Make Room For The Stuttering

Talking About Stuttering

Posted on: February 26, 2009

Like many of us, I have different conversations with different people about stuttering. It seems that talking about stuttering is as situational as the actual stuttering itself. What do I mean?

Last week, when I gave a presentation to a group about communication and public speaking, I briefly mentioned that I stutter at the beginning of my talk and then again towards the end when I was making a point. After finishing the talk, some people came up to me, shared their comments and asked some questions. One woman asked if it was OK to share some feedback with me. I told her I would welcome it, as feedback is a gift. She mentioned that each time I mentioned stuttering, that I seemed to stutter more. Was I aware of this? I wasn’t, and told her that. I also told her that I was impressed that she felt comfortable enough with me to share that. She had just met me that evening. I thought to myself – wow, I must have come off as pretty approachable for her to let me know that. What a great thing. (I also thought – what’s up with that? I say the word stutter and I stutter more. No way . . . . . not gonna let it faze me).

Now, several years ago, no one would have dared make that comment to me, because talking about stuttering was a “no-no”, taboo, the pink elephant in my space. I actually thanked her for the feedback. I have come a long way, baby!

I had a recent conversation with the assistant principal at my school. She is very comfortable when I stutter around her, has told me that. She will mention it matter-of-factly. Its not a big deal. She told me that she thinks I am a role model, because I do what I have to do and participate, and communicate, regardless of whether I am having a stuttering day. At first I was a little embarrassed, but I also felt pretty darn good that she felt it was important enough to let me know that. Not everyone would say that.

I had a conversation with my mom yesterday. Now, we almost never talk about stuttering. Even after I “came out” a couple of years ago, she doesn’t feel comfortable discussing it with me. One of my sibs once told me that mom always felt guilty for not doing more for me when I was stuttering as a kid. She said she felt she should have stood up to my father and insisted that I have speech therapy. It morphed into a taboo subject between us.

Anyway, when we talked last night, she said she wanted to ask my opinion on something and hoped I wouldn’t get offended. She spends a lot of time on the Internet and gets jokes sent to her all the time. She forwards them on to a group of about 20 others. She said a friend had sent her a hilarious joke about someone stuttering, and she wondered if it would be in poor taste to send it out. Would someone who stutters, like myself, take offense to it?

Hmmmm . . . . . . I thought this was weird, but a good opportunity to maybe break the ice a bit. I told her if she thought it might be offensive, then it probably was, and she probably shouldn’t send it. I asked her to tell it to me, but she said she preferred not. So, I surmised that it must have been pretty bad. Especially if she thought she should ask me first. This was the first real conversation we have had, ever, about stuttering and how I might feel about it.

She then went on to share that there is a man in a group that she belongs to who has a severe stutter, and that sometimes it is painful to listen to him. But she said she really admires that he participates, shares his opinions, and doesn’t appear to be bothered or limited by his stuttering. She said that there is another guy who makes fun of him incessantly, mimics how he talks, calls him an idiot and says other mean things. Not to his face, but about him to other group members. Mom said that she feels uncomfortable when she hears this guy make fun of the stutterer. I asked her if she ever said anything, like she didn’t think it was funny or found it offensive. She said no – it wouldn’t do any good, that this guy never listens to anyone and will never change.

I suggested that she might try saying something to him, maybe that she found it offensive and even use me, saying that she has a daughter who stutters and its not something to make fun of. I told her that she would probably make a difference by doing that. She said, Nah, he’ll never listen, and then she changed the subject.

So talking about stuttering is pretty complex too. Being open, flexible, and approachable is the way to go. Maybe that tiny little snippet with my mom will open the door to helping her feel more comfortable the next time. Just because I have become really comfortable talking about stuttering, doesn’t mean everyone else in my world is, yet. But there’s time to work on that!

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