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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