Make Room For The Stuttering

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and she asked me about the different types of stuttering. I was intrigued by what she meant so asked her to elaborate. She said she has heard other people stutter and it’s very different than mine. She wanted to know why there were such differences.

I gave her the short answer – stuttering is variable. Severity of stuttering differs among individuals who stutter as does the impact of stuttering. A person can have a severe blocking type of stuttering and stutter or block on almost every speech attempt but it doesn’t bother them at all. Then you can have someone with a very mild stutter who is mortified every time they hear themselves stutter.

I told her there are also covert stutterers – those who clearly stutter but go to great lengths to hide it so they can appear as fluent. I told my friend that I did this for about 30 years and was absolutely miserable from the extra energy it took to hide and the feeling that I was being fraudulent by not letting my true self be seen. I also told her about the terror I always felt that my secret would be found out. She wondered how I managed for so long, and I told her about the various tricks that people who covertly stutter use to not stutter.

I told her about word substitution, little tricks like coughing, getting a running start, saying “ah” or “um” a lot or just plain choosing silence. I explained it was a lot like mental gymnastics to keep that up,

Stuttering is also variable for an individual. Fluency can vary significantly over the course of a day, hour, minute and depending what kind of speaking situation the person is facing. I can be very fluent for 30 minutes and then, seemingly like a drop of a hat, can’t get a word out. I’ll start blocking or repeating words or syllables and express frustration and even display some secondary behaviors, such as squeezing my eyes closed.

For some people who stutter, fatigue, stress and time pressure can increase their stuttering. And if a stutterer feels compelled to hide their stuttering, it can get generally more pronounced. The harder you try not to stutter, the more you’ll stutter.

My friend was amazed that I knew so much about stuttering and the different ways it can be seen and heard. She wanted to know where I learned all this.

I simply said, “I’ve lived it. Personal experience is the best teacher.”

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Yet another good workshop I attended at the recent NSA conference in Dallas was on workplace advocacy for those who stutter. The workshop was facilitated by two individuals who are working on a committee with me to increase workplace advocacy efforts and reduce the stigma of stuttering in the workplace. Hope is a speech language pathologist and a candidate for a doctoral degree and John is a person who stutters who has had great success in the workplace.

The workshop focused on audience discussion about what ideas we as a community have for reducing stigma around stuttering in the workplace. People came up with a lot of good ideas that our NSA committee will try to implement over the coming months.

The workshop also provided some statistics on stuttering and labor market outcomes. Both men and women who stutter made at least $7,000 less in annual earnings than men and women who don’t stutter. For women who don’t stutter, some evidence indicates the gap in earnings may be as large as $18,000. Those are big differences and certainly warrant increased workplace advocacy efforts.

The most common suggestion people made in the workshop was around networking. People who stutter believe that our networks will help us find jobs and that is true. Everyone, stutterer or not, should talk to people they know in the field, get references and recommendations and use networks such as LinkedIn to help with the job search process.

But I think there is more that needs to be done around workplace advocacy for stuttering. My vision is that employers understand stuttering and teach employees about stuttering just as they do about other differences in diversity and inclusion training. My hope is that the NSA will become a resource and support network for employers, not just for employees that stutter. More to come on that as our committee continues to expand our vision and sink our teeth into tangible outcomes for advocacy.

What are your thoughts on workplace advocacy for people who stutter? Do you think employers will find it useful to receive guidance and training from the NSA? How do you think we should go about doing that?

 

Be the changeOne of the great workshops that I attended at last week’s NSA conference was one facilitated by Kim Block on “Stuttering Community and Social Justice.” Kim asked the audience thought provoking questions about the group identity of the stuttering community and if we even have a group identity.

She got us thinking about the intersections between various segments of the stuttering community, such as people who stutter, speech and medical professionals, stuttering organizations, media and our allies. Kim asked us to do an exercise imagining the stuttering community as a business and how the different “departments” are linked together. She asked if we work together or in isolation as silos.

That bit about the silo got me thinking. Do the various entities in the stuttering community really work together? We know that the media does not always portray stuttering in a positive light. How could people who stutter, SLP’s, schools and our allies work together to influence the media to convey stuttering positively to the fluent world? In my humble opinion, I think that more people who stutter need to speak out and help educate those who do not stutter. That’s something that we as a community need to keep working on, since many people who stutter don’t like to expose that they stutter.

Kim’s workshop went on to challenge us to think about the elements of social justice: equality, oppression, resources and human rights. Do we have equality in the mainstream world? Do we have equal access to resources like speech therapy and self-help support groups? Are we discriminated against in schools and the workplace? Do stuttering organizations have equal access to fundraising like other organizations do?

The workshop was very well attended for the last slot of the last day. People shared good ideas and the questions spurred good conversation. Kim concluded with her final thoughts which all members of the stuttering community should heed. We are all advocates, we are all group interventionists, we are all connected which gives us opportunity and power.

It’s up to us, the stuttering community, whether and how we use that power. There are opportunities to raise awareness, which would lessen discrimination and misinformation. Members of the stuttering community have to seize those opportunities.

 

 

 

I just returned last night from the 2017 NSA annual conference held in Dallas, Texas. I spent a week with some of the bravest, most resilient people I know. I’ve got lots of special moments to reflect on and share, but thought I’d start by providing a recap of the workshop good friend and SLP Charley Adams and I facilitated. We titled it – “Hide and Speak: The Allure of Covert Stuttering.”

We both wanted to explore the reasons why some people who stutter choose to hide and keep on hiding, even when it perhaps jeopardizes their authenticity. We started out loosely defining what covert stuttering is, and Charley led us through the life cycle of stuttering. This was a good primer for some of the people who were at the conference for the first time.

We then talked about escape behaviors, or what we actually do to hide our stuttering. Then we discussed secondary behaviors and the tricks we use to appear fluent. Later we talked about the degrees of covertness we may have and ways to gradually “drop the C” and aim to move from covert to overt.

One of the highlights of the workshop was an exercise I used in a previous workshop on covert stuttering. People were asked to pair up with a partner and each pair was given a copy of a one minute monologue to read to each other. On the bottom of the page was a large letter “O” or “I.” This signified that anywhere in the monologue that the reader ran across a word with the letter “O” in it, they couldn’t say it, but rather they had to replace it with a word with similar meaning and that also didn’t have the letter “O” in it. Then the other person in the pair had to do the same thing regarding the letter “I.”

It was an eye-opening exercise for people, especially for those in the room that did not stutter. People shared that they felt anxious, frustrated, drained, exhausted and that some gave up and didn’t finish reading. People who stuttered described the same reactions. The exercise was designed to illustrate how mentally hard it is to constantly have to switch words and think of other ones that made sense in the context of what was being discussed. All agreed that it was a valuable teaching tool.

Many people shared their experiences with hiding and we talked about how seductive hiding successfully can really be. People who covertly stutter often feel a thrill when they get away with not being exposed as a stutterer and it sets up as a pattern that is continued.

It was a great workshop. Charley and I got a lot of very positive feedback afterwards, and it definitely spurred good conversation and a different way of understanding covert stuttering. We also had over 120 people in attendance, which was an outstanding turnout.

Throughout the week and next week, I will share more about some of the special conference moments and provide an overview of other workshops.

Next year’s conference will be in Chicago. Start planning now to go. It’s worth it.

 

He-StuttersEpisode 23 of the occasional male series features Ian Mahler, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. Ian is married and stays busy with three girls. He is also a full-time receiving manager for a large wholesale club. Ian works long days, usually 10-11 hours a day.

Listen in to a great conversation as we discuss acceptance, mindfulness techniques, and self confidence.

One of the things Ian does to advertise that he stutters is that he adds a line in his professional email signature that he is a person who stutters. He also has a line that reads #LetMeFinish. If someone cuts him off, he always finishes talking so that the person has to hear him anyway.

We wrap up the conversation talking about resilience and empathy.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

PamEpisode 170 features Pooja  Vijay who hails from New Delhi, India. By day, Pooja is an academic, working as a researcher at a university think tank. She is an engineer. By night, Pooja does stand up comedy, and gets introduced as a stuttering comedian.

Pooja considers herself very lucky to have two jobs that she loves. For she does think of her stand up comedy as a second job. She got started at an Open Mic and got a good response and has been at it ever since. Both of her jobs involve lots of interacting and talking with others. She says we have to “keep speaking and doing our thing.”

Listen in as we discuss how Pooja has managed her stutter, resources for therapy and self-help in India, and how she feels stuttering is just a different way of speaking. She says stuttering is just part of her, like other diversities.

Pooja gives a shout out to fellow comedians Nina G and Drew Lynch, who inspired her to try comedy and keep at it.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

I don’t know why I didn’t post this sooner, but below is a group picture of me after speaking to a graduate stuttering class at the University of Mississippi in March of this year. OK, I’ll admit, I just kind of found the photo and thought it deserved a place on the blog!

It is so important for people who stutter to speak to the next generation of speech language pathologists. Students can’t learn about the experience of stuttering from text books. They have to talk to and listen to real people who stutter who live the experience every day.

On this day, I spoke to the students about my journey from covert to overt stuttering. It was a powerful experience for me, and hopefully them too!

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. 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 2017.