Make Room For The Stuttering

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Spoiler alert!!!!

I recently went to see the short film “Stutterer,” which was shown as part of five short films nominated for Oscars in the live action category. It is exciting to see another film about stuttering up for an Academy Award. Hopefully it will ignite stuttering awareness.

The short film is only 12 minutes long, but packs a punch. On opening, you see the main character, Greenwood, struggle to speak on the phone. Later in the film, we see Greenwood’s father make the phone call for him.

The film conveys how much of a struggle it is for Greenwood to speak, yet in his head, the words flow eloquently and effortlessly.

He is lonely, because he is terrified of communicating with anyone. He is studying sign language and pretends to be deaf so he can communicate without having to speak verbally.

The crux of the film centers around a relationship he has with a beautiful girl he has met online. He can communicate with ease as he types out witty responses to this girl.

But soon she wants to meet in person. She writes him suggesting a meet up, as she is planning a visit. This brings him to a panic, and he doesn’t respond to her right away.

She assumes his non-response means that he doesn’t want to meet. Finally, after much delay, he gets up the courage and writes to her saying he’d like to meet if she was still interested.

When they meet, he discovers she is deaf and communicates through sign language.

The short film was deeply satisfying and left me wanting more. I wanted to see what became of their meet up and if they started dating. I wanted to see if he got up the courage to seek out speaking situations despite his severe stutter.

I felt the character’s stuttering was very realistic, as was his fear of negative social reactions and judgement.

My concern is the portrayal of sign language as a viable alternative to speaking. I worry that stutterers will see this film and get the idea that using sign language to avoid speaking is OK. That’s not the message we should send to the stuttering community, especially young people who have not yet found their voices.

The film is a romance and really doesn’t aim to raise stuttering awareness. But maybe the title will do the trick and get people talking about stuttering which always provides a good opportunity to educate and raise awareness.

 

 

 

Interesting title, huh? What would giving blood have to do with stuttering?

Yesterday, I donated blood at a local blood drive. If you’ve never donated before, you might not be aware of how meticulous blood drive staff are about making absolutely sure they are identifying donated blood correctly. They ask you to state your full name at least 5 different times during the process. Usually, stating my name is not a problem, but yesterday my stuttering showed up big time by the fourth time I had to repeat my name.

When I was asked to state my name, it came out “P-P-P-Pamela.” The staff person snickered and asked if I was OK. To her credit, she did not ask if I had forgotten my name, as clearly I had not, since I had repeated it several times already. But her snicker annoyed me nonetheless. But I didn’t say anything. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she wasn’t sure what she had just heard.

When I was asked the fifth time to repeat my name, out came “P-P-P-Pamela” again. This time she didn’t snicker but asked me if I was feeling woozy or lightheaded. I told her no, I just stutter. They hadn’t started drawing my blood yet, so I couldn’t have felt woozy or lightheaded yet.

When I told her I just stutter, she just nodded her head and looked slightly embarrassed but didn’t respond.

I was glad I said something to let her know I stutter. Hopefully I educated her a tiny bit and she’ll remember not to snicker or assume something the next time she encounters someone who stutters.

How have you handled similar situations when you’ve had to repeat your name several times? Would you have done something differently?

It is very interesting to review the words we use to describe stuttering. Very often, the words are negative or paint a negative image in the mind. Words like “disabled,” “disorder” and “debilitating.” When we use these words along with the word “stuttering” we get an image in our mind that there must be something wrong with the person.

It’s not often that we hear positive words to describe stuttering, like “successful,” “strong” and “confident.” But there are many successful, strong and confident people who stutter. We just don’t always know that based on the words that are often chosen to describe stuttering.

A prominent writer in the stuttering community, Katherine Preston, blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She has a great piece out Tuesday, titled Stuttering and the Power of Suggestion. In it, she examines how the power of suggestion paints those negative or positive images in the minds of people trying to understand stuttering.

If negative words are chosen for the description, people will naturally think of stuttering as negative, a challenge, or as a deficit. This then clouds the perception we have of the actual person who stutters.

If positive words are chosen for the description, then we view the person who stutters in a positive light. We can see the person from a reference of strength and confidence.

The words we use are important. If we who stutter use negative words to describe our stuttering, how can we expect any differently of the people we are interacting with. It’s important to make a mind shift and re-frame our stuttering into positive words whenever possible.

Words make a big difference.

In one of the stuttering groups, a woman recently shared her experience with disclosing her stutter to a guy she liked. She was surprised that he was actually OK with it.

She thought he was going to reject her because she stutters. She further shared that she felt so much more comfortable knowing that he knows. They have gone on a couple of dates and are enjoying their new relationship.

Disclosing that we stutter has so many benefits. Like this woman shared, it made her feel relieved that her partner knew. She didn’t have to work to keep it hidden, like she said she had done in the past.

Trying to hide stuttering is a lot of work. I know, as I did it for years. I was always tense and afraid that I’d be exposed as a stutterer and people would think less of me as a person. Or would reject me. That was always my biggest fear – rejection.

So I switched words, avoided speaking and pretended to be a shy introvert, something that I am not. I felt such relief when I stopped trying to hide my stuttering and just stuttered openly and actually talked about it.

People’s reactions were surprising to me at first, just like the woman in above’s anecdote. Most people didn’t care – it was like disclosing that I am left-handed. So? There’s nothing wrong with being left-handed, just like there’s nothing wrong with stuttering.

And many people already knew that I stutter, which was a big surprise.  I always thought that since I didn’t talk about it and worked so hard to hide it, that I of course no one knew I stuttered. Wrong!

Disclosing that we stutter also lessens anxiety, as we are not so fearful that we are going to be found out. And disclosure also often leads to a real connection with another person. By being brave enough to disclose, often another person will share something personal about themselves and before you know it, a connection is formed.

Finally, disclosure that we stutter opens the door to questions. Often, we’ll find that people are very interested in learning more about stuttering and will ask questions. They were just waiting for us to signal that it was OK.

Disclosure can be powerful. It can open doors for us that we thought maybe were closed. And that brings good things to life.

 

It’s funny the advice people who don’t stutter give to those of us who do stutter. Like they know the answer and can solve our stuttering problem for us. If it was as simple as just taking a deep breath, all of us who stutter would already be doing that.

I had this advice given to me the other day when I was talking to a medical receptionist over the phone. The woman was impatient and I was having a really stutter-y day. When she asked me a question, I blocked on something and then had a couple of repetitions. She asked me if everything was OK.

I decided to tell her I stutter. I said something like, “everything’s fine. I just stutter. Please bear with me.” It was then that she said, “that’s OK. Just take a deep breath.”

I certainly know she meant no harm. In fact, she had lost her impatient tone and actually sounded like she was trying to be helpful. I didn’t tell her that advising someone who stutters to take a deep breath isn’t really helpful. I felt that would have been rude. I just continued on with the brief conversation and left it at that.

I know for many people who stutter that practicing breathing techniques actually does help with their control of stuttering. It is a technique taught in some fluency shaping programs and seems to be the mainstay of the popular UK McGuire program. Slowing rate and speaking on exhaled breaths does help for some.

But the random advice to take a deep breath usually does not help in the stuttering moment. It definitely does not help me. It just reminds me of how much stuttering is misunderstood by those who don’t stutter.

I’m glad I advertised in my encounter with the receptionist over the phone. That empowers me. Maybe next time I’ll go with the flow and take a deep breath and see if it helps at all. :)

Whenever I advertise my stuttering, I always reassure people it’s OK to ask me to repeat something if they didn’t understand it due to my stuttering.

I often wonder why I do that. Why would I want to risk stuttering again on the same word or phrase and perhaps have the listener still not understand? And have somebody ask me to repeat it yet again.

This has happened to me a couple of times and it’s pretty uncomfortable.

I pride myself on being upfront about stuttering and I encourage people to ask questions. But when someone actually asks me to repeat myself and indeed I do that – repeat myself, or get stuck in a block – it can be embarrassing.

This happened yesterday when I was talking with a small group of students about school program options. I mentioned that I stutter and for them to feel free to ask me to repeat anything they did not understand.

I was having a stutter-y day and of course had a lot of repetitions. One girl shyly asked me to repeat myself and I did, stuttering on the same words I did the first time. She nodded and said thank you. I’m not sure if she was just being polite or if she really did understand me, but I didn’t think so.

But I let it go. I didn’t want to stutter yet a third time on the same phrase and didn’t want to make the girl feel uncomfortable. I was worried that she might be thinking she was embarrassing me.

Isn’t it funny the self-talk we have with ourselves?

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever offer to repeat something and then regret it? Because you’re really repeating it?

How many times have you encountered a situation where a listener reacted negatively in some way to your stuttering? He or she either laughed, rolled their eyes, spoke over you or interrupted, or mimicked you.

When this happens, the person who stutters often winds up feeling angry, ashamed or hurt. I know when this has happened to me I often walk away from the situation feeling like a failure. I often rethink the scenario countless times and wonder what I could have done to make it easier or better. I automatically assume the “failed” speaking situation was my fault. When I say “failure,” I mean that the speaking situation was not a positive, two way engagement. To me, that’s what communication is all about, two way engagement.

I can remember a situation from well over a month ago now where I was giving a presentation to a group of 10th grade students. Mostly everyone in the audience was 15 years old. 15 year old students are immature and don’t have the longest attention span, but I did expect a certain degree of respect and decent behavior as I was a “guest speaker” in the class.

As I was talking, I noticed one girl having a really hard time composing herself. She was laughing and trying to cover it up. She continued to laugh with her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle the laugh, but unsuccessfully. She kept glancing over at another kid who grinned but managed to keep himself composed.

This girl was clearly laughing at me and making me very uncomfortable. After about 10 minutes, I stopped and “called her out.” I asked if she was OK and if she maybe needed to get a drink of water or move her seat. She said she was fine, but I stated that I noticed she was laughing the whole time I was talking and was there something funny about my presentation. She said everything was fine but looked embarrassed that I had called her on her behavior.

I felt better after addressing it the way I did. I was able to go on with my presentation, but did notice when I glanced her way that she was still laughing and had her hand over her mouth. I tried to chalk it up to her being 15 and very immature.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I hadn’t done anything wrong or that was so funny that it warranted laughter. No, I concluded that this girl was just a poor listener.

Poor listeners abound. People who stutter and fluent people alike encounter people who are poor listeners. We see them not paying attention, trying to speak over the person speaking and not making eye contact. Active listening requires that we be present with the speaker, that we take turns and that we make eye contact. Listening is a very big part of communication. It’s a two way street.

When we encounter a poor listener, it’s really important that we don’t take it personally and think it’s our fault for the poor speaking situation just because we stutter. It might have absolutely nothing to do with that at all. Or it might. If possible, be assertive and say something to the listener that you notice that he or she is not paying attention and is there something you can do to help him. Although this might make you “gulp” a bit, being assertive will help lessen any negative self-talk you might take away from the encounter.

Because we do not have to take anything negative from a speaking encounter. If we speak and stutter, it’s up to the listener to be a good listener. They have that responsibility in two way communication.

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2016. 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 2016.
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