces and upgrade their nametags. Fancier method is boxes — have to get a happy face from a fellow 1st-timer, a mid-timer, an executive, a member of the welcoming committee, a hotel staff member, someone off the street, …

Another is a list of questions with four columns. Col 1: Question. Fun, sometimes vague, — so people ask others what the silly quiz-writer intended. (Yep, forget everything you know about clear communication.) Col 2: My answer. Col 3: Signature of someone with same answer. Col 4: Number of years new friend has attended (or some measure). Prizes for most number of new friends, and most new friends with under 20 total years experience (20 1st-year friends wins over 1 20-year friend.) Prizes for best 1st-timer, best mid-experience, best executive.

It’s a tough balance. Some newcomers need a year to get their bearings. They’re happier hiding, and will open up next year. Others need the encouragement. My experience is with groups that are mostly outgoing and laugh a lot. They welcome newcomers, but often get caught-up with old friends and forget the newcomers.

Hi Pam. I like what you present here. When i went to the CSA conference last August I went to the farthest back corner chair when the opening of the conference began. I was apprehensive how this all would be. During those days I completely changed and I went up to people, engaged in conversations and got info that I wanted. So when i went to the NSA conference this year in St. Petersburg I knew a bit of what I was getting into, so it was easier for me as a first timer to the NSA. On the other hand I still had to get out of my comfort zone and socialize, which was hard but very good for me. it helped me to grow in it. Many rich memories were made by doing that. I was amazed how people would come introduce themselves and chat. I made many friends both ways.

I can relate to staying on the fringe of conversations not really knowing how to break into established groups. I would agree with your thought in your last paragraph. It would help the ones that needed that little extra boost to feel comfortable with joining in conversations and socializing. This stuttering is a journey we all are on. For me it works better if I take baby steps in my own time. Anyways these are some of my thoughts on your post.

I really relate to this. I always struggled with the social interactions but as I’ve gotten older I’m better at it. I’m naturally quite introverted too and prefer smaller groups. I would love to go to one of these conferences one day they sound fantastic!

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