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As I mentioned earlier this month, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in several fun activities this week promoting awareness and education about stuttering.

My favorite was yesterday, the actual day of International Stuttering Awareness Day. I moderated a panel of 5 people from around the world talking about stuttering across the globe, and what we have in common no matter where we are from.

I felt proud to have international connections and to be part of such a valuable conversation.

We talked about how stuttering is seen/viewed in different countries, what types of resources are available, and individual and societal acceptance of stuttering.

Opportunities like this to chat with people from other countries enriches our understanding of the stuttering experience. And further cements wonderful friendships.

whs logo smallEpisode 241 features Ai Leen Choo, who is an assistant professor at Georgia State University, where she teaches classes in fluence and neuroscience. She earned her PhD in speech and hearing science and shares that she eats, drinks, sleeps and thinks about stuttering all of the time!

Ai Leen’s dad stuttered yet it never was talked about in the family. Her dad was successful, so it never occurred to her that stuttering would hold her back.

As a researcher, a lot of her reading really reflects her, which gives such meaning to her work.

Listen in as we discuss differences in stuttering between men and women, how society can become more accepting of stuttering, and how stuttering voices are not LOUD ENOUGH.

We also talk about accommodations at work for people who stutter and the need to expect more from our communication partners, as there should be no burden of fluency. Communication is a two-way street.

I’m lucky. I am involved in several opportunities this month to help raise awareness about stuttering.

International Stuttering Awareness Day is October 22 every years. Coinciding with that, there is an online stuttering conference that runs through the month of October. People who stutter, parents, SLPs and researchers contribute submissions in any media style for others to learn from and react to. This year we have close to 50 submissions from people all around the world.

This years theme is “Speak the change you wish to see”. Here is my paper on Change Changes Everything.

I also had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at The Indian Stammering Association’s national conference on October 2. I was asked to share my story and speak on my “moments of truth”.

I received a wonderful feedback email from the group. It made me feel so good.

On behalf of TISA, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking time from your busy schedule to be the guest speaker at TISA National Conference. It was our honor to host you.

Your splendid presence and wise words helped magnify the cause in the most magnificent way. Your session was a massive success. The audience loved your moments of truth and especially the poem you recited.
All thanks to your enlightening words based on your years of research & activism, depth of understanding of stuttering and your wonderful ability to present the subject in such an interesting way that produced one of the most memorable evenings in our Conference’s history.

I am also participating in a 2 day practice interview session through 50 Million Voices October 18-20. We will have over 100 people serving as interviewers and interviewees for this wonderful global event.

I am also leading an international conversation on ISAD October 22 for the National Stuttering Association. I will moderate a panel composed of people who stutter from five different countries. I am really excited with this.

And I’ll close out the month doing a talk on Hidden Disabilities at the MITRE organization. I spoke with them in person last year, a few weeks before the pandemic started. I’m happy to be asked a second time. This will be a virtual meeting.

This may seem like a lot of stuttering activity, but it helps me stay connected with the stuttering community. And that’s very important to me. 🙂

 

I am excited that I will be speaking about my story and journey at The Indian Stammering Association’s National Conference in early October.

I’ve been asked to speak covering three key points: searching for acceptance in relationships, how to break free from self-imposed shackles, and authenticity as a core value. The organizers want me to speak a bit specifically to the challenges that women who stutter face (although there will be men in the audience). 😊

One of the organizers works in IT and put together a short video of me talking about stuttering and sharing some of the poems I have written over the years. I was so surprised that she had “stalked” me and found some of my old stuff and did great editing to make it all flow.

It is so important to share our stories. Sometimes we forget that so many people who stutter feel frightened and alone. Those farther on our journeys sometimes need to step back and think (humbly) that what we share can lift someone up, and help them feel seen and heard.

Many of us who stutter have similar stories. But we often don’t hear those stories because not enough stutterers  stand up and speak out. Many people try to pretend that everything is OK, but inside they feel alone and rejected. I felt like that for years. I had created a “Fake Pam” that I wanted the world to see, but kept “Real Pam” hidden. I often felt suffocated by my own doing.

Being able to share how I found freedom with others is a gift to me. I am honored and humbled to be asked.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to talk with someone I met through a virtual NSA event last year. It’s always invigorating to find out what others are doing to manage their stuttering, especially during these unprecedented times of virtual everything.

He remembered that I had expressed interest in learning about how a particular therapy went that he had considered.

He did the McGuire Program, which is not a therapy program per se, but is a speech management program run by past graduates of the program. I’ve interviewed several people over the years that have participated and many have felt it is beneficial. It’s an intensive four day program, that requires 10-12 hour commitments each day. My friend participated virtually, so it was only three days, but just as intense. He said it was 12-13 hours each day.

He shared why he chose to take the plunge to enroll and what he learned. As I’ve learned from other participants, it’s a technique based on costal breathing, which helps many people deliberately focus on speaking on exhaled breaths. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure, but my buddy seemed grateful to have tried a different way of managing stuttering.

He said initially he was practicing 2-3 hours daily, but may have lessened up on that now. He also shared how pleased he is knowing he’ll have life time follow up and support from past graduates.

It’s so important to have a support system and a circle who really understands the complexity of stuttering.

I am so glad he reached out and that we took time to connect and talk.

Saying “let’s keep in touch” and then not, robs of us the opportunity to be there for our friends and truly walk the walk that “if you stutter, you are not alone”.

When someone calls or emails, answer the call. It’s important.

This year is the first time in 15 years that I have not attended the annual NSA conference. I found the NSA in 2006 and have gone 15 consecutive times. I see friends posting pictures on social media and I’m finding that I am fiercely missing the conference and my friends. Some of those friends I only see once a year, but it’s OK, as we pick up right where we left off.

For so long, I felt shame and fear about stuttering, thinking as many of us do, that I was the only one who stutters. It was never discussed in my family, so the feelings of shame, guilt, and fear kept me in hiding for a long time.

When I attended my first conference in 2006, it was like a weight had been lifted off my chest. There were other people and all looked normal, like me. We just talked differently. That profound experience helped me realize that I could now help people deal with shame and coming out of hiding.

This blog and my podcast gives me joy. I’m using my experience to help someone else peel that personal stigma off.

Friend Hanan has more than once told me that finding others who stutter has been like oxygen for him.

That and finding our tribe – where we can stutter openly with no fear of judgment. I am really missing my tribe, my friends, my mentors.

I am having surgery on my right hand this Friday, so I may not be able to type or text for a while. I needed to post this today. I love seeing the pictures friends are posting on social media, but it is also bittersweet.

Last week was National Stuttering Awareness Week in the United States. This special week, always the second week in May, was enacted by Congress in 1988 after National Stuttering Association (NSA) pioneers raised their stuttered voices in an effort to bring more understanding to an often misunderstood communication difference.

I took the opportunity with friends who stutter to share what we want people to know about stuttering.

We created this powerful video message for you to see. I was so happy to be a part of this.

Here it is, coming to the end of April, and I realized that I haven’t posted anything this month yet. We must correct that.

This morning I had the opportunity to co-present to an audience of people who stutter and people who don’t. This was a project of 50 Million Voices, of which I am the leader for the USA. After a month or so of planning, we were ready to have our second round of “Practice Interviews” with people who stutter to get a chance to practice both being interviewed and being the interviewer.

Why is this so important? Well, interviews can be stressful and intimidating for anyone, as we fret about how we are doing, what the interviewer may be thinking of us and do we sound competent. Most people fear judgement and rejection.

For people who stutter, this is one of the most stressful situations, as we worry about disclosing, should we wing it and not mention that we stutter, and should we answer questions in short blurbs, to perhaps minimize the chance of stuttering.

This is such a unique opportunity. We had about 80 people at the overview about stuttering we delivered this morning. We reviewed what stuttering is and isn’t, and talked about interviews and offered tips for success.

Many of the fluent people participating have volunteered to take part, many from key companies in the UK and three other countries. It’s an amazing testament to how people who do not stutter really want to understand it more and learn how to be successful allies in the workplace.

Over the next two days, people will be paired up with one or two people to go through practice interviews. And on the second day of this initiative, we will hear from both interviewers and interviewees on how it went and what did they learn.

Stay tuned to another post sharing how it all went.

Episode 233 features McKenzie Jemmett, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. McKenzie is a SLP working with pre-school children. She has a long held interest in counseling and believes that plays a part in speech therapy. She also teaches Zumba on the side, a great release outlet while helping others.

McKenzie became interested in stuttering due to her curiosity about how the brain works. She describes herself as having a “mild overt stutter.”

For a long time, McKenzie tried to deny she stuttered and tormented herself trying to appear fluent. It took the help of an incredibly honest and caring friend who told her she was a mess and needed to take care of herself. It was then that she began confronting her demons.

Listen in as McKenzie shares about her worth as a person (it’s not based on cupcakes) and her wish for being more brave. We also discuss what it takes to change, and doing for self what is done for others.

McKenzie is now involved in several stuttering initiatives – she is a committee member of the online ISAD conference held every October and is also a Stutter Social host.

It was great chatting with McKenzie and putting a face to a name.

It’s important today to recognize the importance of this day. “International Women’s Day.” So many women who stutter have shared such inspiring truths on the podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.”

Today women are recognized for their achievements and contributions to our world, both past and present. Women who stutter have also achieved great things in their personal, social and professional circles.

There isn’t anything we cannot do. In fact, we often produce better results or achieve goals sooner than fluent people. Why? Because we have developed such grit and perseverance through our everyday lives and adversities we may have had as children, teenagers, adults, spouses and parents.

We know what it is like to be knocked down and get right back up. We have to! The world does not work without women.

Remember that as women are celebrated today for all that we do and are.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a session on covert stuttering at the South Carolina Speech and Hearing Association. A good friend and SLP, Charley Adams, co-facilitated with me. Our session was titled “Deep Cover – Exploring Covert Stuttering.” The audience of 80+ consisted of licensed SLPs and SLP students.

It seems that SLPs look forward to learning about covert stuttering, as there’s not a whole lot of information out there in the research world. It’s especially helpful to learn about covert stuttering from someone who covertly stuttered for years. Me!

We had the first session of the day, on the first of the 3-day conference. We were given 90 minutes. At first I thought that was too much time, but actually we could have gone much longer.

We helped educate SLPs why people want to hide stuttering and we gave examples of avoidance behaviors.

I think the biggest take-away was considering the answer to the question “how do you help a stutterer who does not stutter?”

 

With the election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, the stuttering community has our biggest platform yet for education and awareness of stuttering. The president who stutters can really raise awareness on the biggest stage.

But that’s only if Biden chooses to be open about his stuttering, rather than the often used “overcoming narrative.”

When Biden gave his inaugural speech last week, he was stuttering. Those of us with stuttering radar picked up on word changes, hesitations and filler words. It was OK, he is the new president and he delivered a great speech, conveying exactly what he wanted to.

The stuttering community at large is excited. Because a full presidential term is four years, the potential for stuttering awareness can be a sustained effort. The movie “The King’s Speech” did a lot for the community when it was released in 2010. But that buzz faded away pretty quickly.

During the 2020 campaign for USA president, the former president repeatedly mocked Biden and the media caught much of that. We could see it on TV and social media platforms. The former president had a “bully pulpit” and used it often to denigrate opponents and just about anyone he deemed as getting in his way. 

If we had to call it a contest between stuttering and bullying, stuttering clearly won!

 

 

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do some talks about covert stuttering and how hiding an integral part of me has shaped me.

I co-facilitated a session for the Canadian Stuttering Association in early November and one last week for the NSA global research conference.

And today I spoke to a small female only group of women who stammer.

In all of the talks, I emphasized how stuttering covertly essentially hijacked my personality which lead me down a rabbit hole of avoidance in all areas of my life, not just stuttering related stuff.

I shared with a friend that I had given several of these talks all in a relatively short time period. He said, “well, you’re not covert anymore, you do know that, right?” That gave me pause, as I suppose he’s right. What I’ve been sharing has been the journey I’ve taken to embrace my true self and become open with who I am and how I speak. One of the presentations I gave was aptly called, “Dropping the ‘C’ in Covert Stuttering.”

People who stutter and those who interact with people who stutter seem genuinely interested in how going from extremely covert to truly open is done and why.

At today’s talk, the topic of small talk came up, in relation to a comment that someone made about finding it hard to make friends as a person who stutters. I mentioned that many of us really never learned how to “make small talk” because we were always so busy hiding or rehearsing what we might be able to say fluently if we absolutely had to talk.

One woman asked me if it has become any easier to make small talk now that I stutter openly. I shared that it absolutely has become easier. I am more spontaneous now than I’ve ever been because I just stutter and get on with it. I don’t care as much as I once did and I didn’t worry so much about being judged.

And I shared that my fear had always been fear of rejection. I really think that’s what it boils down to – being rejected, not being liked, not feeling that sense of belonging that we all crave and need.

I’ve come to realize that indeed I’m not covert anymore and that I can enjoy spontaneity in conversation and really feel present in a conversation.

I’ve heard myself time and again these past few weeks mention that I truly feel that authenticity invites reciprocity. And that we all yearn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as that is the foundation of real belonging.

 

I had an amazing opportunity last week to be a guest panelist for an event hosted by the Peruvian Stuttering Association. For International Stuttering Awareness Day, they held a week long festival for all things stuttering. I thought that was so wonderful, to intentionally raise awareness of stuttering for an extended period of time.

The organizer invited me to participate in a panel session on Friday October 23, from 7-9pm. I started off a bit intimidated, as I was the only woman who stuttered on the panel, and the only one who did not speak Spanish. It felt so weird. I had a translator assigned to me and when I realized he knew his stuff, I relaxed and began to enjoy the experience.

The first part of the panel was for each of us to give a brief overview of our country’s stuttering association. I spoke about the mission and vision of the National Stuttering Association. I spoke 4 or 5 sentences at a time and the translator repeated what I said back to the audience in Spanish. Then the other two panelists, from Argentina and Columbia, gave their overviews in Spanish and the translator typed in the Zoom chat box what was being said.

The second part of the panel was a 90 minute Q&A with audience members, who asked questions in Spanish on the live feed as the whole event was held on Zoom and then streamed through Facebook Live. I did not know that it was going to be live streamed until about 30 minutes ahead of the event.

I had the rare opportunity to possibly feel like the lone person who stutters in a large room of many fluent people. I felt alone in a crowded space. I imagine that’s how people who stutter feel until they are welcomed into the space they are in.

And that’s exactly how it played out for me. Once I got over the initial nerves of not knowing the language and realized that my translator wasn’t going to leave me hanging, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I was able to talk about the NSA’s vast network of support chapters across the USA, and how they are like a lifeline to people who stutter. For many who stutter, attending a local NSA chapter meeting may be their very first introduction to others who stutter and the empowerment felt when around others who stutter.

I was able to talk about how support meetings are facilitated, the role of the chapter leader, inviting everyone to speak and give permission to just listen. When I talked about the importance of honoring silence among people who stutter, I could see that definitely struck a chord with the panelists because they felt when that happened they had failed as group leaders. So we talked about how facilitation is more like guiding a group discussion rather than actually leading and feeling that every space must be filled with words.

I also had the opportunity to talk about inviting women into the stuttering spaces that we create. The South America stuttering leaders really valued that part of the conversation and pledged to explore that further and look at opportunities to find and welcome women who stutter.

We also spent time discussing initiatives to promote better career outcomes for people who stutter in the employment process. I was able to share what the NSA has done with our “We Stutter @ Work” program.

This experience was a major leap away from my comfort zone but as I reflected on it, it was a real honor and privilege to represent women who stutter in a traditionally male oriented space.

I hope to be invited and participate in more of such opportunities.

The folks over at the British Stammering Association, now known as Stamma, have launched a brilliant campaign to change the language used to describe stuttering or stammering.

Very often, stuttering is described using negative, derogatory language, resulting in personal and public perceptions that stuttering is bad and something that must be overcome.

Check out this wonderful brief video to see what they did to “find the right words,” and reduce the stigma about stuttering.

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2021. 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 2021.
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