Make Room For The Stuttering

Reading Aloud And Stuttering

Posted on: January 23, 2015

I had a situation this week that brought back all the bad memories of reading aloud in school. Oh, how I hated to do that. Like many who stutter, I attempted all kinds of strategies to get out of reading aloud, as I always stutter when I can’t switch words and feel the pressure of others listening and watching.

I remember counting ahead to when it would be my turn and frantically trying to read the section and rehearse it in my head before my turn came. Or when there was only two people ahead of me, I would suddenly have to go to the bathroom or get sick and ask to see the school nurse.

I still have a piece of pencil lead in my hand from when I stabbed myself with a pencil so that I could go to the nurse’s office. Just to get out of reading aloud in class and feeling humiliated.

I sit on the Board of a non-profit literacy organization. We had our board meeting this week. The Director wants to introduce sharing the profiles of some of the individuals we serve at every meeting.

She had a list of about six paragraphs, each describing the profile of an individual on the waiting list to get literacy tutoring services. She thought we should share the wealth and each of us read one of the profiles aloud.

My mind went right to panic mode. My first instinct was to somehow figure out a way to opt out. I did not want to stutter in front of my fellow board members. I was new, so several of them did not know that I stutter. I didn’t want them to find out about my stuttering when I’m at my best with it.

After a quick moment of pondering how I would explain that I didn’t want to read aloud – sore throat, laryngitis – I realized that it would be worse for me to opt out. I just needed to do it like everyone else and be as smooth and confident as possible.

So, that’s what I did. When it was my turn, I read my paragraph and stuttered on about every other word. During the stuttering moments, I felt my face flush and felt embarrassed. But it was over quickly and we moved on to the next item of business on the agenda.

No one reacted. I didn’t sink into the floor or get hit by lightening. The worst that happened is that now everyone there knows I stutter. It’s out there now, so I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

How do you react when something like this happens?

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14 Responses to "Reading Aloud And Stuttering"

I could have written the part about reading aloud in school. Though I never faked sick or asked to go to the bathroom. But I would get more and more nervous as we moved down the rows. My 10th grade Social Studies teacher loved having us read aloud worksheets, he’d use this teaching strategy a few times a week. I learned so little in his class, I was always stressed about it being my turn.

Teachers usually wouldn’t call on me because they knew about my stutter. So, we’d go down the row and skip me, which made me want to crawl into a hole. I don’t know what’s worse: stuttering or being skipped. I really hated school, and I was a good student. Painful memories…

i can related, completely. Being skipped made people notice you just as much but then dislike you for being skipped; like there was really something wrong with you, or you were a goody goody, or just different. We work very hard just to be like everyone else.

I was at a work training session once ans everyone had to take a turn reading aloud. I politely asked to opt out, because of my stutter. The presenter (a coworker), quickly said to me seemingly taken aback, “what is that, eh, what is that, i take it that she was saying thats not a valid excuse, that would have been somewhat ok, but she said it in a condescending kind of way. I was so angry, embarrassed you name it.

I dont remember what happen, but I did not end up reading.

I can totally relate to this post, Pam. I also agree completely with the comments made by Jeanne.

When I was a kid, I attended lots of different schools. The pattern in each school was always the same – the teachers would ask me to read something in class or would put a question to me. The extent of my speech difficulties would then become apparent and, thereafter, I would be skipped and never asked anything. When this happened, I would be both relieved and grateful but it was humiliating too. I remember other kids saying that I was lucky never to be questioned about homework or tested on what I knew. I agreed with them but, at the same time, I acutely felt the pain of exclusion. It confirmed that I was different and inferior to everyone else. I ended up just completely withdrawing into myself. As Jeanne says … painful memories!

Thanks for replying and sharing your experience, Richard. I always love when you take the risk to leave a comment.
Being skipped over and excluded is humiliating and people can’t really know what that feels like unless they’ve experienced it. Feeling different from others happens when we’re excluded but feeling inferior – I think that’s our own doing and we can choose NOT to feel inferior.

Hi Pam,

Thank you for sharing.

Knowing how resilient you are, I am confident that (in the words of the well-known song) you will “pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again”. 🙂

It is inevitable that we will encounter setbacks in life – that’s how we discover our inner strengths and resources. But…by choosing to move on (and not dwell upon such incidents), we deny our thoughts the opportunities to fuel our fears.

For so many years, speaking in front a group was always my most dreaded and difficult situation. Reading aloud in class was a particular nightmare. As the reading progressed around the room, I would be calculating 10 desks ahead the passages I believed I was going to have to say. But, when the reading came to me – I would opt out and it would pass to the next pupil.

I never asked, nor responded to questions in class for fear of looking a fool. I knew the answers, I wanted so badly to contribute – but I remained silent. It was SO frustrating!

I came across a recent survey (of schoolchildren in Wales) which reveals that the fear of reading in front of others is NOT THE SOLE PREROGATIVE OF PERSONS WHO STUTTER.

The research shows that reading aloud in class is the number one concern of 7-13 year olds (in general).

Almost 4 in 10 said that it was their biggest worry – with the fear of being laughed at given as the principal reason.

More than a quarter of the children expressed the view that they would prefer to read on their own in the classroom without anyone else being present.

I would never have imagined that such a high percentage of schoolchildren (with no apparent speech/communication issues) were so fearful of speaking in front of a group.

In some respects, I feel it would have been useful for me (as a child) to have known that other people also experienced such emotions and self-doubts. I always believed that my anticipatory fear was solely related to my stutter. Maybe, if I had realised that “fluent” persons encounter similar negative thoughts about speaking in such situations, I may not have felt so isolated. Knowing that others were “in the same boat” might also have prevented my speech from becoming such an all-consuming issue.

Here is the link to the study:

http://www.itv.com/news/wales/update/2015-01-22/reading-aloud-is-number-one-concern-for-welsh-schoolchildren/

Pam, as you know, I am now in the fortunate position of being at ease in any speaking situation. However, I still remember my past oral struggles and (during recent years) I have recounted them to several hundred audiences in an attempt to create a greater public awareness about stuttering.

Kindest regards

Alan

Hi Alan – thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and this study of school children who dread reading aloud in class.
I work in a high school and have seen teachers ask students to read aloud a passage in their text book and/or take turns doing so. The look of dread is palpable on so many of the student’s faces, yet the teacher I have seen do this seems oblivious to it.

I know I am resilient and won’t let that one situation of feeling embarrassed while reading aloud interfere with my confidence. I just found it interesting how intense the feelings of shame and embarrassment were while I was reading and stuttering.

It was a good barometer check for me to realize that these feelings can creep back in any time and it’s important to own them and then move on.

Thanks again for such a thoughtful response.

Pam

Pam, this is such a great blog (as always) and such great comments!! I have two questions: (1) Did you really stab your hand with a pencil? I always show my students Transcending Stuttering, where one of the people says he stabbed himself so hard he had to be taken to the hospital, and the students are amazed! And (2) did you think about the option of starting off saying that you stutter, and this is when you stutter the most, so everybody get comfortable? 😉 I know that’s easier said than done when you are right in the moment…

Hey Joe – thanks for the feedback. It makes me feel good knowing you still check in and read some of the blog posts.
Yes, I really stabbed myself with a pencil and still have the blue lead tip in my left palm. I can’t remember what grade I was in, but I remember doing it in reaction to the panic I felt.
And yes, I had the fleeting thought of saying I stutter before reading at the board meeting, but it was very fleeting. I think it would have felt weird to share that when I hadn’t previously and I always think about that dilemma – do I or don’t I disclose? I don’t like to when the matter at hand has nothing to do with stuttering, but if she’s going to make this a regular practice at board meetings, maybe I’ll have to speak up at the next meeting.
As a friend mentioned to me yesterday about something unrelated to this, but about stuttering, it’s all about challenges and choices. 🙂

“It’s all about challenges and choices.” ~Love that!

Thank you for the blog on the stuttering disability and to share it with all of us, for more online help and treatment anyone can visit the site http://www.naturaltherapyforstuttering.com/

This is such a good entry because I think we all have been there so many times. Like yourself, I remember counting ahead in class to figure out when my turn would come so that I could read the paragraph ahead and be as prepared as possible. Once I remember feeling like I was going to pass out, I was in so much anxiety. I still think about those times often. I remember being a kid and thinking ‘if I were to become a teacher, I’d actually TEACH. making kids read the book aloud is lazy–it’s just convincing yourself, as a teacher, that you’re doing your job by making them read it when in all honesty, every kid in that class is simply reading the words, to do what is asked of them, and not paying attention”. i still stand by that thought, by the way, that real teachers actually do teach..but what I realized then was that maybe that was the reason why most stutterers are more intelligent and actually more articulate than their peers. Our minds are always in social adaptation mode, trying to figure out, quickly and on our feet, how to fit in, adjust or get by. We read and re-read something while the rest of the class is passing notes and then reading a paragraph with ease simply because their name was called. We begin, at a very early age, researching people like us and people who overcame stuttering and trying to figure out how to fix it. We learn, usually at an age when other kids only think about fun and games, about fluency techniques and relaxation techniques. But….no matter how frantically we work at figuring a way out, there is never really a way out. Once I breezed through a paragraph–I read so fast that i didn’t stutter and it was a small victory for me. Then I felt defeated. I had to do so much just to do something that comes easy to other kids–some who weren’t even as smart as me, I mean, let’s be real. 🙂 Then I felt like maybe everyone was silently shocked that i did it at all…so I quietly got embarrassed…then I thought ‘what if they expect me to breeze through it next time?’.

This post reminded me of that and it made me feel so good too. It made me feel that there were other people who’ve done the same things I had to do and had the same worries as me. So now, as an adult, I realize, for real–not just saying I believe it but really don’t–that I’m not alone. None of us are ever alone in this. This post showed me what i think we all realize at one time or another but never want to embrace: that we are our own worst enemy sometimes. We allow the fear connected with the ignorant (or pitiful) reactions we have received as a result of our stutter to affect our courage. We all have a fear of our stutters because of the looks of pity we’ve received or the giggles, or the shock. Maybe accepting it and going ahead and just doing it is the first step for any stutterer. I think if I had encountered your blog posts at the beginning of every speech therapy I’ve ever had; and if we worked on acceptance first and technique after, I would have had different results throughout my life. I rambled in this response but I really enjoyed this post. I totally identified with you. I’ve passed up opportunities as an adult because of the impending doom of having to speak aloud in front of a captive audience or, heaven help me, on a microphone. My goal is to be like you and just do it!

one thing I forgot about was my method of on the first day of school having a typed letter from my mother explaining my speech impediment and that I should not be called on to read aloud in class. I would hand a copy to each teacher and my principle. I remember feeling like that was the best thing ever. Until I had a class where the teacher still insisted on kids reading aloud. Once teacher was polite and would call everyone but me. I felt ok with that, i guess, until someone said “wait, why doesn’t she have to do it”. I had another teacher in middle school, Mrs. “B” who would still call on everyone. She would make all the kids read a paragraph but make me read one half of the page and make another student, who, to this day I think may have been undiagnosed dyslexic, read the other half of the page. So, kids got a good laugh listening to the stutterer read and the girl who ‘couldn’t read’ read. Sometimes I thought maybe Mrs. B thought it would be helpful for us to do it, until one day I saw her holding back her laughter. Our school used to have annual teacher evaluations where the students evaluated the class and I remember writing that “if Mrs. B was actually trying to be the helpful educator she pretends to be, she would ask some of her students to come in before or after class to work on our reading…” Never knew if the school really got those evaluations or did anything with them but it felt so good to say that, to the point where I still remember it today.

I did the letter to the teacher thing until college when I tried to “just do it”. I had a mandatory public speaking class and, thankfully, the time I signed up for was in the evenings so the class was small. I did great in the class and enjoyed giving my speeches to the group of 5 students (lol). I later had a marketing project where every member had to give a portion of the presentation. I was so confident that I would do well that I went into the project with high hopes. I wanted to just disappear or run away when, in the first sentence of my opening, I stuttered, and kept stuttering. What always disappoints me most is when I avoid eye contact because then I feel that it has defeated me, once again. After my presentation, which felt like an hour, but was only 5 minutes, I faked my way through the rest of the presentation by pretending to be a cool, laid back, confident person while everyone else spoke, and then got to my car and promised myself I would not get upset. I am sure that up until that moment, my group did not realize I was a stutterer. I drove home and later that evening saw the group leader’s name and number on my caller ID. ‘OMG! why is she calling me?!’ ‘What the hell does she want?!’ I never stuttered when I got angry enough to curse someone out so if I needed to be that person again and answer the phone, fine by me…but I never answered and she never left a message. To this day I am upset that I didn’t answer the call for fear that she would comment about my stuttering. Who knows, she might have had words of encouragement or might have been inviting me to a party to celebrate the completion of our project. Maybe she or someone she knew stuttered and she had some advice? I will never know. It’s so funny how another person’s story can trigger similar experiences in our own lives and make us remember when we wished we would have done what you did and just accept it and move forward. I have a friend who overcame her stutter because she felt defeated when she couldn’t say her son’s name at the hospital after the school called and said he had been injured during P.E. She said in that moment she realized that she allowed her impediment keep her from being able to fight for and protect her son. One of the staffers thought she may have been on drugs or unstable because she was frantic and frantically stuttering. She said she felt so embarrassed when her husband had to call and vouch for her that she never let it defeat her again. i was proud of her. She made me promise to never let something that severe force me to be stronger than fear of embarrassment. We all have something to get over.

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