Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘kids who stutter

No words needed for this one – watch this truly inspiring video of a dad talking about what he learned at the recent National Stuttering Association 2014 conference.

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!

I am thrilled to be featured this week on my friend Daniele’s site, Stuttering is Cool. Daniele is working on a book offering advice and coping strategies for people who stutter. He is aiming for a Spring 2014 release of his book.

Daniele interviews me on who I am, what I do, my stuttering history and what advice I offer to kids who stutter. Check it out HERE!

Check out the drawing of me Daniele has done. He has done caricatures of people in the stuttering community that will be included in his book.

Very cool!

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!

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.

There was some discussion on one of the stuttering email groups about this young man’s choice to deliver a rap for his graduation speech.

A comment laments the fact that this kid, Colin, might give the impression to those that don’t stutter that he had no choice but to use a “trick” to deliver his graduation speech.

I applaud Colin’s very choice to take a risk and be innovative. It shows me that he did not let his stutter prevent him from participating in his graduation ceremony.

I saw this question posted on Yahoo Answers by a young girl who was looking for alternatives she could try to help with her stuttering.

I am a 15 year old girl who stutters. Lately, I have been letting it get the best of me. Last year, I didn’t care who thought I was weird if I stuttered and if someone did, than they are an idiot. But now that I am in high school, I have been figuring out that people don’t want to be friends with someone who is different…if you understand what I mean. The sad thing is though, I understand them and frankly agree (in my 3rd person world). I took speech therapy for 13 years and it has had no effect. I was wondering if there is anything different than the speech easy and therapy? (Both haven’t worked in the slightest.) I have lost most of my friends because I am afraid to talk to them now… Katie

A couple of people recommended this young girl try practicing reading out loud, singing, or Reiki.

I posted a response to her on the Yahoo site. Rather than just reprint what I posted, (which is not one of the above ideas) I wondered what some of you might suggest to her!

Please leave comments or give some ideas for this 15-year old. What have you learned about making room for your stuttering that might help Katie?

I will try to post some of these to her original question on Yahoo in the hopes that she will see them, or link over here so she can see your comments!

Kudos to my young friend, Philip Garber, who is featured in this New York Times article today, A Stutterer Faces Resistance, From the Front of the Class.

I know Philip, who is 16 years old, from the NSA. I have known him for a couple of years, so have had the opportunity to see him “grow up” as a young person with a profound stutter.

I also know Philip’s mom, Marin, who is mentioned in the article. I got to spend more time getting to know Marin at this year’s NSA conference in Ft Worth, Texas. We ran into each other at the airport on the way to Texas (!), and hung out quite a bit, sharing some meals together.

When this discouraging incident happened with Philip last month, Marin emailed me and asked my opinion of how Philip might handle the matter. We bantered a few thoughts back and forth, but ultimately Philip decided how it would be handled. He is quite skilled at self-advocacy.

I suggested that Philip should do a presentation to the faculty on stuttering awareness, and am pleased that he IS going to do this at some point.

Please take the time to read this article and the many comments (355 the last I saw!) The reactions are mixed.

What do you think? Do you think Philip was discriminated against? Do you think that the professor was reasonable in asking that Philip not speak in class? Is the article too one-sided? What lessons can be learned from this scenario?

Here’s a video that Philip did last year to commemorate International Stuttering Awareness Day, which is October 22. Hard to remember he is only a kid!

Philip Garber is such an inspirational young man. He wrote this poem, Paradox of Feelings, and shared it at the closing ceremony of the NSA 2011 Conference in Ft Worth, Texas. He concludes with stating simply, “I am so happy I stutter.”

Philip and his mom, Marin, were two of the first people I saw during my recent journey to The Lone Star state. Turns out, Philip, his mom, and another inspirational young man, Jared Gilman,and I were all on the same flight from Newark, NJ to Dallas-Ft Worth, Texas.

I recognized Philip right away in the airport, due to his hat. That’s why I offer my “hat’s off” to Philip in this video clip. I am so glad I captured this. (He gave me permission to post here!)

Episode 60 features Val Ostergaard, who hails from Cary, Illinois, which is northwest of Chicago. Val is 25 years old, graduated in May with her Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Illinois State University and will start a job as a school therapist in September.

This was a bit of a surprise to Val and her mom, as she always thought she was going to be a nurse. In her first year in college, she took an introduction to speech pathology course, and knew then that she was supposed to be a speech therapist.

Val is one of the original FRIENDS kids. She went to her first FRIENDS conference with her family when she was 13 years old.Val recalls being nervous and not really wanting to go, but her private therapist (Kristin Chmela) had recommended it and Val’s mom really wanted to go. The first conferences were only with 20 people and the evening activities were at someone’s home for a pool party.

Listen in as Val shares the unique perspective of having grown up with FRIENDS and seeing the organization grow and evolve into the national association it is now. Val shares how one year she and her brother actually chose a FRIENDS conference and gave up a promised trip to Disney World.

Val also shares how that same early conference in D.C. did not yet have a teen room for the kids to hang out together. She recalls all of the teens, girls and boys, hanging out in a large women’s bathroom at night, talking and playing card games.

We also discuss Val’s early speech therapy (a lot of it!), family involvement, sibling experience, courage, fears and worries about judgement.

I met Val at my first FRIENDS convention in 2008, and she has been an inspiration. Feel free to leave comments for Val or Pam. Feedback is a gift!

The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

Last week I talked with a young friend of mine who asked, “Pam, does it ever get much better? Or is it always going to be like this?” He referred to his severe stutter and how hard it is for him to communicate.

He has severe blocks and is very self-conscious. He feels people should not be “subjected” to listening to him. He doesn’t mind when people finish sentences for him. He finds it a relief.

He knows I disagree with him on this. I have told him that most people will be understanding and patient once they know he stutters. He says I really don’t know what its like for him, since I communicate easily. He believes he cannot be clearly understood and its not fair to make people listen to him.

When my friend asked me if things ever get easier, I gave him the optimistic answer. Even though I cannot relate to a severe stutter, I feel confident that with the passing of time and life experiences, that things will get better for him. At least in the sense that he may likely reach a point where he is not always so self-conscious.

In a way, it seemed he was asking me to try and predict the future, which of course none of us can. But those of us who live with stuttering, no matter the severity, know it deeply affects our lives. I have heard many people say it does get easier as we mature and are better equipped to let things roll off our backs.

In my case, things became easier after making the conscious decision to stop hiding and just stutter openly.

Yesterday, in a workshop about stuttering, a young mom was there to find out as much about stuttering as she could. Her four year old son has been stuttering severely since age 2. Her pediatrican has advised her he can still “outgrow it”, but she has him in therapy already. She is looking at other options, as she feels what he is currently doing with a speech therapist is not really benefitting her son.

She wants to learn as much as possible so that she can best support her son. At our workshop (Let’s Talk About Stuttering, to mark National Stuttering Awareness Week), this mom mentioned that she had never met an adult who stutters, so she was so glad to be with a group of about 10 of us. She wanted to get a sense of what life might hold in store for her child if he continues to stutter.

She mentioned more than once that seeing him struggle now, she keeps trying to “fast forward” to his future to imagine what it might be like for him when he starts college or goes to work. She appreciated hearing adults who stutter talk about feelings, worries and our successes. Two young men who are in college were in the group, and their confidence really filled this mom with hope.

She also mentioned it was so good to see and hear women who stutter. She said in all of her reading and research, she has learned about the predominance of men and boys who stutter. So she was glad to talk with women who stutter as well.

Have you ever tried to fast forward and imagine that life with a stutter might be easier than it is now? Do you agree with what I told my young friend that things will likely get easier for him as he matures and becomes less self-conscious?

And what about parents? Is it natural for parents to try and fast-forward and visualize their child’s life 10 or 20 years out? We gave this mom information about FRIENDS and the local NSA chapter leader also gave general information about support available through the National Stuttering Association.

Today’s post is from a special guest writer, who has inspired me with her words and courage. The following was written by Amanda Schott.

(Amanda gave me permission to slightly edit her piece for length. This article will also be printed in the next issue of the FRIENDS newsletter, Reaching Out. Amanda’s mom also gave consent for her piece to be published here!)

Stuttering is a setback that affects me every day of my life. Last year, when I was in eighth grade, I began to stutter. It happened overnight. There wasn’t any gradual thing where I did it once or twice and then it grew to a full-on problem. It hit me suddenly, and since I had never stuttered before, people noticed it big time.

I’m Amanda, a fifteen year old with a bubbly personality and an awesome sense of humor. But most people don’t see me that way. They only see the tourettes, ADHD, depression, and the stutter. They see a twitch that can’t control her emotions and acts like a two year old sometimes. I’m innocent and wise at the same time. Through it all, I grin and bear it, but the insults hurt all the same whether I show it or not.

My little brother and sister have both been through speech therapy for a couple years. They both went to two preschools at once for their speech and continued therapy in elementary school. It was a classic case for kids their age: talking too fast and dropping sounds mostly. So, when they learned to slow down and enunciate, they graduated from the speech class and talk fine.  Neither of them have ever had a stutter.

I talked to my siblings’ speech therapist, and she said that there was no way I just got a stutter out of the blue. I did, though, and now I still have it a year later. I don’t stutter sounds, really, but I repeat words, especially short ones like ‘its’. ‘I think it’s, it’s’ it’s’ (long pause while I grit my teeth and force the next word out) ‘it’s because I…’ is something I do all the time.

‘Hey Amanda, do you st-st-stutter?’ I hear CONSTANTLY. What’s sad is that I get that from my friends who know that I don’t even stutter like that!

I found out about an organization for teens who stutter while I was just searching the internet for anything that could help. I searched for ‘teens who stutter’ and clicked on a random link. It led me to the FRIENDS website and I saw there was a mentoring program for kids and teens. I printed the application and filled it out, thinking it could be good for me to be able to meet other kids like me.

I got an email from Gracie not too long later. I could tell right away that we would be amazing friends.  We email almost every day and talk about everything from stuttering to boy problems. We haven’t gotten around to calling each other because she doesn’t like talking on the phone. I want to talk her into it and show her that some people don’t care whether she stutters or not.

Talking to Gracie is so fun and I’m lucky to have her. We support each other and we’ve gotten really close. It’s helped a lot to have someone to talk to who understands what I’m going through and can relate to what I’m saying. Seeing a new email from Gracie always makes me smile and brightens my day.

I started to lose my passion for speaking when I got my stutter.  I got quieter, I held things inside that I wanted to say because I was afraid it wouldn’t come out right, I even avoided people that I talk more around! My best friend Chrissy was hurt because I didn’t talk to her for a while, and it wasn’t good at all. Now that I know a bit about stuttering, I’m more confident about it.

The most frustrating part of my stutter is when people finish my sentences! I hate that so much! It makes me feel bad to say anything though, because my friends are ‘just trying to help’, but it makes me feel incompetent when I can’t even talk for myself. So I decided to tell them all to stop. Now, whenever I can’t say something, I make a joke, like, ‘Hang on! I’ll get this!’ or I try to rephrase what I was going to say. I also remind my friends that ‘I can speak for myself if you’ll let me’ in nice tones.

It also bothers me when people interrupt me while I talk. I’m very talkative and I like to tell stories, but if I stutter and stop for a second, my friends will just launch into another story when I’m not done with mine. I’ve learned this is the line I don’t like having crossed, so I remind them ‘That was rude’. I still try to be humorous about it, but I can’t stand it when people are rude to others who are talking.

Learning how to tell people about the twitching? Not as easy at all. Usually, it happens just by people seeing me twitch in class or something, they’ll look at me funny, and I just say, ‘Sorry. I have tourettes. I can’t control it.’ When kids know about it, they’re less likely to judge me on what I do. I tell a lot of people now, and I get less stares and weird looks because they understand.

The other day, I was sitting in English class, and two of my classmates were sitting behind me when I had a huge shoulder twitch. I heard one tell the other, “Don’t say anything. She has tourettes. She can’t control it.” Then I heard, “But it’s so freaky!” and the first boy stood up for me. “How would you like it? Leave her alone.” Just that simple gesture helped me more than that boy will ever know.

I love the Friend’s mentoring program. I have a few friends who stutter and I told them about it, and they want to sign up too. Because despite all having stutters, we have different stutters and different problems to face. Having good friends to help me through my troubles is invaluable to me and I wouldn’t trade them, even if it meant losing my stutter forever.

If you were inspired by Amanda, please leave a comment. I will make sure she sees any feedback left for her. Amanda, you ROCK!

Episode 50  features Jenny who hails from Santa Clarita, California. Jenny and her husband are the proud parents of two boys, Matthew and Nathan, with a third boy arriving in July. Congratulations to all!

Congratulations also to “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories”, for this milestone 50th episode. I am proud to be part of this magical telling of stories that have just been waiting to be heard.

Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, Jenny was pursuing her doctorate in higher education at UCLA. She was researching what impact choosing two year community colleges before transferring into four year schools might have on the typical college student.

Jenny jokes that she had vowed that she would not be one of those women who did not complete her educational goals because of pregnancy, but so far, parenting has kept her busy enough to not finish the PhD yet!

Listen in as we talk about acceptance, guilt and shame, and what it has been like for Jenny’s son Matthew, who is 9 years old and also stutters.

Matthew was having a hard time with bullying and teasing by peers, which ultimately helped Jenny begin to resolve her own acceptance issues with being a woman who stutters.

Jenny found a great speech therapist for Matthew, who has also met two other kids his age who stutter. Jenny herself has recently begun attending the NSA chapter in San Fernando Valley and hopes to attend her first NSA conference herself in 2012.

Credit for the podcast safe music clip used in this episode goes to DanoSongs.

As always, feel free to leave feedback for either Jenny or me. We’d love to hear your thoughts on being a woman who stutters who also has a child who stutters.


I had a great experience yesterday at my school that I wanted, well needed, to share. Two weeks ago I did a workshop at a library called “An Un-Royal Talk About Stuttering: Lessons from The King’s Speech”. It was free and open to the community and we had close to 50 people there. One of them present was a colleague of mine, who had seen the movie, knew I stuttered and was really interested in learning more. She also brought her mother.

She came to me the next day and asked if I would do a similar presentation to the Adult LPN classes, one today and the other one, in a more remote location, next week. She felt students preparing to work in the medical field could benefit from hearing this information from someone who lives it every day. I was nervous, but agreed.

I changed the presentation slightly to adapt to a nursing student’s point of view but planned to keep it close to what I had already done, so I didn’t have more work to do.

One of the first things I started with was the question how many in the class had seen the movie! ZERO! These are all working adults with families who take a demanding and intensive LPN course in 10 months and have little time to breathe, let alone watch a movie.

 So I quickly changed my focus, and started telling MY story, hoping they wouldn’t be bored to tears. I shared about my covert years, why I chose that, the hidden feelings of shame and my reluctance to ever show emotion and vulnerability, in addition to stuttering publicly. I shared how I got fired, there was a collective gasp, they wanted to know wasn’t that illegal, etc. I started getting emotional, and one of the teachers brought me the Kleenex box!

Then I shared how my family had NEVER talked with me, or about stuttering, so it was always hard to talk about. I talked about how profoundly my life changed when I was fired and how I decided I wasn’t going to pretend anymore. I was going to let ME out.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room. I noticed and heard a few sniffles. At one point, I asked if anyone knew anyone who stutters, or does anyone stutter. One young woman in her 20′s raised her hand – she said , “I stutter” with tears streaming down her face.

I asked if her class knew, they were all looking now, and she said no, not until that moment. Her classmates then applauded. One girl said, “I thought so, but you are always so quiet, I wasn’t sure”. Heads were nodding and the girl who had disclosed smiled and looked OK.

I started talking about what stuttering is and what it isn’t, and the teacher in the room asked if it drove me insane if people finished my words for me. I smiled and said yes, she said, that as nurses, they are inclined to just want to help.

I then described the different ways stuttering can manifest, and when I got to sometimes people will use lots of filler words, like uhm, and that I used to do that, another hand went up, and a woman said, “OMG, that’s exactly what my 14-year-old son does, all the time. Maybe he stutters. I keep telling him to slow down, take a deep breath”, and she asked what I thought of that. I smiled and said that’s generally not helpful.

She looked concerned and asked out loud, “have I been making it worse for him?” and I said “if we could, we would”. She said she was going to talk to her child about it. She whispered “thank you” to me.

Towards the end, we were running out of time. We had not talked about the movie at all. I showed 1 minute of the 2 minute trailer. They got it. I then asked them if they had ever heard of Porky Pig, and what was he known for. They all knew. They stayed 10 minutes over, which the teachers told me they NEVER do. And they gave a huge applause at the end.

Several came up to me privately, and one more admitted she stutters and is dyslexic but has not told anyone, and that she “got me”. She said she has felt such a huge disconnect, but felt connected with my story as soon as I started telling it. She started crying as we spoke privately and she said she never heard anything this courageous as a teacher standing up in her school telling this story. She kept saying over and over “I got you.”

Who would have thought? 40 students in this Adult class, 2 stutter and one has a child who stutters.

This was a WOW moment for me and I wanted to share it!

I had an interesting conversation Sunday with a friend. She wondered out loud what will happen when the attention surrounding “The King’s Speech” dies down and mainstream forgets about the movie. They will, you know.

By the end of the year, people who don’t stutter won’t even remember the movie. Attention will shift to the slew of movies that are always released at the end of the year, just in time for Academy Award buzz.

My friend mentioned that someone told her that right now, the movie almost makes it “cool to stutter”. A year from now, we will still have to worry about sending the message that it is “OK to stutter”.

In this fast paced world, people’s attentions spans are about as long as my pinkie-finger. We move from one thing to the next at lightening speed. I even have trouble these days recalling what I said an hour ago, unless I write it down. And then I can’t always even read my hand-writing any more. And speech recognition software doesn’t work well if you stutter! I tried it years ago!

So what do we do? How do we keep a reasonable focus on stuttering and remind the world that we are here, competent and able?

Another friend posted on Face book that the DVD and Blue Ray for “The King’s Speech” will be available on April 29, 2011. Who needs to know that? Who will buy the DVD? My bet is that most sales will be to us – people who stutter and people who care about people who stutter.

So we will need to continue educating others, raising awareness, talking about stuttering openly and advocating for ourselves. That includes keeping our blogs and podcasts alive and current, encouraging people who stutter to step out from behind the shadows and do everything we can to eliminate bullying of kids who stutter and workplace discrimination of adults who stutter.

That stuff will still happen. Kids will be teased and adults will be passed over for opportunities because people just don’t understand something outside of their “own world”  realm.

Reminds me of a comment I saw posted on one of the stuttering email groups a few months ago. A woman asked, “are there any women who stutter in high power, visible,management positions?” Like CEO or Executive Director of known businesses?

We hear about Jack Welch of GE (20 minutes from me) and John Stoessel of 20-20 News (but he records his broadcasts and edits out stuttering). And here in my community, we have a male Mayor who stutters. But where are the women who stutter?

That’s why we will still need to keep talking and making our voices heard long after this movie is forgotten. For the kids who come behind us, and for the women who stutter openly that are not visible in those high level positions.

I recently met a woman who stutters who is her company’s Chief Branding Officer and the company is very successful. Hopefully, we will hear her story soon.

But in the meantime, we can’t complacently ride the coat tails of this movie. We who stutter every day and make room for it in our lives will have to be stronger and louder than ever to keep teaching the world that we are OK and what we have to say is important.

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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