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I just recently returned from a trip to the west coast, that included a weekend in Tempe, Arizona for the 2nd Annual National Stuttering Association Regional Fall Conference.

The regional conferences are similar to the national conferences except that they are on a much smaller scale. 104 people attended this event in Arizona, making it a very intimate gathering where you actually got to know and talk with one another.

There was a mix of adults who stutter, parents, kids and teens and some SLPs. I had a great experience at the workshops, which focused on communicating with ease, managing anger and successful speech management. There was also a great Open Mic session where people told very personal, inspiring stories.

But the best part for me was seeing young people embrace the experience and totally blossom in the presence of other people who stutter. That almost always happens at stuttering conferences but it was magnified this time since it was such a small group.

Young people like Aiden, Diego and Regan felt comfortable to get up and speak to the whole group several times and they shared such pearls of wisdom. They talked about it being OK to stutter, that if you stutter, you’re not alone and that together, we are strong. These are mottoes of the NSA, but to hear them come out of the mouths of babes, so confidently and convincingly, was so inspiring.

Young people who stutter today are fortunate to interact with adults who stutter and vice versa. We adults got so much out of the kid’s confidence and were reminded that if they can speak up and advocate for themselves, then we certainly can too.

Young Regan, 11 years old, really impressed me. She has the self-assurance and sense of humor of a much older teen and clearly feels comfortable in her skin. Her mom was thrilled that they were able to attend their first conference. I fully expect Regan to one day be in a leadership position for the NSA. The kids are our future and it seems like we’ll be in great hands.

isad-20151-258x300Every year, International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) is marked on October 22. It is a day when people who stutter all over the world participate in events and activities that raise awareness about stuttering and educate the non-stuttering public.

The International Stuttering Association also sponsors an annual online conference. From October 1 through October 22, a variety of presentations are available for people to read, watch or listen to, all with the goal of learning more about stuttering.

Both people who stutter and speech professionals contribute papers, audio and video that conference attendees can participate in and engage with the author. There is a discussion option where people can leave comments with the authors and get feedback or questions answered.

There is also an “Ask The Expert” section of the conference where speech professionals volunteer their time to respond to specific questions asked by anyone in the stuttering community or general public.

It is always a great conference, with enlightening topics from people who stutter themselves and professionals.

Don’t miss it! There’s something for everyone. The conference starts next week, Thursday October 1, 2015. I will have a paper in the conference this year. I hope you visit, read and leave your feedback.

People often view stuttering as a flaw, a deficit, a challenge to be overcome. Many of us who stutter have been met with negative social consequences for our stuttering: teasing, bullying, mocking, exclusion and being laughed at. Many of us apologize to our listeners for our stuttering. We often feel as if we are a burden to the listener, because we take longer to speak than the “normal” fluent speaker.

As a result of all this, people who stutter may spend lots of time, energy and money to change their stuttering so that our speech will be more socially accepted. We participate in speech therapy, we practice speaking for hours, or when these fail, we may avoid speaking situations all together.

Online stuttering forums are loaded with people looking for advice on dating, job interviews, talking on the telephone and ordering food in restaurants and drive through stations.

Sometimes it can get very depressing reading about all the difficulties that people who stutter have and face. It can also be depressing to personally deal with negative listener reactions and feelings of shame.

So why is the title of this post called “The Benefits Of Stuttering,” you may ask. So far, I haven’t mentioned anything positive about stuttering. Can stuttering really have benefits?

Well, if you think about it, there are many benefits to stuttering. People generally remember us because of our stutter. When I answer the phone at work and stutter, it’s not unusual for someone to say “hi Pam.” They equate me with my stuttering and remember who I am.

People who stutter often have more compassion and empathy for others with differences. We’re also good listeners and are very patient. These are benefits that we often don’t think of because we get so caught up in what’s wrong with stuttering.

My UK friend Lisa recently shared a great example of how stuttering was an advantage for her. (She gave me permission to recount the story here.)

I started my new role as a 1:1 teaching assistant at school recently with a little boy who has a muscular disease that affects the muscles in his mouth resulting in a stammer.

I was nervous to meet his parents, as I didn’t know if they would be happy with a person who stammers overseeing speech practice with their child who stammers. I explained from the outset that I also stammer but was able to mainly control it and that I was familiar with the different types of stammering, secondary behaviors and therapies associated with it.

I was so wrong in assuming that the parents would have an issue with me. The mum actually said she was over the moon, more for the fact that I would first hand understand how he might feel not being able to communicate as quickly as his peers. I said that because the staff know too, and are patient with me, they would already know to do the same with the child and that some of the children are aware of being patient with me, so would just adapt with him.

She then said that after our meeting, she was 100% sure it was the right thing to move him to the school. For once I felt stammering was an advantage.

What a great story that illustrates one of the main benefits of stuttering – empathy for others and instinctively knowing what it’s like and how best to listen and respond to another person who stutters.

So, the next time you think there are only negatives associated with stuttering, think again. There are benefits and sometimes it’s to our advantage to stutter.

What do you think? Have you ever thought of your stuttering as an advantage or realized one of its benefits?

I am not a fan of using fluency shaping techniques. When I participated in speech therapy about 6 years ago, I was really resistant to the traditional techniques that would theoretically make my speech more fluent. I felt like the therapist was trying to “fix me” and I didn’t need fixing, then or now.

But lately, I have been feeling quite self-conscious when answering the phone at work and stuttering on the same word, every time. I’ve been helping to answer the phones more over these summer months because we are short staffed and we all pitch in to help.

When we answer the phone, we state the name of our school building so that the caller knows they have reached the right building. It’s a three word name, and I always stutter on the third word. Every single time. And it’s been bothering me that I stutter like that identifying our school name.

I can’t quite identify why it’s making me feel uncomfortable, because if I stutter later in the conversation, it doesn’t really bother me. It must just be something about those introductory words that I want to be able to say smoothly and confidently. Maybe it doesn’t feel confident to stutter on the same word every time.

So, I’ve been using a prolongation technique on the first letter of the third word, so I can slide into it without repeating the letter/sound. It’s working, as long as I concentrate and remember to do it. I am not feeling as self-conscious when answering the phone.

What I am feeling like is a little bit of a hypocrite. I have not wanted to use fluency techniques because I am comfortable with myself as a stutterer. But here I am, feeling uncomfortable and resorting to a technique.

Hopefully, I’ll get over this quick. Have you ever experienced conflicted emotions about using fluency techniques?

The Mighty did a nice piece, in conjunction with the National Stuttering Association (NSA,) on truths people who stutter want people who don’t stutter to know.

The NSA asked the question on their Facebook page and asked people to respond. The Mighty used those quotes in the piece they wrote up. They even created graphics and attributed the quotes to the people, like me, who responded.

Check out the piece here – Eight Truths People Who Stutter Wish Everyone Understood. They did a great job!

I had a good experience last week with someone who was meeting me for the first time. During our conversation, I was stuttering quite well.

After several moments of really good stuttering, she leaned in and asked me how did I want her to respond when I was stuttering. She said, “you don’t want me to finish your words, right?” I said no, that I preferred to finish my own thoughts.

We talked about that for a moment. I told her people often guess wrong when they try to finish my thought and it’s just more respectful to let me finish. After all, it only takes a few extra seconds.

I thanked her for asking and bringing it up. I let her know I also appreciated her keeping good eye contact and staying present with me. I was so pleased with her interest and willingness to talk about stuttering.

Have you ever had someone ask you so directly how best to respond while your stuttering?

People who stutter tend to be very good at avoiding. We avoid speaking situations in which we fear we’ll stutter. We avoid certain words and switch to words we can say without stuttering.

For a long time, as I’ve written before, I was extremely covert and avoided situations where I’d be vulnerable and exposed as a person who stutters. I always had the fear of being negatively perceived or judged or labeled.

As I’ve gotten older, I find that I don’t care as much about my stuttering and am largely open about it. I stutter openly, without apology, and feel I am living a much more authentic life, at least as far as stuttering goes.

But what I’ve found is that avoidance has seeped over into other parts of my life. I’m sure many of you have found this as well. How could it not? Practicing stuttering avoidance for many years becomes such a strong habit that it almost seems to become default behavior.

What am I talking about? Well, I find that I avoid difficult conversations. I avoid conflict. I sometimes avoid change. I sometimes avoid making decisions. I sometimes avoid being too assertive at work, for fear of rocking the boat and being perceived or judged negatively, much like when I was covert and avoiding stuttering.

I’d like to say that I have transcended all of this now that I am overt with my stuttering but I can’t. I keep noticing pockets of avoidance that I am positive relates to my stuttering. This is something that I am continually working on. I am mindful of when I seem to be avoiding something big and acknowledge that it’s happening.

Acknowledging avoidance is only half of the battle. The other half of the battle requires action and courage. I’m working on both. How about you?

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2015.

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