Make Room For The Stuttering

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It’s that time of year when it’s back to school or college. For young people who stutter, this can be a tough time, as it means meeting new people and teachers and having to introduce yourself, which can be very difficult for people who stutter.

Many people who stutter have trouble saying their own name, which of course results in often dumb comments by listeners, like the famous, “did you forget your name?” That’s happened to me as an adult, and it’s hard to take, so for kids and teens who stutter, it can be particularly tough.

I know a lot of young people who stutter who have learned how to self advocate and talk to their teachers about their stuttering, what it is and what the young person needs from his/her teacher in order to be their most successful.

I heard today from the mom of one of these great kids who is starting high school this year. Transitioning to high school is tough enough but add stuttering to the mix and it can be a terrible experience for kids who stutter. Fear, embarrassment and avoidance can become the norm unless the kid knows good self-advocacy skills.

My young friend wrote a letter to her teachers and met with the vice principal of her new high school to let him know she stutters, what will make things easier for her throughout the year and to ask his support in getting her letter to her teachers. The letter basically states, “Hey, I’m Anna and I stutter” and goes on to state what stuttering is and how she and her teachers can work together to ensure Anna has a positive and productive year.

I am so proud to know this kid. Being able to self-advocate is a skill we all need in order to successfully navigate through life. And this kid is 14.

Good for her.

What are you doing to get ready for back to school or college? Not even as a student – are you an adult who stutters who works in education and maybe tries to hide your stuttering? We can all learn from Anna!


Episode 108 features Roisin McManus who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Roisin works as a Registered Nurse in a Manhattan Emergency Room and is pursuing her master’s degree to become a Nurse Practitioner.

Roisin also stays busy with her involvement in the stuttering community and the stuttering support group she helps lead in Brooklyn.

Listen in to a robust conversation about managing stuttering and the emotions around stuttering, being confident in the workplace, the importance of support and how shame can sneak in when we least expect it.

We also talk about the workshop Roisin helped with at least month’s NSA conference on authentic stuttering, and the distinction between authentic stuttering and authenticity and the price we sometimes pay for both.

Roisin also shares about what it means for her to want to be witness to her own stuttering. We have a meaningful discussion about how important that is.

This was a great, wide open, honest conversation with a woman who talks a lot about stuttering, as she is also a co-host on the Stuttertalk podcast. I was thrilled to have Roisin as a guest, as we’d been trying forever to make this happen. I am glad it did – it was worth the wait.

Music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

I participated in a discussion this week in one of the stuttering groups about how we react when we are offended. Specifically, someone started a thread about how thick-skinned we are when it comes to negative reactions to our stuttering.

We can’t account for another person’s ignorance, stupidity or callousness, but we have a choice as to how we act or react.

Do we get defensive, defiant or confrontational? Or do we take offensive remarks and behavior in stride and take an opportunity to educate folks about something they may know nothing about?

In that discussion, I shared that I “choose my battles” wisely. If a stranger mocks or laughs at me, and I’m likely not to see that person ever again, I probably will not say anything and just let it go.

But if someone I know makes fun of my speech, or someone I know I’ll see again, then I may seize the opportunity to educate and raise awareness. But that does require a thick skin and right motive.

In the past, when someone has been rude or hurtful, I would get very upset, tear up and often be too embarrassed to say anything. As I’ve become more comfortable with my stuttering, I have found the courage to disclose that I stutter and that their comment or behavior offended me.

I try not to disclose just so that someone feels bad and apologizes profusely, but will admit on more than one occasion I didn’t mind seeing the person squirm in embarrassment.

I remember the time when I was signing up for a new job and an administrative assistant laughed at me during conversation. At first, I didn’t say anything, thinking I must have misunderstood. But when it happened a second time while I was still speaking, I knew I had to say something.

I told her I stutter, and she immediately looked embarrassed and apologized profusely. She even said she never would have reacted like she did had she known I stuttered. We finished our business and before I left, she apologized again. I believe I educated her that day about stuttering and she may have become just a bit more tolerant and patient.

How do you react when someone offends you, whether intentional or not?

I am excited to be heading off to Scottsdale, Arizona in a few days for the 30th Annual National Stuttering Association conference. There will likely be over 700 people in attendance, including hundreds of us who stutter, as well as family, friends and professionals in the field.

There are many educational and empowering workshops planned, as well as social activities to encourage talking and interaction between newcomers and veterans alike.

It promises to be a hot time – literally! Parts of the southwest, Arizona included, are experiencing record-breaking heat right now, and temps are expected to be well above 100 degrees (F) for the 5 days I will be there.

I am excited to see friends and make new friends. Like many of us, this is a special time of year for me. It is where stuttering is OK, and people who stutter are in the majority, which is a rarity. Restaurants, bars and shops will get to listen closely to stuttering as we invade AZ.

I look forward to reporting on this blog some of the highlights of the workshops, as I have done for the past several years.

I am also looking forward to relaxing and having some FUN.

I want to share a good stuttering experience I had this week.

On Saturday, I participated in a Block Party held in my community and represented the National Stuttering Association at an information table. It was a great day – the weather cooperated and it was warm, which brought a lot of people out.

I had many visitors to my table and delighted in being able to share information about stuttering, both to those who did not know much about it and to several who did.

One of the first visitors to my table was 6-year-old Charlie who stutters. He was with his uncle. We talked about stuttering and I gave the uncle some resource material. I gave Charlie a pin, a wrist band and a chinese finger trap, which illustrates what it’s like to get stuck in a stuttering block.

By the end of our brief conversation, Charlie was stuttering like a rockstar and grinning from ear to ear.

I also met 9-year-old Taylor who also stutters. He shared with me the 3 ways he stutters – repetitions, stretches and blocks. He knew blocking very well and schooled me on it. He too left the table with a big grin.

Later in the day, the city mayor came over and introduced himself and we chatted a bit. The mayor shared that he had stuttered as a kid, which led him to be quiet. He said, “when you’re quiet, you don’t stutter.” He said his stuttering stopped when he was in his teens.

He also asked me if I knew the former mayor of another city near us, who stutters. I did and we talked about our admiration for his willingness to be vulnerable every day in his public speaking. He is no longer the mayor, but holds a different role in state government.

It was a great day to raise awareness and educate about stuttering. The two little guys who openly stuttered made my day!

Several years ago I would never have imagined that I could be out in public willingly talking about stuttering, while stuttering, just to educate others. I have grown so much in my journey.

I encourage all of you to take opportunities when you can to participate in community events and volunteer to be an ambassador for stuttering. You will reap the rewards, I promise you.


Episode 103 features Rachel McCullough, who hails from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Rachel works in government with law enforcement.

Rachel wrote an article called “When Police Encounter Persons Who Stutter,” which was published in her agency’s newsletter and was also picked up by The Stuttering Foundation. She was recognized with a first place journalism award from The Stuttering Foundation for her piece.

Rachel is also a musician, sharing that “music for me is like breathing.” Rachel is a singer-songwriter and plays guitar for the band Black Cat Habitat.

Listen in as we have a great conversation about disclosure and advertising, and how Rachel first learned about covert stuttering at her first full National Stuttering Association conference in Cleveland in 2010.

We also chat about pretending to be fluent, how the only thing permanent with stuttering is that it is constantly changing, stuttering in the workplace and how Rachel is also known as Debra.

Feel free to leave comments or questions for Rachel, as we barely scratched the surface of her great story. Or just let her know what a great job she did. Remember, feedback is a gift.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to DanoSongs.

Thursday night, I had the opportunity and privilege to participate in a Google Hangout panel that was streamed live on YouTube. How cool is that?

For National Stuttering Awareness Week 2013, a diverse panel discussed stuttering, feelings and myths in an effort to educate stutterers and non-stutterers about the daily reality of living with stuttering.

Several countries were represented, as well as a non-stutterer. Hearing her perspective was great!

I’m the one that’s hard to see, due to poor lighting on my end. However, seeing us really wasn’t the point – its hearing us talk about stuttering that is really important.

All of us will be posting this video on our respective social media platforms. Take a look and listen. We rattle off some real gems!

It’s amazing to see how many people who stutter are using social media to bolster their confidence and speaking skills.

The rise of Facebook groups for the stuttering community has really spurred people to take and create more opportunities to share a little about themselves in ways that were previously off-limits.

This evening, I strolled over to Stuttering Arena (on Facebook – a closed group with over 14oo members!) and watched several videos of people introducing themselves and stuttering openly on camera. This trend has been going on for months, but I usually don’t have time to watch and listen to more than one or two.

I think it’s amazing that people are taking these risks to open up and share.

It takes a lot of courage to record yourself stuttering and posting it publicly on a social media site.

Kudos to those of you doing so! If you haven’t, would you consider it?

It’s known that most people who stutter don’t stutter when they sing. The brain uses different areas for speech production and singing.

So it was a bit offensive when judges on American Idol told a young man who stutters after singing beautifully during his audition that he should just sing all of the time. Can you imagine singing all the time in everyday communication? Talk about weird and drawing attention to yourself.

Part of that comment was ignorance. The American Idol judges likely haven’t encountered many people who stutter and understandably may not have known how to react. Another judge also finished the contestant’s words before he finished explaining what song he was going to sing. Most people who stutter, including myself, don’t like having their words finished for them.

The stuttering community is all abuzz because we have someone who stutters on national television competing in the popular singing competition. He is “representing!”

The non-stuttering community is all abuzz because he doesn’t stutter when singing and it’s thought to be so amazing.

I think the most important thing here, as shown below, is that Lazaro is stuttering openly and confidently while he pursues his dream. His confidence is what we should focus on, not that he can sing with out stuttering, like most of us can do.

Hopefully, Lazaro will go a long way in the competition so that the American Idol judges, and all the people watching, can learn more about differences. Listen to what he says in addition to how beautifully he sings.


Episode 97 features Chloe Whittaker, who hails from Covington, Washington (near Seattle.) Chloe is 19 years old, attends community college full-time and also works full-time as a veterinary assistant. Wow, talk about busy!

Speaking about her job, you can tell she really loves it, as she says she “helps to save lives.”

Chloe has been involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA) since she was eight years old. Finding support at such a young age was life changing for Chloe and her family. Listen as Chloe describes the impact the NSA has had on her life, as well as the four+ years she spent as a member of the Teen Advisory Council (TAC.)

We have a great conversation about the unpredictable nature of stuttering, the merits of advertising, the experience of blocking and what goes through our minds, and so much more.

I’m so glad to have had this chat with Chloe. She has such a positive and healthy attitude. Please feel free to leave comments or just let Chloe know what a great job she did. Feedback is a gift.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to DanoSongs.


Episode 96 features Kelsey Smith, who hails from Springfield, Illinois. Kelsey is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Kelsey will graduate in May 2013 with a history degree.

Kelsey loves to travel and is considering involvement with the Peace Corps.

We met in July in Tampa, FL at the National Stuttering Association (NSA) conference. It was Kelsey’s first conference. We talk about her experience as a first timer and how the conference helped her move towards acceptance.

Listen is as we also discuss interviews, phone calls versus face to face conversations, advertising and disclosing, and Kelsey’s recent public speaking success.

This was a great conversation. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions or just let Kelsey know what a great job she did. Remember, feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode, “Per Anima,” is credited to ccMixter.

1. If you are meeting someone new for the first time, and you are engaging in small talk that leads to sharing a little about yourself, consider mentioning that you stutter. An easy way is to say something like, “One of the really unique things about me is I stutter. If you don’t know much about stuttering, ask me, because I’m an expert.”

2. If you are doing a small or large group presentation to people you don’t know well, consider disclosing your stutter early on in your talk. Do it in such a way that you are very confident and matter-of-fact. Let people know that you are comfortable with it. You might say, “Oh, by the way, I stutter, so you may hear some repetitions or pauses. It’s nothing to worry about. I’m OK with my stuttering and I hope you will be too.”

3. Use humor. Try not to take yourself too seriously. If you find yourself talking with someone and you’re self-conscious of a stuttering moment, take some of the pressure off yourself. Consider saying something like, “I hate when that happens. My stuttering seems to be on autopilot today!” And then laugh! If your listener sees that you are comfortable enough to use humor, they will take the cue from you to be a comfortable listener. It’s also a good way to lessen any anxiety you may be feeling.

4. If someone makes fun of you – laughs, mimics, or says something hurtful – feel the “pain” for a moment and then say something. You might try, “maybe you didn’t realize it, but I stutter. This is how I talk. I didn’t like what you just said. Please don’t say it again.” Most people will feel bad and apologize. I always feel a little guilty when that happens, as I don’t purposely want to embarrass someone. But I find that many people really respect the courage it takes to address the fact that we were offended by their teasing or hurtful remark.

5. In a job interview, which most people who stutter think is highly stressful, consider mentioning stuttering as a strength. Yes, a strength! You can say, “I stutter, and because of that, I am an excellent listener, am always well prepared for any speaking engagement and I’m very compassionate, all valuable qualities in today’s workplace.”

Do you have any other ideas as to how to disclose your stuttering? Please share them – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What does the actual moment of stuttering feel like to you?

Yesterday in a training, we were talking about metaphors and the trainer was asking us to apply metaphors for things we were feeling.

We were then to dig deep to see if we could identify the feelings behind the metaphor we chose. No one volunteered, so I took a chance.

I shared that a common metaphor for me is that I often feel like I’ve fallen off a cliff and no one has even noticed. As this was a work training on change, everyone believed I was referring to a work situation. I was not. I was referring to how I sometimes feel when I get caught in a good stuttering block.

However, since it was change we were refferring to, I let the trainer dig deeper with me and allowed her to think it was a work issue. It could have been.

She asked how it feels when I fall off the cliff. I said it feels scary and helpless. She asked if there was anything that let me know I was about to fall of the cliff. I said anxiety usually triggered it.

She asked if I knew why I was falling. I said because I wasn’t in control. Everyone was believing this was a work situation. She asked what I could do to prevent the fall. I said I could talk to someone about how I feel before the anxiety tips me over the edge.

She asked what kept me from talking about the way I felt. I said it was fear of being laughed at. She asked who was my direct report. I told her the guys name – he was right in the room. She asked what could I do to feel comfortable talking with him.

I told her I felt comfortable talking with him – that wasn’t it. She kept pushing for me to dig. I didn’t want to admit I was talking about stuttering. She asked again what was I really afraid of, still thinking I was referring to work.

I finally surprised myself and said judgement. There, I had said it. I feel like I am falling off a cliff when blocking and I fear someone is negatively judging me.

But the metaphor surprisingly fit into a pretend work scenario too. I get anxious when I feel someone at work is judging me.

The trainer felt good that I had risked and shared and felt my colleagues had learned from my share. She encouraged us to dig deep when we are feeling the impact of change in our lives. And to use metaphors to help us dig deeper.

I thought long and hard after the training and was happy that I shared this metaphor that I often feel – even though I didn’t come out and directly say I was talking about stuttering. I didn’t have to – it still related to a general fear of judgement, which is a universal fear. We all want to be accepted and not seen as different from the norm.

What about you? How do you feel in the stuttering moment? Is there a metaphor you could use to describe that feeling?

Episode 94 is a special “monologue” version, where it’s just me, without a guest. Today, on International Stuttering Awareness Day, I offer my thoughts on a question I have pondered.

Are we, as a stuttering community, better off than we were before we had so many support and self-help resources available?

We can answer that two ways. From an individual perspective and from a larger perspective. I’m interested in knowing if you think the world, our little corner, is more knowledgeable about stuttering since there has been an increase in stuttering awareness over, say, the last 5 years.

Or are our awareness efforts only benefiting the stuttering community?

What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.

The music clip used in this episode is credited to ccMixter, where podcast safe, creative commons music can be found and freely used.

Episode 17 of the conversations with men who stutter features Robert Lucas, who hails from a small town in South Australia.

Robert worked for 26 years in the gas pipe lines industry. He had worked his way up to an Inspector, before retirement.

Robert shared how participating in engineering meetings was always tough for him. He dreaded introductions, and often manipulated others to attend and speak for him. He spent lots of time thinking about how he might manipulate others, including family. Manipulation is an interesting way to look at avoidance.

We talk about how Toastmasters and acting helped Robert become more comfortable and confident with his speech. He shares about the success he found by participating in the McGuire program.

We also enjoy quite a few laughs and talk about the importance of humor, expanding boundaries, advertising and reading other people’s minds.

It was a delight chatting with Robert. He has a terrific attitude and a wicked sense of humor. Please leave comments or questions. Feedback is a gift.

The music clip used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

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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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