Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘media coverage of stuttering

David Haas, from Syracuse, New York, gives a great talk about his experience with stuttering at TEDx Syracuse University 2014.

He gave me permission to share his talk here on the blog. Great job, David.

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:


This really needs no words – it’s a great short animated film that perfectly captures what stuttering is.

This past Saturday I had an appointment at a tax office. That’s right, talking taxes on a Saturday in September. Not the ideal way to spend a Saturday. And I was there for more than three hours.

She was doing most of the work and I was trying to act like I knew what she was talking about. We got to some small talk eventually and talked about school starting up again. I mentioned that once or twice a year I went into schools and talked to kids about differences and bullying and tolerance.

She mentioned that her own daughter had had a hard time in school because of being different. She shared a story about a classmate approaching her daughter and asking her to join in an activity. This woman remembers to this day how grateful she was to that kid for making her daughter feel included. She apologized for tearing up a little as she told me this story.

The woman heard me stutter a couple of times, and looked like she wanted to say something about it. I shared that I’ve stuttered since I was a young kid and its easier for me now as an adult. She said my stuttering wasn’t too noticeable until we started talking about it.

Then she asked me if I had seen the movie “The King’s Speech.” She went on to say how she saw it and loved it, and what did I think.

Then she commented: “Do people ask you if you’ve seen that movie just because you stutter?” I replied, “Yep!”

We then drifted back into the awful reality of talking taxes on a Saturday.

Do people ask you if you have seen stuttering related movies when you’ve been found out as a stutterer?

There were many great workshops and highlights at last weekend’s National Stuttering Association annual conference. Workshops were available on research, therapeutic approaches, social media and relationships.

There were two great keynote speakers, who both actually stutter. We heard from Trumain McBride of the NY Football Giants and Katherine Preston, who recently published a memoir about her journey with stuttering.

We also heard about Cameron Francek’s 100stutterproject and Morgan Lott shared his story about how thisisstuttering came to be.

We got what we needed from this conference. There were so many people who have brought positive attention to stuttering this year and many of them were at this conference all at the same time.

In years past, there has been disappointment that keynote speakers were often people who “used to stutter” and didn’t actually stutter when speaking to us. So this year was special, in that hundreds of stutterers got to hear inspiring speeches and stories from Trumain, Katherine, Cameron and Morgan, among others, who stuttered openly and with confidence.

We got what we needed. People who stutter – especially young people who stutter – need successful role models who actually stutter to help us normalize the experience.

We also heard stories from many others – at Open Mics and at The Stuttering Monologues.

The whole point of attending a stuttering conference is to learn and think and talk about stuttering.

We got what we needed.

Well, Lazaro Arabos made it through another round on American Idol this week. In fact, voters put him in the top three this week.

This came as a surprise, since Lazaro forgot some lyrics in his duet performance this week, just like he did in last week’s performance. And Jimmy Iovine, the show’s mentor, had predicted that Lazaro should be in the bottom two or voted off the show.

The judges thought Lazaro’s solo performance of “We Are The Champions” was a perfect song choice for him, as the song signals that Lazaro is a champion after defying the odds to sing so well despite his severe stutter.

But many critics are saying that Lazaro is getting through when he should not, and at the expense of much better singers.

Do you think Lazaro is getting the sympathy vote? Do you think people are voting for him just because he stutters? To make a statement that finally, someone with a disability, can get this far?

I have been following the show every week this year. As a person who stutters myself, I greatly admire what Lazaro is doing. He is a great singer, but clearly struggles with interviews. But he does them anyway. He’s a great role model in that regard.

But I don’t think he is the better singer over some that have been eliminated since the top 10 was established.

If you are a person who stutters, are you rooting for Lazaro just because he stutters? Do you think he deserves to have made it this far? If you don’t stutter, what do you think?

This is an interesting story that brings up the issues of shame regarding stuttering.

Stutterer and country singer Tim Poe auditioned for the reality TV show  “America’s Got Talent” in Texas this past week. Before performing his song, his pre-interview showed him stuttering. So what, you might say.

Mr. Poe is a military veteran who claims he was injured in combat in Afghanistan and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI.) He claims the stuttering is a result of the TBI.

Within 24 hours of his television audition, the media reported that Mr. Poe lied about being injured and that his stuttering was not the result of an injury, which would have made it neurogenic stuttering. It appears that Mr. Poe has indeed been a life-long stutterer and was so embarrassed that he felt he need to create an elaborate lie about his circumstances.

A lie that illustrates the shame of stuttering and a lie that illustrates disrespect to military veterans who have indeed been gravely injured.

I have heard of people who stutter who make up other reasons to explain stuttering, so they don’t have to admit or acknowledge the stuttering. People have coughed, cleared their throat, said they swallowed wrong, pretend to word switch.

Some people are so embarrassed and ashamed of their stuttering that they will do anything to hide it.

This example is extreme. What do you think?

Yep, I obsess sometimes. I know I do. When I speak publicly and communicate very well, I almost never focus on how well I did if I also stuttered. Like many of us, I tend to focus on the one tiny little thing that I didn’t like instead of all the good things that did happen.

Take last night, for example. I was at a Toastmasters meeting and volunteered to facilitate the Table Topics section of the meeting. This is the part of Toastmasters meetings where we practice impromptu speaking.

I thought of some questions during break and proceeded to skillfully carry out this part of the meeting. I also had a couple of moments where I had an uncomfortable block. Where nothing came out for about 20 seconds and I also squeezed one eye shut at the moment of the block.

As I drove home from the meeting, that’s what I thought about. Not how great I did at filling the role at the last-minute, but what did the two visitors think of me when they saw that weird blocking behavior? I obsessed about whether I should have said anything to acknowledge that I had stuttered.

As people who stutter, we also seem to obsess a lot over the conversational use of the word stuttering when it does not apply to what we know as a speech disorder.

For example, recently on the popular TV show “American Idol,” a 16 year-old contestant sang a song called Stuttering. She has a beautiful voice and sang the hell out of the song.

The next day, the Facebook forums were full of comments from people who stutter who felt offended by the song. Many stated they didn’t like the song because it implied the wrong reasons why people stutter.

Often in the news, especially regarding sports, we will hear or read accounts of a team or player getting off to a “stuttering start.” I have heard people who stutter comment that they are offended by these casual uses of the term stuttering, as it implies negativity about stuttering.

I understand (to a degree) why I sometimes obsess about my own speech and focus more on when I have had uncomfortable stuttering moments and blocks. I always wish it hadn’t happened at that particular time.

But I don’t always understand the reactions the stuttering community has when the non-stuttering public uses “our” word for our speech in another context.

What do  you think?

Episode 83 features Nina G, the only female stuttering stand-up comic. Nina hails from Oakland, California. She has been doing stand up comedy for two years now, and making a real name for herself.

Nina believes comedy is artistic expression that is also a social change vehicle. Nina is a huge disability advocate, and hopes that people are thinking differently about stuttering due in part to her comedy and advocacy.

Nina recently auditioned for the television show America’s Got Talent. We talk about the how and why, and what motivated Nina to audition.

Nina shares in this conversation, as she has in previous episodes, that the only person she ever knew who stuttered publicly in the media was Stuttering John of the Howard Stern show. When Nina found out that Stern was a judge on the America’s Got Talent TV show, Nina decided that she wanted to try and interact with Howard Stern.

We also talk about the continued absence of role models who actually stutter in the media or high profile leadership positions.

Change is needed. Listen in as these two women who stutter share our feisty opinions on why women who stutter are needed as positive, visible role models.

You can also check out this video of Nina talking about the Howard Stern show and challenging the internal stigma of stuttering.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions. Remember, feedback is a gift.

Episode 5 of this series of conversations with men who stutter features John Paskievich, who hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. John is an award winning stills photographer and documentary film maker

When trying to find his life’s work, John picked up a camera and realized he enjoyed working with still images. He went on to pursue a free lance career as a photographer and documentary film maker, despite being told early on that he shouldn’t, due to his stuttering.

Listen in as we talk about how that made John feel, as well as his insecurities about stuttering and his self-denial that his stuttering wasn’t bothering him. It was! We also delve into talk of acceptance, that stuttering is “not our fault” and that fluent people should “get over” their own anxieties about what to do when one encounters someone who stutters.

We also chat about the film John made about stuttering, that he titled “Unspeakable.” He chose it for the double meaning that it connotes – that if you stutter, you sometimes feel you can’t speak, as well as the taboo associated with stuttering. And we talk of the tendency that stutterers have of trying to please our listener.

This was a great conversation, filled with lots of laughter and humor. I enjoyed this very candid conversation with a guy who has come a long way on his stuttering journey.

Please leave comments for John or myself in the comment section. Feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Recently, I posted a piece about procrastination and stuttering. The topic had been discussed on Facebook after another blogger wrote about procrastination, using stuttering as an example.

Many people in the stuttering community were offended with the blogger’s comments, as they appeared to casually associate stuttering with procrastination, which has negative connotations.

This does not come as a surprise, as there are constant negative uses of the terms stuttering or stammering in the media. People who actually do stutter often get frustrated with the resulting poor perception mainstream then has of people who stutter. It is often thought we are lazy, intellectually impaired, nervous or just plain weird.

What does come as a surprise (and a pleasant one indeed) is when a blogger takes some time to reflect on how his words may have been perceived, and writes a thoughtful response on what to do if you have offended someone, whether intentionally or not.

That is the case with Mike Reeves-McMillan’s post titled “What To Do When You Offend Someone.” In this post, he writes about some of the push-back his guest post (on another blog called Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life) got from people who actually stutter. Some of us, me included, were annoyed to see the term stuttering used in such a way that it could be potentially misinterpreted.

Mike does a great job in his post explaining what you should do when you unintentionally offend someone. He did not get defensive, he did not inanely apologize, nor did he minimize feelings. He reflected that sometimes a writer will say something that triggers a backlash, and when that happens, the best thing to do is acknowledge, validate and respond.

He also reminds us that we cannot own other people issues or feelings. That is not healthy. We have enough of our own stuff to deal with.

I was pleased to read Mike’s post, and share it here. Like I said on my original post, stuff like this keeps healthy dialogue about stuttering, and other issues, alive.

Always a good thing!

On the heels of the National Stuttering Association conference just completed in Ft Worth, Texas, there has been several good stories in the media. One was written by a first timer to the conference, and one features a long-time NSA member.

I had the pleasure of hearing Aman Kumar, a first-time attendee, speak at the Thursday afternoon Open Mic session. I always love open mic time, as it gives people the chance to speak freely – to take as long as they need, free of judgement and to sit down to wild applause by all listeners.

Turns out, Aman writes a blog for Psychology Today online, called Words Fail Me. His recent post, The Catharsis of Communicative Diversity, eloquently summarizes his first experience at a stuttering conference. You should definitely take the time to read this!

A good friend, Cynthia Scace, has been attending NSA conferences for years. I actually first met her at a College of St Rose Weekend Workshop for people who stutter. She missed last year’s conference, so it was so nice to see her this year and catch up, albeit for the short time we did. It is so hard to connect with all the people you really want to with over 800 people and only three full days!

Cynthia was featured in this great article in the Gazettenet, Approaches to therapy shifts with time, where she talks a bit about her stuttering experience and that of her son, who began stuttering at three years old.

Another great story appeared in the Gazettenet, featuring two young adults talking about their experiences navigating the world with a stutter. The writer, Suzanne Wilson, does a great job with both pieces. Check out this terrific story, Speaking Out: telling their stories helps people who stutter lessen their isolation.

Finally, here is a really good article from the Star-Telegram out of Ft Worth, Texas about David Seidler’s keynote speech at the NSA conference. Definitely take a look at this, Oscar-winning screenwriter who overcame stuttering delivers message of hope.

These are all good media pieces featuring real people who live life with stuttering everyday. Great to see so much coverage only days after the best attended conference yet. I still feel a bit on my high from such a great weekend, especially with meeting so many new people.

Stay tuned for summaries of some of the best workshops offered during the three-day conference. Since I can’t be in 10 workshops at once, I have enlisted the support of a few friends who graciously wrote up (or will) why these workshops so resonated with them.

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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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