Make Room For The Stuttering

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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!

Ahhh, the phone. A simple electronic device designed to make our lives easier. But for people who stutter, the phone can be our nemesis.

Talking on the phone can be a struggle, even a nightmare for those who stutter. The time pressure and being unable to see our listener often adds to our anxiety, which in turn can increase our stuttering.

Over the years, I’ve had my hiccups with the phone. For a long stretch, I can remember never answering the phone. I would always let the call go to voice mail, and I would return the call when I was ready. For some reason, I was (and still am) more comfortable when I initiate the call.

I’ve had my times when I re-record a message I have to leave on someone’s voice mail if I think there was a stuttered word in my message. And I’ve re-recorded my own personal greeting on my voice mail numerous times until I got it “perfect.”

These days, on my voice mail, I allow a repetition so that I’ve left a cue to callers that I stutter.

At work, I often have to pitch in and answer the main phone lines in the office. For the most part, I am alright with it. I always say the same greeting and always stutter the same way when I say, “May I he-he-help you?” Usually, I’m fine with that. Sometimes I find myself wincing, wishing I could say it without stuttering.

I covered the phones for a bit on Friday. When I answered in my usual way, the caller immediately said “Hi Pam.” I winced. I felt like she recognized my stuttering and therefore knew right away it was me.

Now, maybe that wasn’t true at all. Maybe she just recognized my voice (although I don’t think so, as I don’t answer the phones often enough to have my voice recognized.) Whatever was the case, I felt uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. Which bothers me, because I shouldn’t be feeling embarrassment anymore because of my stuttering. But I do.

What about you? Is the phone (still) difficult for you? Or have you found a way to just take it in stride?

I had the recent privilege to read my friend Daniele Rossi’s first book, Stuttering is Cool: A Guide to Stuttering in a Fast-Talking World.

Rossi’s book can be purchased at his Etsy shop. If you enjoy reading books about stuttering, I encourage you to pick this one up. It is a light, easy read full of surprises.

I first met Daniele through the stuttering community on Twitter, and later learned of his website Stuttering is Cool. His website houses his podcast of the same name, and 101 links about stuttering.

A book seems a natural extension of Rossi’s podcast and website. His premise is that stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of and it is possible to stutter with confidence.

So, does he convey the same premise in the written book?

Answer: A resounding YES. The book is a fun, inspiring look at managing stuttering. Daniele infuses humor throughout. He uses his own comics to illustrate the book, and puts comments in the margins so you sometimes have to turn the book upside down and around in order to read it.

He also uses a genius page numbering system that once again conveys the humor that can be found with stuttering.

Daniele recounts his own personal experiences with stuttering and shares how he went from being fearful of stuttering and trying to hide it at all costs to now embracing stuttering in his life.

Daniele shares benefits of stuttering, as well as tools and “secret weapons” that a person can use to stutter with more confidence. He also shares a piece about change and how important it is to include family and friends on your stuttering journey, especially as you make key changes about acceptance.

I really enjoyed this book. I read several sections more than once and found myself nodding and saying “uh huh” as parts resonated with me. And of course I enjoyed being mentioned and having my thoughts about change included in such a positive, inspiring book.

As I previously mentioned, if you enjoy reading books about stuttering, get this one and add it to your library. It’s well worth it and will have you smiling about stuttering.

Kudos to you Daniele for a great first book! Congratulations!

Do you stutter more around the holidays? The Christmas holidays can be very stressful and tiring. People who stutter may find that their stuttering increases or is more noticeable around this time of year.

The holidays are often filled with increased socializing, office parties and gatherings with family members that you might only see once a year. It can be one thing for your family to know you stutter – but it can be another thing to actually stutter openly with family you don’t see regularly.

It can be daunting to initiate small talk at holiday gatherings or figure out when to jump into a conversation. And if you’re meeting people for the first time, like at holiday networking events, introducing yourself may be stressful. As we know, our names can be the toughest thing to say for some people who stutter.

I generally find that my stuttering is more noticeable at this time of year. The days are shorter, I get less sleep and it often feels very fast paced and frenzied. I stutter more when I’m tired and I’m very aware of that.

What about you? Do the winter holidays impact your stuttering one way or another? Is there anything you do to lessen the stress of stuttering around the holidays?

I have spent a lot of valuable time in my life trying to be perfect. About lots of things – I always tried to be perfect in school, never satisfied unless I had a perfect score on a test or essay.

I’ve tried to be perfect on work assignments – spending time doing things over and over to ensure perfection, often doing work tasks at home during my free time in order to achieve the perfection I thought I had to have.

And I spent a lot of time trying to be perfectly fluent with my speech. I would switch words, rehearse over and over and avoid speaking situations where I feared I would stutter and not be able to cover it up.

Finally, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve come to accept my imperfections and actually embrace them. My imperfections are what make me uniquely me. I know longer try so hard to be fluent – I am what I am and if people don’t like it, that’s their loss.

There’s been a lot of talk in some of the Facebook stuttering groups about covert vs. overt stuttering. For me, covert always had to do with me thinking I had to be perfect. I’ve let that go, and openly stutter at work and socially. Nothing horrible has happened and people just accept me for who I am.

I’m glad that I have accepted me for who I am, because nobody’s perfect in this world.

How many of you stutter professionally? That is, stutter on the job, openly without trying to hide it? I do!

It’s not always easy, as sometimes it feels awkward to allow myself to be so vulnerable in the workplace.

There used to be a time when I would switch words when I got into a block or stuttering moment. Or I would cough or clear my throat, anything to deflect attention away from that vulnerable moment.

Now, I just stay with it and allow myself to stutter, even when a tiny bit of embarrassment creeps in. I think that’s what I have the hardest time with – when I feel a flush of color to my necks and cheeks. I don’t actually feel embarrassed, but may LOOK embarrassed when that happens.

Has anybody had that happen? How does it make you feel? Are you OK with stuttering at work?

From the Free Online Dictionary, the meaning of the word interrupt and it’s different forms.

in·ter·rupt
(nt-rpt)

v.  in·ter·rupt·ed, in·ter·rupt·ing, in·ter·rupts

v.tr.

1. To break the continuity or uniformity of: Rain interrupted our baseball game.
2. To hinder or stop the action or discourse of (someone) by breaking in on: The baby interrupted me while I was on the phone.

I think about the times I get interrupted. In the middle of a block, someone interrupts and fills in the word they think I was going to say. I sometimes feel disrespected when that happens.

I also think about how many times I actually interrupt another person who stutters, as it’s not always easy to tell when a person who stutters is done speaking or if they are in the middle of a block. It seems to happen a lot when I am chatting with someone over Skype for the podcast.

I usually wind up just apologizing and acknowledging that sometimes it just hard to gauge if the person is done speaking or indeed in a block.

Sometimes it’s hard to establish a rhythm between two people who stutter who are engaged in good conversation and good blocks.

Has it happened to you, that you accidentally interrupt someone who stutters while they’re in a block? How does it make you feel?

I am so lucky! I had the opportunity to talk to middle school kids on Friday about stuttering. I was invited to Tamarac Middle School to talk to their 6th, 7th and 8th grades about stuttering, as it ties in to their character education theme of the month – compassion.

I spoke at this same school 5 years ago and the coordinator looked me up and asked if I’d be willing to come back. I was thrilled and said yes immediately.

I taught the kids about what stuttering is and isn’t, we discussed myths and I showed them some famous people who stutter. I also had several activities for the kids to try, so they could experience first hand what stuttering feels like.

I had grapefruits and asked several young volunteers to come up and try to hide a grapefruit somewhere on their person where it wouldn’t show. This was to simulate covert stuttering.

I had Chinese finger traps that the kids used to experience getting stuck. We also did a writing exercise where several volunteers were told to write their name over and over as perfectly as they could. Then a kid would poke and jiggle their writing arm, making them mess up. This simulated knowing what we want to say but having something interfere.

I also had some volunteers take a deep breath, hold it and try to say their name. Laughs erupted when the kids squeaked out their name. The volunteers told us how their chest and throat hurt and how they felt they were running out of breath.

The kids asked great questions and competed with each other to get chosen to volunteer. At the conclusion of each talk (I gave three separate presentations) we ended with a stuttering contest and then talked about how learning about stuttering builds empathy and compassion.

It was a great experience. I am so lucky.

A great blog piece came out last week, written by Madeline Wahl  for The Huffington Post. Her piece is called “What It Actually Feels Like To Stutter.”

She uses such descriptive language to nail the feelings we have during stuttering moments. She describes stuttering as “dashing to make a connecting flight but being too late.” And “making it to the subway just to have the doors close in your face.”

She describes fluent conversation as a back and forth volleyball match, with the words flowing just right, until an “out-of-bounds” is called when stuttering emerges.

Wahl’s descriptive language and imagery perfectly describes those stuttering moments where we feel helpless and out of control.

The article has been shared numerous times in the stuttering community via social media posts, garnering lots of “likes” and comments.

Wahl writes that over time she has come to terms with her stuttering. She knows she is going to stutter every day. Yet she doesn’t focus on acceptance. She focuses on the moments when she is able to execute her words fluently.

She writes about “the exhilarating, skydiving-through-the-air moments (that) occur whenever (she) says a sentence without stuttering.” She practices tongue twisters in front of a mirror in order to perfect her speech and not stutter.

I don’t think she has really come to terms with her stuttering if she is celebrating her fluent moments and endlessly practicing to not stutter.

I would have liked to see her say something about acceptance.

What do you think?


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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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