Make Room For The Stuttering

This past Saturday I gave a presentation about covert stuttering to a group of mostly speech language pathologists and students studying to be SLPs. This was for the the New York State Speech Language Hearing Association. I spoke about my journey from covert to overt stuttering and how SLPs can best support people who covertly stutter.

There was a lot of interest in how and why I went from covert to overt and there were quite a few questions during my presentation. I also had a few activities for the group to do which illustrated covert stuttering. I quickly realized I had too much material and was going to run out of time. As the group wanted to ask questions, I allotted the last half hour for just that, and ditched the rest of my formal presentation.

An older woman asked me a question toward the end. She didn’t identify herself as a SLP, but I’m pretty sure she was. She prefaced her question with, “You’re not going to like this but . . . ” and then asked the question. She asked, “Don’t you want to be more fluent? Wouldn’t you benefit from speech therapy?”

I was kind of floored. Here I had been talking for almost 90 minutes about how liberating it had felt to finally come out of the stuttering closet and how I was happy with who I was. I responded honestly and said that speech therapy wasn’t a goal of mine. I was most interested in being a comfortable and effective communicator and that I think one can be even with a stutter. I also said that I enjoyed public speaking more than I ever have and that I think I stutter fluently and that was enough for me.

She didn’t offer a response to my response but did come up to me at the conclusion of the presentation and thanked me and even gave me a hug. As did others. That felt great. One other SLP and professor came up to me and also hugged me and said that I was “almost there” with my effective communication. That kind of bothered me, but by that point, I was feeling really good and proud about my presentation.

What do you think? Has anyone asked you if you want to be more fluent? Do you think I answered the question well?

Recently in a Stutter Social hangout, we were having a good discussion about eye contact. We discussed the importance of eye contact, what it conveys and why it can be hard for a person who stutters to maintain eye contact.

I believe that maintaining eye contact when talking to someone is very important. It shows that you are engaged, present and that the person you are talking to is important. Eye contact does not mean staring at a person the whole time you’re talking. Rather, it means holding contact for a moment or two while the person is talking and then alternating your gaze while you are talking.

Gazing or staring at someone for a long time can be unnerving, even a little creepy. It is awkward and can make one or both parties feel uncomfortable. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to gauge how long it’s appropriate to hold eye contact with someone who is stuttering.

A person can be caught in a long block. Do you hold eye contact with them until they get the word out? Might it be uncomfortable for them? What should you do if the person breaks eye contact? Do you follow suit? It can be tricky because you want to be respectful and show you are present but you don’t want to cause an uncomfortable moment. Or longer than a moment – depending how long a person’s block is.

It might be best to ask a person who stutters what they would like you to do if they get stuck, if you and she are comfortable enough to talk about it.

It’s also important to note that sometimes use of the eyes is a secondary behavior of stuttering for the person who stutters. I have long known that one of the things I do when I block is squeeze one or both eyes closed for a moment. Sometimes I know I’m doing it – others times it happens quite automatically and unconsciously.

When we were talking about eye contact in the hangout conversation, someone remarked that I am definitely an eye closer. He was observing people in the video chat to see how we handle eye contact when we’re stuttering. He said some of us were “eye closers” and some of us were “look aways.” It was interesting to see how he could observe and determine that in a matter of just moments.

I think I close my eyes when stuttering for two reasons. I try to force out the word I am stuck on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t! The other reason I think is that I am embarrassed or self-conscious about the block and don’t want to see the other person’s reaction. I worry that I’ll see pity, negativity or laughter in the person’s eyes and closing my eyes helps me to avoid that negative reaction.

I am confident in my stuttering. But I concede that I definitely have my moments when a secondary behavior pops up. Like I said, sometimes I’m aware, and sometimes I’m not and it just happens automatically.

What do you think about eye contact? And do you close your eyes or look away?

I was so surprised this past Saturday night to be recognized for my work with the stuttering community. I had been invited by a good friend to hear him deliver a keynote speech at the annual weekend workshop for people who stutter at The College of St Rose in Albany, NY.

My friend Mitch spoke about the benefits of Stutter Social to the stuttering community. Stutter Social is video conferencing using Google Hangout software to hold a virtual support group. I have been lucky enough to be a host for Stutter Social for 3 and 1/2 years now. Every other Sunday I facilitate a 90 minute group for people who stutter from all across the US and other parts of the world too.

Mitch used technology during his keynote speech and brought Stutter Social to life. He had 4 people who are hosts speak about the impact this has on the stuttering community. I thought I was going to do the same thing, but in person, since I was there.

But when Mitch started to introduce me, he gave me a much longer introduction than I expected. He shared all of my involvement with the stuttering community with the audience but didn’t name me by name until the end. He then called me up to receive the first ever Stutter Social service award for my service to Stutter Social and the greater stuttering community.  I was so surprised and happy that several of my good friends were there to see it via technology.

I don’t do what I do for the stuttering community looking for something in return. But it sure felt great to receive this award in such a surprise fashion. I was both proud and humbled. It’s important to give to the stuttering community – you never know the impact you may have on a person.17626544_10212485416399725_6685749424782899232_n

PamEpisode 169 features Yara who hails from Orange County, Southern California. Yara teaches second grade at a Waldorf school. She kind of happened upon this job, as it was not originally in the plan. Yara has a 12 year old daughter and loves chalkboard art.

Yara says she went from being in a band to now teaching little kids, singing songs every morning.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering and how Yara had always worried about stuttering, with everything. She got really good at coming off as fluent. She shares that for a long time she didn’t know that everyone wasn’t struggling to sound fluent.

Yara shares about her “aha” moment, how hard it is to have the conversation when telling someone she stutters and has been hiding it, and how a massive Google search helped her find stuttering resources. We discuss the NSA and how Yara would really like to go to a conference, how that might be easier for her than a small, intimate NSA chapter meeting.

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

Today I read a really interesting article about using virtual reality to help people who stutter confront some of their social anxieties.

It seems a 24 year medical product designer in the UK is developing software that can expose people to some of their anxiety triggers and help them to improve how they react. The young designer stutters himself.

The software was tested with a stuttering self help support group and participants showed a decrease in anxiety levels after repeated sessions with the software. Some also showed improvement concerning their speech.

The goal of the virtual reality software is to allow people to practice exposure therapy from the comfort of their own home.

You can read the article here.

What do you think? Would you be open to using something like this to work on stuttering related anxiety? It certainly sounds promising!

PamEpisode 168 features Hannah Smith who hails from Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Hannah is a home based Certified Nutritional Practitioner. She is able to work with anyone in the alternative health care field. Learn more about Hannah here at Fraser Valley Nutrition.

Listen in as we discuss how a balanced, healthy and active lifestyle has positively impacted Hannah’s speech. We discuss stuttering and anxiety, being open about and advertising stuttering and how to deal with the stress of stuttering.

We also discuss Hannah’s involvement in the stuttering community. She recalls meeting someone else who stutters for the first time when she was 16 and how that made her feel less sad and alone. And we talk about therapy and how it’s not for everyone and is definitely not “one size fits all.” Hannah also mentions how her stuttering almost serves as an alarm, telling her when she is unhappy or uncomfortable.

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


Many people who stutter worry about how to manage job interviews. It has been said that interviews are the single most stressful communication situation that a person who stutters faces. It can be intimidating trying to prove that you meet the expectations of excellent verbal communication.

I used to be one of those people. I definitely worried about how I would handle when stuttering reared it’s ugly head during a job interview. I ultimately wound up disclosing at the start of the interview conversation that I stutter.

These days I am dealing with being on the other side of the interview table. I am helping to interview students who are applying to our college in the high school programs. So I am asking the questions and trying to make the student candidates feel at ease.

I have not disclosed at the start of the interviews that I stutter. I don’t feel it’s relevant to why the student is there. I’m stuttering – especially when I have to read one of the questions from the scripted set of questions we use. I’ve noticed a couple of raised eyebrows and smiles when I’ve stuttered but nothing beyond that. I think the students are too nervous themselves to give me and my stuttering much thought.

I am an effective communicator even when I stutter. I am confident in my ability to convey my message and I don’t let my stuttering stop me from doing this part of my job. I think just plowing ahead and speaking with confidence is the way to go, as when I’m confident, it lets the student know to have confidence in me.

Have any of you ever had the experience of being on the other side of the interview table? How did it go?


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2016. 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 2016.