Make Room For The Stuttering

Be the changeOne of the great workshops that I attended at last week’s NSA conference was one facilitated by Kim Block on “Stuttering Community and Social Justice.” Kim asked the audience thought provoking questions about the group identity of the stuttering community and if we even have a group identity.

She got us thinking about the intersections between various segments of the stuttering community, such as people who stutter, speech and medical professionals, stuttering organizations, media and our allies. Kim asked us to do an exercise imagining the stuttering community as a business and how the different “departments” are linked together. She asked if we work together or in isolation as silos.

That bit about the silo got me thinking. Do the various entities in the stuttering community really work together? We know that the media does not always portray stuttering in a positive light. How could people who stutter, SLP’s, schools and our allies work together to influence the media to convey stuttering positively to the fluent world? In my humble opinion, I think that more people who stutter need to speak out and help educate those who do not stutter. That’s something that we as a community need to keep working on, since many people who stutter don’t like to expose that they stutter.

Kim’s workshop went on to challenge us to think about the elements of social justice: equality, oppression, resources and human rights. Do we have equality in the mainstream world? Do we have equal access to resources like speech therapy and self-help support groups? Are we discriminated against in schools and the workplace? Do stuttering organizations have equal access to fundraising like other organizations do?

The workshop was very well attended for the last slot of the last day. People shared good ideas and the questions spurred good conversation. Kim concluded with her final thoughts which all members of the stuttering community should heed. We are all advocates, we are all group interventionists, we are all connected which gives us opportunity and power.

It’s up to us, the stuttering community, whether and how we use that power. There are opportunities to raise awareness, which would lessen discrimination and misinformation. Members of the stuttering community have to seize those opportunities.

 

 

 

I just returned last night from the 2017 NSA annual conference held in Dallas, Texas. I spent a week with some of the bravest, most resilient people I know. I’ve got lots of special moments to reflect on and share, but thought I’d start by providing a recap of the workshop good friend and SLP Charley Adams and I facilitated. We titled it – “Hide and Speak: The Allure of Covert Stuttering.”

We both wanted to explore the reasons why some people who stutter choose to hide and keep on hiding, even when it perhaps jeopardizes their authenticity. We started out loosely defining what covert stuttering is, and Charley led us through the life cycle of stuttering. This was a good primer for some of the people who were at the conference for the first time.

We then talked about escape behaviors, or what we actually do to hide our stuttering. Then we discussed secondary behaviors and the tricks we use to appear fluent. Later we talked about the degrees of covertness we may have and ways to gradually “drop the C” and aim to move from covert to overt.

One of the highlights of the workshop was an exercise I used in a previous workshop on covert stuttering. People were asked to pair up with a partner and each pair was given a copy of a one minute monologue to read to each other. On the bottom of the page was a large letter “O” or “I.” This signified that anywhere in the monologue that the reader ran across a word with the letter “O” in it, they couldn’t say it, but rather they had to replace it with a word with similar meaning and that also didn’t have the letter “O” in it. Then the other person in the pair had to do the same thing regarding the letter “I.”

It was an eye-opening exercise for people, especially for those in the room that did not stutter. People shared that they felt anxious, frustrated, drained, exhausted and that some gave up and didn’t finish reading. People who stuttered described the same reactions. The exercise was designed to illustrate how mentally hard it is to constantly have to switch words and think of other ones that made sense in the context of what was being discussed. All agreed that it was a valuable teaching tool.

Many people shared their experiences with hiding and we talked about how seductive hiding successfully can really be. People who covertly stutter often feel a thrill when they get away with not being exposed as a stutterer and it sets up as a pattern that is continued.

It was a great workshop. Charley and I got a lot of very positive feedback afterwards, and it definitely spurred good conversation and a different way of understanding covert stuttering. We also had over 120 people in attendance, which was an outstanding turnout.

Throughout the week and next week, I will share more about some of the special conference moments and provide an overview of other workshops.

Next year’s conference will be in Chicago. Start planning now to go. It’s worth it.

 

He-StuttersEpisode 23 of the occasional male series features Ian Mahler, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. Ian is married and stays busy with three girls. He is also a full-time receiving manager for a large wholesale club. Ian works long days, usually 10-11 hours a day.

Listen in to a great conversation as we discuss acceptance, mindfulness techniques, and self confidence.

One of the things Ian does to advertise that he stutters is that he adds a line in his professional email signature that he is a person who stutters. He also has a line that reads #LetMeFinish. If someone cuts him off, he always finishes talking so that the person has to hear him anyway.

We wrap up the conversation talking about resilience and empathy.

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

 

PamEpisode 170 features Pooja  Vijay who hails from New Delhi, India. By day, Pooja is an academic, working as a researcher at a university think tank. She is an engineer. By night, Pooja does stand up comedy, and gets introduced as a stuttering comedian.

Pooja considers herself very lucky to have two jobs that she loves. For she does think of her stand up comedy as a second job. She got started at an Open Mic and got a good response and has been at it ever since. Both of her jobs involve lots of interacting and talking with others. She says we have to “keep speaking and doing our thing.”

Listen in as we discuss how Pooja has managed her stutter, resources for therapy and self-help in India, and how she feels stuttering is just a different way of speaking. She says stuttering is just part of her, like other diversities.

Pooja gives a shout out to fellow comedians Nina G and Drew Lynch, who inspired her to try comedy and keep at it.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

I don’t know why I didn’t post this sooner, but below is a group picture of me after speaking to a graduate stuttering class at the University of Mississippi in March of this year. OK, I’ll admit, I just kind of found the photo and thought it deserved a place on the blog!

It is so important for people who stutter to speak to the next generation of speech language pathologists. Students can’t learn about the experience of stuttering from text books. They have to talk to and listen to real people who stutter who live the experience every day.

On this day, I spoke to the students about my journey from covert to overt stuttering. It was a powerful experience for me, and hopefully them too!

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People who stutter are some of the most resilient people I know. Stuttering teaches us to brush off those moments when we’re stuttering really “well” and go right into the next speaking situation.

A friend of mine has been struggling with her stuttering lately. She has been feeling self-conscious and sort of “over thinking” the stuttering moments she has encountered. I asked her the other day what happens when she stutters – how do listeners react?

She replied that they don’t react – that they don’t seem to care. So we talked about that, why people don’t seem to care when they hear us stutter. It can be any number of reasons. They’re preoccupied with something, they’re not really paying attention, or they just don’t hear the stuttering. I reminded her that close friends of hers really don’t hear her stuttering. They hear her and her message.

That’s one of the things we need to keep in mind about stuttering. It helps us to be resilient. Every single one of us, stutterer or not, has bad moments and days. Resilience is the ability to shake those moments off and keep moving forward. Resilience helps us develop the “thick skin” we need to advocate for ourselves and be sure our voice is heard.

Resilience helps us through difficult times, relationships and at work. All of us fall flat on our face sometimes. We fail a test, we say the wrong thing to a partner or we miss an important deadline at work. Those of us who are resilient can get up from the floor, brush ourselves off and continue on. I’m convinced that stuttering helps builds that resilience that we all need.

What do you think?

 

 

There was a very thought provoking post made on Facebook this week from a parent. It seems her teenage son asked her not to speak at a school parent meeting they were attending. Specifically, the boy told his mom that when she “twitches,” she looks weird. When mom asked her son what he meant, he said she twitches when she stutters. Needless to say, she was embarrassed and mortified.

There were dozens of replies to mom’s post, most in support of her and hoping that she was OK. Some, like myself, offered reassurance that teenagers are embarrassed by everything their parents do, but that this issue should be talked about.

Other comments focused on the disrespect of the boy, suggesting that he be punished for what he said. Many then disagreed with those comments, feeling the moment should be used as a talking point and teaching opportunity.

As we know, talking about stuttering can be difficult. Often, it’s the “elephant in the room,” never getting talked about. People are embarrassed to talk about differences or challenges, or feel they risk making things worse by bringing “it” up. Stuttering is complex, as it’s an emotionally charged issue, not just a physical impediment. As we see from mom’s post, she was mortified and embarrassed by what her son said.

But deeper than what he said, mom was probably embarrassed by what her son may think of her. Mom may now be wondering how long her son has felt this way and why it never came up before. Mom may now become even more self-conscious of her stuttering, if she wasn’t already before.

It really struck me how many people responded to this post. I wonder how many times this kind of conversation has occurred between parents who stutter and their teenage children. Or hasn’t. It speaks to me to the reason we should be as open as we can about stuttering. Parents of fluent children should be sure to have open discussion about differences and that stuttering is just the parent’s way of talking.

This very open conversation on Facebook reminded me of a NSA friend, Stacey, who has quite a severe stutter. She is parent to a teenage daughter. The daughter has never been embarrassed by her mom’s stuttering, as they have had open conversations about stuttering since the child could talk. She think’s it’s normal that her mom stutters and isn’t bothered by it, even as an infamous teenager.

What do you think? How would you have reacted had this been your son making this comment to you? How can we use stuttering as a teachable moment?

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. 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 2017.