Make Room For The Stuttering

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One of the most popular posts on this blog, the one that gets the most visitors, is a post titled Breathe In, Breathe Out, that I wrote on April 15, 2010. I think it’s so popular because people who stutter are often looking for techniques that can help to manage stuttering.

The program that focuses most on breathing is the McGuire program. This program stresses the use of costal breathing, where students are taught diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Graduates of the McGuire method practice breathing techniques daily in order for speaking to sound natural.

When I attended speech therapy a few years ago, one of the techniques that the student clinicians taught us was “full breath.” This was part of traditional fluency shaping therapy.

For me, I always found it difficult to concentrate on my breathing and trying to speak at the same time. Both are automatic, things I do without thinking. I breathe with ease. Sometimes I speak with ease, sometimes I struggle when I speak.

When I block, I can sometimes feel myself run out of air and feel breathless. That can be such a helpless, out-of-control feeling. But I still don’t want to take the time to stop and think about breathing and speaking on a full breath.

To me, breathing is just breathing and shouldn’t require extra, specific thought. I’m curious – what do you think?

 

NSA DCI just returned from the NSA annual conference in Washington DC. This year’s conference had a record number of 975 attendees, one third of whom were first timers.

I met a lot of new people and connected with friends that I really only see once a year.

It was a great experience. I co-facilitated several workshops and attended several that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The best workshop I was part of was the First Timer’s Orientation. I co-facilitated this with friends Landon and Lott. Over 200 people came to the workshop, where they had the chance to meet and interact with each other. I met some of the people I had called in advance of the conference.

Some of my favorite moments:

16 year old Jeremy came and introduced himself and his parents to me. Jeremy told me that he and his speech therapist have used articles from this blog and some of my YouTube videos in his speech therapy sessions. Jeremy was thrilled to be at his first conference and had set as a goal for himself to speak at an Open Mic session. He came and told me about it afterward and said it was a success and that he felt great.

Rehan, who I corresponded with pre-conference, came up to me and said he was glad I had been so honest in my introduction during the workshop by saying that it can be overwhelming and scary to introduce yourself to strangers. He acknowledged that he was feeling nervous about doing that, as he has never introduced himself to so many people.  After the conference, he told me he had met many people and was grateful for the opportunity to stay in touch during the year. He also said in an email:

As per my thoughts … well, wow. It was way beyond my expectations. I didn’t really know what to think going in to it, but when I got there and [tried] to introduce myself only to have people patiently wait for my name, I knew I was in the right place. I was definitely apprehensive about continuing to go up to people and introduce myself, but everybody was just so friendly about it! I stuttered, they stuttered, and it was fine!

Natalie came up to me one of the first evenings and introduced herself to me. We had talked on the phone before the conference and she recognized me from some YouTube videos.  Natalie had traveled to the conference alone from Maine and was nervous about what to expect. Here is an excerpt from an email Natalie sent me the day after the conference:

Pam, you are a lovely person and I want to thank-you for all that you did for me at the conference.  You may not think it was much, but simply being kind, talking to me when I first got there, inviting me out with you and others, calling me before the conference and just being around really made me feel at ease.  You are an asset to the stuttering community.

I also met Rohan, who was one of our keynote speakers. I had the opportunity to speak to him before the conference as well, so it was pretty cool to meet up and talk a bit during the conference and then hear his amazing speech about “making things happen” and “no excuses.”

There were so many other amazing moments, but these are an example of how little moments can easily add up to a really big deal.

 

 

 

I’ve been working on a talk I will give at a workshop this week at the annual NSA conference. It’s about being memorable and using what makes us different as an asset.

I’ve talked about this before on this blog – the idea that stuttering makes us memorable. My talk for the workshop centers on the premise that if we have something that makes us stand out, why not use it to our advantage?

Stuttering is unique. It applies to only 1% of the population. It makes us different. We stand out because of it. Is that a bad thing?

I remember when my sister told me about six years ago that she was jealous that I stuttered and she didn’t. I had to really wrap my brain around that at the time.

But it makes sense. In today’s world, we need to be remembered in order to get ahead.

Why not use what makes us unique? What do you think?

 

 

Last night in a Stutter Social hangout, a small group talked about shame and fear, and how both can still have a grip on us as adults who stutter. While stuttering may get easier as we mature, those pesky feelings can hold on and do a real number on us.

We were talking about the times when we as adults get laughed at or someone makes a joke about our stuttering. Three of us were participating in this discussion, and we all had examples of when this has happened.

One guy mentioned that when this happens, he feels like punching the person who is so insensitive. He gets all tight and angry, but doesn’t actually act on the desire to lash out. He said he actually doesn’t do anything but feels vulnerable and ashamed.

I mentioned that I sometimes feel ashamed as well, when someone laughs or teases and I don’t do anything, for fear of drawing more attention to the matter.

We discussed how it’s important to pay attention to this shame.

When we feel shame, it’s usually a sign that we need to do something – take action – to rid ourselves of the shameful feelings.

I shared that when someone laughed at my stuttering recently and made a joke, I let it bother me for a few days. Then I decided to email her and let her know it bothered me. She apologized and explained she was unaware she had made me feel uncomfortable. I felt better after doing something and not just letting the feelings eat at me.

What do you think? Do feelings of shame ever creep in? What can you do to lessen those feelings?

 

 

 

 

I was at a meeting earlier in the week to begin planning for an upcoming large event. There were about 10 people on the committee and we all did not know each other.

So, we did the round robin of introductions, with people saying their names and which building or department we worked in.

I shared my name and then started to say which building I was from, but blocked as I was saying the first word. The block lasted only about 5 seconds, but was long enough to be noticeable.

A woman across from me laughed and said, “what, did you forget where you work?”

Ah, we’ve all heard this or been asked the equally ridiculous “did you forget your name?”

I’ve been so good over the past few years in not letting this bother me as it once did, but on this day, it did. The woman who laughed is a special needs teacher.

I didn’t expect for someone who works with people with differences and disabilities to be so quick to laugh and make such an offensive comment. I expected her to be more sensitive and professional.

That’s what stung the most. The expectation that someone “in the know” would be the last person to laugh and be rude.

I shared this with some friends in a Facebook group and they asked me how I responded. I didn’t respond – I said nothing as I didn’t want to draw any attention to how embarrassed I felt.

I wish this stuff wouldn’t happen but it still does. I’m an adult who stutters. Imagine how a kid would feel if they had been laughed at like that.

I had the wonderful opportunity two weeks ago to speak to 9th graders about my stuttering and how it has impacted my career. I really should say that I “took” the opportunity to speak about stuttering.

You see, I was invited to speak to the students about my career as part of their annual Career Day. Since it was on May 15th and during National Stuttering Awareness Week, I felt I needed to weave my stuttering story into my talk. I find I can no longer talk about my career without also talking about stuttering.

I took a pretty big leap of faith that this would be OK and I faced stiff competition. The students were also going to be hearing from people who do cool things with science and who get to design video games for a living. One guy even brought a robot.

But I decided to talk about how my career has changed over the years and how being open about my stuttering has helped make me memorable.

Yep! I talked about being memorable and used stuttering as an example. I reminded the kids that we all have “something” – mine just happens to be stuttering. Being successful includes shifting whatever the something is that we maybe don’t like and turning it into an asset. I shared how that mindset shift has helped me come to terms with my stuttering and “use” it in a way that people will remember.

It’s important in job interviews to “stand out from the crowd” in some way. I have done that by openly disclosing that I stutter and by openly stuttering.

The kids were great. I had to do my presentation 6 times to 6 different groups, so I was tired by day’s end, but the kids were engaging and asked lots of good questions. They were curious about stuttering. Some mentioned that they have a sibling or cousin who stutters. Their questions were thoughtful.

One girl came up to me after class and told me that she has a brother who stutters and she was very glad I had come in to talk to their class. She gave me a hug.

Another girl came up to me in a different class and gave me the below note. It brought tears to my eyes. I definitely believe I made the right decision to talk about stuttering that day. Any time you can go and talk to kids about stuttering, differences, tolerance and respect, do it. It makes a difference.

letter

 

 

 

This week marks National Stuttering Awareness Week. It is an opportunity for the 1% of the population that stutters to raise awareness and educate the 99% of the population that doesn’t stutter.

We get to let people know how unique we are and that stuttering is just a different way of communicating.

To me, it’s very important that we approach stuttering awareness from a positive perspective. Note that I said that we get to let people know how unique we are.

It’s easier to bring up stuttering in a positive way, instead of introducing it as a disorder, which immediately implies something negative.

This week, I have been asked to be a speaker at a Career Day at a local high school. I will be talking about my career, how I got here, educational and experience requirements. I’ve decided I am also going to talk about stuttering during my presentation, which I will give 5 times, to 5 different classes.

On reflection, I felt that I couldn’t talk about my career without also talking about stuttering. And it perfectly worked out that the presentation is scheduled this week, right smack in the middle of National Stuttering Awareness Week.

I’ll be honest and admit that I’m a little nervous about talking about stuttering in my talk on Career Day. I am worried about how it will be received and whether the high school kids will be interested. But I’ve committed to it and have begun incorporating bits of my personal story into my career presentation.

I am going to trust myself that my talks will go well and that I will educate kids on a new experience.

What will you do to mark National Stuttering Awareness Week?

 

I recently read Ellen-Marie Silverman’s book Mindfulness & Stuttering: Using Eastern Strategies to Speak with Greater Ease. To put it simply, this is a book about change. A good book about change!

Silverman introduces how mindfulness can help us reduce the fear we associate with stuttering (or always have.) Reducing the fear of stuttering allows us to speak with less struggle, even if we stutter as we speak.

Silverman offers a clear and simple definition of mindfulness. She offers that mindfulness is a process of attending calmly, without judgement, to what we are thinking, feeling and doing in the moment.

“The more mindful we become by attending to what is rather than anticipating what might be or regretting what was, the more capable we are of creating the change we want.”  In the case of stuttering, that change is to speak with less struggle, less tension and, as the title of the book suggests, with greater ease.

Silverman reminds us repeatedly, through this easy-to-read book, that mindfulness is a process that requires practice and dedication, even if it is only for a short period of time. I liked learning that I could practice mindfulness even for only 5 minutes at a time.

Mindfulness helps change how we think about stuttering, if we allow ourselves to be present in the moments of stuttering. For me, being present in the moment of stuttering was always difficult. In my very covert days, I was constantly worrying about what the listener might think of me. I also found that I wasn’t listening to my communication partner because I was rehearsing what I was going to say next. I wasn’t paying attention. I clearly wasn’t mindful.

Being present with our stuttering is the key to how mindfulness can help us change our stuttering. We can change how we react to our stuttering and become kinder and gentler with ourselves. When we practice mindfulness, our stuttering becomes easier, which is the goal.

Mindfulness is a process that can be learned. With dedicated practice, mindfulness can help us make changes in our lives and make our stuttering easier.

Making stuttering easier with a practice that can be done anytime, anywhere, is definitely worth exploring.

I recommend readers get Ellen-Marie Silverman’s book and learn about a way to manage stuttering that can last a lifetime.

 

Check out this great article (by Susan Scutti) that appeared yesterday in Medical Daily, titled “The Truth About Stutterers: Can Everyone Who Stammers Overcome The Condition?” I’m quoted toward the end of the article!!

What afflicts four times as many males as females while affecting roughly three million Americans overall? Stuttering. Among the five percent of children who stammer for six months or more during early childhood, the majority naturally outgrow this communication disorder while others continue to struggle with this problem long term. A person is considered a stutterer when their fluency or flow of speech is broken by repetition (ma-ma-ma-maybe), prolongations (ffffor real), or unusual stops in the middle of a phrase or sentence when no sound is produced at all. In the struggle to communicate, some people may make odd faces or move their bodies in a strange way.

Experts believe genetics may contribute to the condition since nearly 60 percent of those who stammer have a family member who does as well. Children with a developmental delay or some other kind of language learning problem are also more likely to stutter. Other more subtle issues may also contribute to the development of this communication disorder. Recent neurological research, for instance, has revealed that the brains of people who stutter may be wired slightly differently and for this reason they may have trouble planning speech. Some believe that family dynamics may impact a child’s ability to communicate fluently yet, according to the Stuttering Foundation, those who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than those who do not. One recent study found that stuttering preschoolers did not have innately different temperaments than those who did not stutter. Emotional trauma, then, should not be considered a root cause of stuttering.

According to speech experts, the best prevention is early intervention yet as the story of the English king, George VI, which was dramatized in the movie, The King’s Speech, even late treatment can be a life-changer — the king was in his 40s when he met the famous speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

A beautiful story well-worth repeating is that of the voice of Darth Vader, otherwise known as James Earl Jones. Few people know that Jones was once a stutterer and from early childhood through high school, he found it difficult to speak. Yet he calls one man, the poet Donald Crouch, “the father of my voice.” A former college Professor and contemporary of Robert Frost who retired to a farm near the Michigan town where Jones lived, he discovered there was a need for educators in the area so he decided to teach at the nearby agricultural high school.

Within his classes, Jones often remained as silent as possible until the day Crouch discovered his student liked to write poems. “One day I showed him a poem I had written,” Jones wrote in an article about his teacher, “and he responded to it by saying that it was too good to be my own work, that I must have copied it from someone.” To prove his authorship, Jones recited the poem in front of the entire class and somehow made it through to the end without forgetting a word … and also without stuttering. With Croach’s help, Jones continued to practice speaking aloud and over time his confidence grew.

Jones’ story makes clear not only that a later intervention worked well but also that stutterers often overcome their speech issue through unusual means. It has often been claimed that no one stutters while they’re singing, as Carly Simon and B.B. King, both stammerers, certainly prove.  Meanwhile some actors, including Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, claim that adopting a foreign accent or another persona is what helped them past their communication difficulties.

Just because some people, famous or not, have improved their abilities, is learning how not to stutter truly within everyone’s reach?  Unfortunately, not. A review of more than 100 studies on adults concluded that 60 to 80 percent of all cases show significant improvement as a result of treatment. “My only regret on my long journey is that I courted that fickle mistress called fluency for too long instead of simply searching for a voice with which I was comfortable,” wrote Vince Vawter, 67, a lifelong stutterer and writer. Acceptance, rather than change, is key for many.  “To be honest, there is still a small part of me that has not accepted my stutter – that is trying to fight the stutter,” wrote Dhruv Gupta. “And if I stutter at all today, it is because of that part.”

“Dealing with our stuttering, managing it and eventually thriving in spite of it, necessitates speaking about it openly and honestly,” wrote Hanan Hurwitz, who learned that encouragement from others mattered more than figuring out which treatment worked best. “In a world that still largely does not understand stuttering or the experience of the person who stutters, the safe environment of a support group is a lifeline.”

Although support was key to others, they found it lacking in the ready-made groups. “I felt uncomfortable when I attended stuttering support groups where I was the only woman, or one of only two women in a group dominated by men,” wrote Pamela Mertz for the International Stuttering Awareness website.  “I often felt that the men were focusing on finding fluency, or trying techniques, or looking for a solution, where I was more interested in talking about how I felt. Talking about how it felt to feel less attractive, talking about how my self-esteem had been affected, talking about my confidence being eroded, talking about how it felt to try and hide my stuttering for so long and slowly coming to terms that trying to hide it wasn’t working anymore.” In search of a women-only group, Mertz went on to host a podcast catering to women wanting to share their stories.

For more real life people discussing this problem, watch the YouTube video below:

 

Last night at my Toastmasters meeting, I was surprised by how someone introduced me at the start of the meeting. I will also admit that I was a bit embarrassed.

I was scheduled to be the Toastmaster, or emcee, for the evening. Therefore, the club president had to introduce me. As the theme of the meeting was perseverance, he chose to tie perseverance into his introduction of me.

The president indicated that I was a person who epitomizes courage and perseverance, as it takes courage to be a person who stutters and a Toastmaster. He went on to say that I have risen through the ranks of Toastmasters and achieved the highest designation, that of Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM.) He asked people to take note of how I run the meeting, as I am a good role model for fellow members and guests.

He stated that it takes courage to stutter and embrace public speaking and that I am an inspiration to the club. He concluded that I am a hero to him.

When I stood up and proceeded to speak, I was aware that I was embarrassed. Both for the high praise and words of kindness, but also because he introduced me as a person who stutters. I don’t remember ever getting an introduction like that in my eight years in Toastmasters.

I thanked him for his hearty introduction and remarked that I hoped I could live up to his lofty words.

I was embarrassed because someone else was advertising that I stutter to people who didn’t know that about me. It’s not that I’m embarrassed that I stutter, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting this type of introduction and I felt a bit taken aback.

On the plus side, though, I found that I allowed myself to stutter more freely throughout my remarks during the meeting and even did some voluntary stuttering.

What do you think? How would you have felt if someone had given a surprise introduction like that?

I went to the theater last night. We have a vibrant arts culture in my community and I often go to see live performances. There is nothing like live theater.

The show was “Figaro” and was billed as a comedy, which it was.

There was a character of a judge, who I’ve always visualized as serious and smart, someone we respect.

The play had the judge character stuttering – loudly, pronouncedly and spitting on others while stuttering. He particularly stuttered on “p” sounds and the other characters finished the words for the judge. Most of the time, the other character guessed the word right, one time it was wrong. The audience laughed at these moments.

This stuttering, spitting male judge character was ridiculous. He was portrayed as stupid, and disgusting for spitting on those close to him, who reacted in disgust.

My friend who was with me stutters too. Both of us were uncomfortable. We didn’t expect to see stuttering made fun of like this in this day and age, on a live stage.

After the show, as we were leaving, my friend and I talked about how uncomfortable it made us. Stuttering isn’t funny in this exaggerated context, yet audience members laughed and laughed at the stuttering, spitting, weird character.

We left, and talked about it again in the parking lot. We had met at the theater, and therefore had separate cars.

When I got home, I had a message on my voice mail from my friend.

He had went back in to the theater and told the owner how uncomfortable  we felt. He spoke up and told him stuttering doesn’t get made fun of anymore and the portrayal of stupidity is offensive. J went on to tell the owner how accomplished we both are and how he might consider not making fun of stuttering publicly.

J said the theater owner said the director and the actor made the decision to portray the judging as bumbling and stuttering, for comedic effect.

I was proud of my friend for going back in and having the courage to have that conversation. I hope the director considers taking that portrayal out of the play.

I might write to the director and send her some info on stuttering for their future reference.

Thoughts? What would you have done?

A great story out of Charlotte, NC today about a guy who stutters who decided to face his fears head on and try stand-up comedy to prove to himself that stuttering doesn’t control him.

Check it out.

At a recent Stutter Social Hangout,  I had the chance to witness a powerful moment of courage. It was two weeks ago, but the impact still resonates.

Real quick, a hangout is a virtual group video chat where up to 10 people can talk with each other about stuttering, or anything for that matter.

I host a Hangout every other Sunday, which lasts for 90 minutes. People are free to “come in” when they can, and stay as long as they wish. There are no time pressures.

As a host, I try to welcome people as they come in, and if they are new, facilitate introductions, just like we would at a real-time support group.

As we know, introductions can be very stressful for those of us who stutter. The pressure may be magnified for some because we use microphones and video.

A newcomer, Sydney, joined the hangout and during a lull, I welcomed her and asked her to introduce herself to the group of about 8.

Sydney found herself in a mighty, stubborn block as she attempted to say her name and where she was from.  We could see her effort and struggle as she stopped and started several times. The darn block was digging in its heels. Sydney stayed with it, for several minutes, and maintained eye contact and a smile.

You could feel the energy of the 8 of us who waited  for Sydney. That energy seemed to fuel Sydney as she stayed courageously in the moment and waited out the block and she told us her name and where she is from.

Sydney smiled, we all smiled and we carried on in conversation.

What a moment of courage! Maybe not to the average person who doesn’t stutter, but it was. A powerful moment of courage and self-truth.

It would have been so easy for Sydney to give in and not stay with it.  But at that moment, Sydney showed the rest of us a quiet moment of grit, persistence and courage. And she won – not that darn block!

I was glad I was there to see it. Go Sydney!

(Author’s note: Sydney gave me permission to write about this and to use her name.)

When I was asked to be a Stutter Social Hangout host last July, I figured it would be something I’d try and do for about three months. I wasn’t sure I would like it and I also wasn’t sure if I could make the commitment to host every other week.

I’ve been hosting since August and find that I really like it. In fact, I find myself looking forward to it when my turn to host rolls around.

For those of you unsure what a Hangout is, here’s a quick description.

The Hangouts run through Google + Hangout software, which is free and easy to download. Using a computer or mobile device equipped with a microphone and some type of camera device, up to 10 people can meet up in a video conference and have a conversation about anything and everything.

It’s like having a support group that you don’t have to drive to. You can “hangout” from the comfort of your own home, car, office or where ever you are, and dress casually too. You can even wear your pajamas!

I like the diversity of people that come into the hangout sessions. In some of my hangouts, I’ve had people from as many as 6 different countries hanging out and talking at one time. We talk about stuttering, and lots of other things. Sometimes we don’t talk about stuttering at all.

But everybody stutters and everybody feels comfortable stuttering. It’s a safe and supportive environment to talk with other people. And you can come in to the group when you can, and leave when you have to. It’s a wonderful sense of support and camaraderie, among people who “get it.”

If you’re interested, visit the Stutter Social website for a calendar of when hangouts are held during the week.

I host every other Sunday, from 7:30-9:00pm, EDT. I host this Sunday. I’d love to see you there. It’s a great experience.

I just finished the excellent book Paperboy by Vince Vawter and couldn’t stop smiling.

Paperboy is the story of an 11-year-old boy who takes over his best friend’s paper route for a month during July in Memphis. Victor is happy to help his friend out, but secretly obsesses over having to communicate with customers when he collects the weekly fee.

Young Victor stutters and the author perfectly captures the feelings, fears and worries that come with being different. We are able to get right into Victor’s head as he practices speaking to some of his customers and as he fervently switches trouble words for words he can say without stuttering.

The author uses a unique style to depict dialogue throughout the story and conveys through words what Victor’s stuttered speech sounds and feels like.

This story will resonate with young people and adults who stutter, as it depicts a real life situation that all of us who stutter can relate to. Victor uses some speech therapy techniques to make his stuttering easier, and he also uses avoidance, which will be all too familiar to many of us who try to be covert!

Paperboy is the story of a kid who is a great baseball pitcher, a friend and a youngster who is learning how to communicate with adults, stand up for himself and learning about empathy.

We learn about his relationships with his parents, his Mam, his peers and the adults he encounters on his paper route. And we root for him as he finds himself in some tough situations and as he gradually becomes more self-aware.

This is a great book about stuttering, life and coming of age. It’s geared for young people, but adults (including parents of kids who of stutter) will love it too.

Put it on your reading list. You won’t be sorry!


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2014. 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 2014.
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