Make Room For The Stuttering

Aha Moments

Posted on: March 13, 2009

Today I talked with a teacher friend, who mentioned that working with special needs kids is such a great experience because it forces you to look outward, be aware of differences and develop empathy. She then looked at me and said, “you must have a lot of empathy for others because of your stuttering experience”.

I have heard that before – not about me – but in general. From stuff I’ve read on the Internet and heard at conferences. I think it is true. Because I have the experience of getting stuck and feeling different, I do think I have more patience and concern for others. I know what it is like to have someone roll their eyes, or look away, or laugh when my words come out stuttered, or not at all. I know what its like to have someone hang up on me over the phone, or be rude in some other way.

I remember once at a former job, some other staff and I were planning a party for students who had achieved a special achievement. We did these parties fairly regularly, as an incentive. I was responsible for organizing everything and putting in the food orders. The easiest, and by far the kids’ favorite, was pizza. One staff told me she was sick of pizza and could we have something else. I very calmly told her, “It’s not about you, it’s about the kids. They love pizza, so that’s what we will have”. I saw the “Aha moment” flash across her face, and I never heard her complain again.

It just takes some simple reminding every once in a while. Its not about us, its about the other person. That is what empathy is. Knowing what its like to be left out or ignored, not wanting someone else to experience the pain you have felt. Do people who don’t stutter ever have that “Aha moment” when they get what it is like to stutter?

You need to be a special person to work with special kids and adults. You need patience, care, concern and an appreciation of the other person. Its not so different when we’re talking about communicating with each other. The same things apply. Why don’t people get that?

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3 Responses to "Aha Moments"

On my blog, I did share my “aha” moment about what I think it must be like to stutter. I’m writing a novel and one of the main characters stutters, so I’ve tried to immerse myself in the support information online in order to work into a believable mindset.

But I’m going to disagree that stuttering automatically creates empathy. ANY adversity gives us the chance to either reach out toward others and see in ourselves and others a certain similar brokenness, or it gives us the chance to curl around ourselves and wallow in self-pity. I’ve seen it firsthand in the infant loss support groups: there are those who reach out to help others and those who never raise their eyes again from their own pain. People choose to go in both directions with every other adversity, so I imagine it’s the same with stuttering.

At some point, you made a positive choice to move forward, connect with others, and leverage the adversity in your life to become a better person. You didn’t wrap yourself in shame or wait for someone to rescue you. And that’s where your true power and empathy came from. Not simply the adversity, but the way you framed it and reacted to it.

Great feedback. If you notice, my friend used the term empathy, I said I think I have more patience and concern for others. But maybe you are right, it comes from more than just my stuttering experience, it comes from the choices I have made. Good point. Thank you!

So, you don’t stutter? Why did you choose for your main character to stutter? Where did you get the inspiration from? I will definitely want to read it.

I can’t honestly remember why I decided Josh would stutter. He’s one of the four main characters (it’s a string quartet). I started planning the book two years ago, and it’s only really taken form recently. The biggest problem I’ve had with him, ironically, is how to spell a stuttered word. 🙂

Patience and concern don’t just spring fully-formed from the side of adversity, is my point. You worked hard to develop patience and concern. We draw on our own experience of brokenness in order to develop those characteristics, but it’s always a choice. You’ve chosen the better way.

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