Make Room For The Stuttering

You Seem More Disfluent Today

Posted on: February 8, 2011

There would have been a time, only a few years ago, that those words would have mortified me. But when I went into Jay’s office yesterday, that’s one of the first things he said to me. After our usual small talk , he said, “You seem more disfluent than usual today, Pam. How are you with this?”

Funny how being more open invites others to be able to comment and ask about something that so exposes our vulnerability.

Was I ok with it? Well, I hadn’t got much sleep the night before and we met at the end of the work day. I know I stutter more when I am tired or stressed. And I did have quite a “stuttery” day at work. A couple of times I really got stuck with co-workers.

Yes, I was OK with it. Because I know and trust Jay and we talk openly about most everything. The real question is: would I be OK if someone I did not know quite so well had commented and asked the same question.

We went on to discuss some of what I have been up to recently. I have been a bit busy. I have a workshop on stuttering this week and  I am getting ready to travel to Milwaukee in a few weeks to talk about stuttering. And the podcast conversations with women who stutter keep happening.

Jay says to me, “You’re becoming quite an expert. How does that feel?”

I immediately responded, “No way, I am not an expert.” He says, “Why? Isn’t that allowed ? Can’t you just be open to the fact that you are? All the reading you have done, all that you have learned, all the interactions you have with other people who stutter! You don’t think that makes you an expert?”

He wasn’t done. “You know, you have a way of getting people to open up and share. Are you saying that what you have learned from all this doesn’t make you an expert? You don’t have to have PhD after your name to be an expert. Is that what you are thinking?”

“If you are not an expert, then who are the experts?”

I was speechless for a moment. How did we get here? How did a simple comment about him noticing I was more disfluent get to a discussion on what constitutes being an expert? 

It frankly made me uncomfortable. Thinking about myself as an expert doesn’t feel right, considering that I haven’t gone to school and don’t have ” letters after my name”, like those “in the field.” I allowed myself to say what I was thinking out loud.

And Jay immediately said, “Then do something. Or maybe you already are doing something, and you just won’t let yourself admit it.”

I drove home thinking about all this, wondering what I am supposed to do with this. Why did we have this conversation?

Maybe that is a question worth more thought. Who are the experts?

8 Responses to "You Seem More Disfluent Today"

As an “expert” in the field I would absolutely positively say that you are far more of an expert than I am. Only through personal experience and education (formally, informally, however) can a person call themselves an expert. And you should totally go to school to be an SLP – I can’t even begin to think of what an incredible asset you would be to our field!

Thanks Sara! That really is validating!
But since grad school is not free, doesn’t look probable! 🙂

2 questions:

1- You say: ‘The real question is: would I be OK if someone I did not know quite so well had commented and asked the same question’ …has this happened to you? I would think that if someone didn’t know you very well, that they might not be able to *tell* if you were more ‘stuttery’ (haha…love that term!), in which case, if they *did* comment, I wouldn’t put much stock in it, because what the heck do they know anyway?? I’m curious to hear about real experiences with this.

2- Could there be such thing as a ‘relative expert’?

Yes, it is interesting. The only other person who has noticed that I may have been stuttering more on a particular day is my sister, and she sometimes will say something like, “didn’t get much sleep again, huh?”

On the other end, “helpful” co-workers have said to me – “gee, are you aware that you are hardly stuttering?”
I can take that as either – “, uh thanks”, or “do they notice it so much that they indeed notice when I am more fluent?”
Some of my co-workers know me well enough that THEY feel ok saying something – whcih I supppose is a good thing. Like they know when I ask them to make an announcement over the school PA system, its because I don’t want a block or rep broadcast all over school.

But very few know me well enough to have the kind of intimate conversation that threw me for a loop yesterday!

I’ll tell you that on the infant loss boards, the real experts are not the social workers or the psychiatrists but rather the mothers who have been on the board longest, helping other bereaved mothers for the longest time.

In most areas of life, the ones in the trenches, actually facing the situation day-in-day-out, have a level of expertise that you can’t get from a book, a classroom or time on the other side of the desk.

You’re right of course – life is our teacher, but it still seems hard to use the term “expert”. I am glad to see you commented and shared your very valuable insight. I guess its all in the perception and how we see ourselves. Sometimes I don’t see myself as others do. Thanks! 🙂

Hi Pam-
This was very thought provoking. What do initials or titles really mean? I am not downplaying my masters degree or years of experience at all but some people do have the unique ability to transform their life experiences and help others. I do think you are unique in the sense that you are sensitive to how others feel. You are special in that you have shared your experiences with others without judgement. Words are a matter of semantics. What is important is that your knowledge has helped so many others. Because of your easy manner I am comfortable talking on the radio. I guess that makes you an expert as no one else was able to get me over that hump. Lori

Education alone can’t make an expert (the same with reading books and visiting lectures – they can stay as others’ experience as long as they are capable of), one needs personal experience, good and bad one.

You are a stammerer, plus you were a covert one (additional experience); you have met and talked to stammering people and made them “open up”; you have a degree in social work; you DID social work, you have experience in consulting at school level (it’s a job in communication, and stammering is sometimes called a communication disorder (I don’t claim it is)). So you are an expert 🙂

You don’t have to be an SLP, and not every SLP is an expert in stuttering. The same with Master’s. And you definitely don’t need a PhD to be an expert; PhD attests your abilities to do research – grasp theories, collect data, analyze it (using qualitative and quantitative methods, at best) etc. and have basic teaching skills at university level. Lots of people in academia don’t possess good communication skills; the fun’s not always transparent 🙂 (“Now, that we have socialized (10 min. coffee break with sweets and talking about ‘insignificant’ stuff as cars, Cold War and family issues), let’s get back to the lab!”).

And communication is meant to connect people, not to deliver information (by writing articles, books, …) or to disconnect them (by criticism – which is important for doing research). For example, I wrote this post for 5 days (editing, considering words, phrasing …), and in everyday communication nobody would wait for me that long (I don’t consider myself good at communication and I don’t mind it).

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