Make Room For The Stuttering

The second week of May is designated as National Stuttering Awareness Week in the United States. This week was declared by Congress in 1988, through the dedicated advocacy work of persons who stutter.

It is a week where people who stutter speak up and out and educate those who don’t stutter about stuttering. It’s also a week to raise awareness about a communication disorder that only affects 1% of the population. That may seem like a small number, but it amounts to over 3 million Americans. That’s a lot of people who share stuttering.

If there’s one thing I’d like people who don’t stutter to know about stuttering it’s this: Stuttering is so much more than what comes out of our mouth. The repetitions and blocks only last moments. The underlying feelings of shame, guilt and fear can last years and can greatly impact our self esteem and world view.

If you encounter someone who stutters for the first time and you’re not sure how to react, use good judgement and react and listen just as you would to any speaker. Be patient, respectful and maintain eye contact. When you look away, the person who stutters feels uncomfortable and awkward and it may even make the stuttering moment worse or longer.

If you don’t understand something we’ve said, ask us to repeat it. Keep in mind that things like job interviews and public speaking create anxiety for the person who stutters, just as it would for a normally fluent speaker.

I am posting things about stuttering on my Facebook page all this week and also wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper that was published on Monday. What will you do to raise awareness about stuttering? If we who stutter don’t do it, who will?

IMG_1086I went to see Drew Lynch, a comedian who stutters, this past weekend. This is the second time I have seen him perform live. He put on a great show and his jokes and stories were genuinely funny.

He didn’t make all of his stories about stuttering. In fact, he only talked about stuttering twice, and poked fun at himself for stuttering just once. The rest of his stories were about other funny things and he stuttered while telling, of course, because that’s what he does.

This time I was at the show with a friend who stutters. She enjoyed the performance as much as I did. Neither of us felt uncomfortable laughing at someone who stutters, nor were we uncomfortable with the audience laughing. And laugh they did! The audience appreciated Drew’s comedy and his story telling. Everything was spot on, especially Drew’s timing, since it’s not always easy for a stutterer to “get” the punchline right.

After the show, my friend and I waited in line to meet Drew and get a picture. I was excited about this, as I had not waited to meet him the last time I saw him perform. When I went up to meet him, I told him I stuttered too and that I greatly enjoyed the show. I told him about the National Stuttering Association , which he didn’t seem to know about. I asked him to consider speaking at a NSA event or conference sometime. He enthusiastically said he would consider it and told me to get in touch with his assistant.

Then we hugged and posed for a photo. I’m glad I got to meet him and glad I enjoyed the show. I’ve come a long way with how I handle seeing and hearing someone else stutter. Years ago, I would have winced and been offended with people laughing at someone who stutters. Now, I take it in stride and just enjoy good comedy for what it is.

This past Saturday I gave a presentation about covert stuttering to a group of mostly speech language pathologists and students studying to be SLPs. This was for the the New York State Speech Language Hearing Association. I spoke about my journey from covert to overt stuttering and how SLPs can best support people who covertly stutter.

There was a lot of interest in how and why I went from covert to overt and there were quite a few questions during my presentation. I also had a few activities for the group to do which illustrated covert stuttering. I quickly realized I had too much material and was going to run out of time. As the group wanted to ask questions, I allotted the last half hour for just that, and ditched the rest of my formal presentation.

An older woman asked me a question toward the end. She didn’t identify herself as a SLP, but I’m pretty sure she was. She prefaced her question with, “You’re not going to like this but . . . ” and then asked the question. She asked, “Don’t you want to be more fluent? Wouldn’t you benefit from speech therapy?”

I was kind of floored. Here I had been talking for almost 90 minutes about how liberating it had felt to finally come out of the stuttering closet and how I was happy with who I was. I responded honestly and said that speech therapy wasn’t a goal of mine. I was most interested in being a comfortable and effective communicator and that I think one can be even with a stutter. I also said that I enjoyed public speaking more than I ever have and that I think I stutter fluently and that was enough for me.

She didn’t offer a response to my response but did come up to me at the conclusion of the presentation and thanked me and even gave me a hug. As did others. That felt great. One other SLP and professor came up to me and also hugged me and said that I was “almost there” with my effective communication. That kind of bothered me, but by that point, I was feeling really good and proud about my presentation.

What do you think? Has anyone asked you if you want to be more fluent? Do you think I answered the question well?

Recently in a Stutter Social hangout, we were having a good discussion about eye contact. We discussed the importance of eye contact, what it conveys and why it can be hard for a person who stutters to maintain eye contact.

I believe that maintaining eye contact when talking to someone is very important. It shows that you are engaged, present and that the person you are talking to is important. Eye contact does not mean staring at a person the whole time you’re talking. Rather, it means holding contact for a moment or two while the person is talking and then alternating your gaze while you are talking.

Gazing or staring at someone for a long time can be unnerving, even a little creepy. It is awkward and can make one or both parties feel uncomfortable. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to gauge how long it’s appropriate to hold eye contact with someone who is stuttering.

A person can be caught in a long block. Do you hold eye contact with them until they get the word out? Might it be uncomfortable for them? What should you do if the person breaks eye contact? Do you follow suit? It can be tricky because you want to be respectful and show you are present but you don’t want to cause an uncomfortable moment. Or longer than a moment – depending how long a person’s block is.

It might be best to ask a person who stutters what they would like you to do if they get stuck, if you and she are comfortable enough to talk about it.

It’s also important to note that sometimes use of the eyes is a secondary behavior of stuttering for the person who stutters. I have long known that one of the things I do when I block is squeeze one or both eyes closed for a moment. Sometimes I know I’m doing it – others times it happens quite automatically and unconsciously.

When we were talking about eye contact in the hangout conversation, someone remarked that I am definitely an eye closer. He was observing people in the video chat to see how we handle eye contact when we’re stuttering. He said some of us were “eye closers” and some of us were “look aways.” It was interesting to see how he could observe and determine that in a matter of just moments.

I think I close my eyes when stuttering for two reasons. I try to force out the word I am stuck on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t! The other reason I think is that I am embarrassed or self-conscious about the block and don’t want to see the other person’s reaction. I worry that I’ll see pity, negativity or laughter in the person’s eyes and closing my eyes helps me to avoid that negative reaction.

I am confident in my stuttering. But I concede that I definitely have my moments when a secondary behavior pops up. Like I said, sometimes I’m aware, and sometimes I’m not and it just happens automatically.

What do you think about eye contact? And do you close your eyes or look away?

I was so surprised this past Saturday night to be recognized for my work with the stuttering community. I had been invited by a good friend to hear him deliver a keynote speech at the annual weekend workshop for people who stutter at The College of St Rose in Albany, NY.

My friend Mitch spoke about the benefits of Stutter Social to the stuttering community. Stutter Social is video conferencing using Google Hangout software to hold a virtual support group. I have been lucky enough to be a host for Stutter Social for 3 and 1/2 years now. Every other Sunday I facilitate a 90 minute group for people who stutter from all across the US and other parts of the world too.

Mitch used technology during his keynote speech and brought Stutter Social to life. He had 4 people who are hosts speak about the impact this has on the stuttering community. I thought I was going to do the same thing, but in person, since I was there.

But when Mitch started to introduce me, he gave me a much longer introduction than I expected. He shared all of my involvement with the stuttering community with the audience but didn’t name me by name until the end. He then called me up to receive the first ever Stutter Social service award for my service to Stutter Social and the greater stuttering community.  I was so surprised and happy that several of my good friends were there to see it via technology.

I don’t do what I do for the stuttering community looking for something in return. But it sure felt great to receive this award in such a surprise fashion. I was both proud and humbled. It’s important to give to the stuttering community – you never know the impact you may have on a person.17626544_10212485416399725_6685749424782899232_n

PamEpisode 169 features Yara who hails from Orange County, Southern California. Yara teaches second grade at a Waldorf school. She kind of happened upon this job, as it was not originally in the plan. Yara has a 12 year old daughter and loves chalkboard art.

Yara says she went from being in a band to now teaching little kids, singing songs every morning.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering and how Yara had always worried about stuttering, with everything. She got really good at coming off as fluent. She shares that for a long time she didn’t know that everyone wasn’t struggling to sound fluent.

Yara shares about her “aha” moment, how hard it is to have the conversation when telling someone she stutters and has been hiding it, and how a massive Google search helped her find stuttering resources. We discuss the NSA and how Yara would really like to go to a conference, how that might be easier for her than a small, intimate NSA chapter meeting.

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

Today I read a really interesting article about using virtual reality to help people who stutter confront some of their social anxieties.

It seems a 24 year medical product designer in the UK is developing software that can expose people to some of their anxiety triggers and help them to improve how they react. The young designer stutters himself.

The software was tested with a stuttering self help support group and participants showed a decrease in anxiety levels after repeated sessions with the software. Some also showed improvement concerning their speech.

The goal of the virtual reality software is to allow people to practice exposure therapy from the comfort of their own home.

You can read the article here.

What do you think? Would you be open to using something like this to work on stuttering related anxiety? It certainly sounds promising!

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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.