Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘being real with stuttering

I had the opportunity to present about stuttering to a group of high school students specializing in neuroscience and all things associated with the brain. They are all so smart, far smarter than I ever remember myself being at their age.

The teacher has invited me to do this talk for several years and I am always up to the challenge. To keep a talk about a disorder that is limited to just a small percentage of the population interesting and engaging enough for young people is indeed a challenge.

But I did it and was just so amazed with their genuine interest and thoughtful questions. I spent about half the time sharing current research with them on stuttering and the brain and the other half of the time sharing personal stories that hopefully truly illustrated for them what stuttering really is and is not.

Today I got some feedback from each student. It really made my heart sing to read their comments and be left feeling that I really did help educate them on something that might stay with them for years to come.

Here are a few of the feedback pieces I am so proud to share here.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us about the neuroscience of stuttering. I really enjoyed how your talk with us was so different than the other ones we have had. Nobody really talks about stuttering and the science behind it, so I thought it was really interesting. I never realized how low the statistics were of developing a stutter and not growing out of it. It really interested me how women are so much less common to stutter than men. I really wonder why. I really would like to say that the confidence you have when speaking is really something noticeable and powerful. The fact that you don’t care as much about what people think of you is really something important. Thank you so much again!

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us on Friday.  It was really interesting and illuminating to see stuttering from the perspective of someone who stutters and then to see the neuroscience behind it as well.  I never really thought of stuttering as being so stigmatized before, but after your talk, I realized how bad the media makes it seem. Now being aware of that will make me more able to communicate with someone with a stutter or even someone who has something similar.  The key to being able to better communicate with people from all different backgrounds starts with making an effort to understand those backgrounds and treating them as you would anyone else. Thanks again for taking the time talk to us.

Thank you so much – and I mean it – for coming in to talk about stuttering and the problems or lack thereof associated with it. I was able to relate with what you said even though I myself don’t have a stutter, and it’s nice to see someone so confident and well-spoken talk about something I relate to so much. Although the science was interesting as well, I will say just you talking about your experiences and how stuttering affects your everyday life was my favorite part of the rotation.



Episode 65 features Guðbjörg Ása Jóns Huldudóttir, or Gudda, an actress who hails from Reykjavík, Iceland. We chatted while Gudda is in Wroclaw, Poland, where she is in residence at the Grotowski Institute with her theater company, Bred in the Bone.

Gudda got involved in theater when she was about 23 years old. She started off taking some evening classes and then joined a non-professional acting group in Reykjavík. It was only after she had become involved with the Icelandic Stuttering Association (Málbjörg)  that she gained the self-confidence and courage to have a go at theater.

Gudda shares how she first became involved with the stuttering community as a young person at an ELSA conference (European League of Stuttering Associations.)

She shares hearing for the first time ever a person who stutters give a public speech. That person was Anita Blom, who is an inspiring presence in the global stuttering community. Gudda has since facilitated her own theater workshop at an ELSA conference. She shares how wonderful it was to bring the joy and playfulness of theater to young people who stutter.

We also discuss advertising stuttering and educating others. As she puts it, we have stuttered all of our lives and are used to it. We have to take care of those who are not, to reduce misunderstanding and patronization.

Credit for the podcast safe music used in this episode goes to ccMixter. Tell us what you think of this episode. Feedback is a gift!

Here are several more workshop summaries from the 100 workshops that were available to choose from and attend last weekend at the National Stuttering Association conference in Ft Worth, Texas. Having people share their take-away points is important.

As promised, Anna shares her reflections on two more workshops she attended. It’s a good thing my volunteer writers attended different workshops, so we could provide this feedback.

Dr. Baker’s Speech – Treatment Innovations and Journey of Hope presented by Robert Baker Ph.D.

Anna writes: “Dr. Baker, a child psychologist, was once a PWS, but recovered using a theory called “British Object Relations”. Now perfectly fluent and confident, he uses play therapy and this theory to help young kids who stutter.  He calls himself “a messenger of hope”. Unfortunately, his explanations of the method and the theory itself were very vague.

I was able to make some sense of his workshop, because of my experience with NLP sessions, and because of my extensive reading on the subject of  the subconscious mind and its problems.  Judging from audience reactions however,  this workshop left many people confused and puzzled, if not annoyed and angry. One PWS in the audience was particularly annoyed by Dr. Baker’s approach and loudly cautioned parents not to “trust just any wacky treatment” only because someone benefited from it. I wasn’t sure about it either.

I am sure glad my parents tried everything from traditional speech therapy to hypnosis and even incantations from a “village witch”. Yet, beside Dr. Baker, I never met a PWS who would say that it was “Object Relation therapy” that helped him or her.”

Going Beyond Stammering with Confidence  presented by Maria McGrath.

Anna writes: “Paddy will pick me up after school”, little Maria said to the other kids. Except that she wanted to say Daddy and couldn’t say “D”. Since Paddy was her cow, the kids laughed mercilessly at this mistake. When she graduated from college, she had difficult time finding jobs. She was a good accountant, but had to decline or leave all jobs that required speaking. Now she is fluent… Well, not quite.

Maria told her story in a clear, strong voice with no signs of stuttering. She is a McGuire graduate, who puts a lot of time and effort into mastering the special technique that allowed her to gain fluency. “I still stutter, and I know I will never be able to speak like other people, but I am working on becoming a better speaker every day” says she in her controlled voice.  To me it was interesting that the first time she went to McGuire program, she relapsed quickly and resumed her stuttering. Her second time she realized that she needs to change internally as well. This time the success was lasting.”

Thanks Anna (see Anna in action here delivering a speech)  for sharing these terrific reflections. It gives others a taste of what they missed.

My friend Alex shares his surprising reflections on the keynote address by Neal Jeffrey.

Alex writes: “The workshop that moved me most was one that I didn’t expect. I was a little skeptical about the Neal Jeffrey workshop, although the NSA all-stars who spoke before him were incredibly inspiring. You can never hear enough stories of people who stutter prevailing and overcoming some of the negatives that we all seem to face.

My skepticism came from reading the bio of Neal in the NSA program, where it mentioned all of his accolades: college quarterback, NFL quarterback, minister, and motivational speaker. Nowhere in the bio did it mention he stutters, so naturally I was unsure how he would be able to relate to us. The first thing he said in his speech was that he is in fact a person who stutters, and right away, he captured my attention.

I do not have a very religious background and although I certainly do respect all those who choose to follow whatever religion they choose, I was blown away by how inspiring this man was. I came away from the session feeling more empowered to be a great person than I ever thought possible.

With the amount of volunteer work I do, the profession I am going into (Speech-language pathology), and my passion for fitness and helping others achieve their fitness goals, one might think that I am already empowered to do great things with my time here on earth. Well, to my surprise, I felt like jumping out of my chair and screaming “AMEN” at certain points throughout his speech. He instilled a greater sense of pride and passion for being a PWS which was amazing for me and I’m sure everyone else in the room.

I really felt as though he made a connection with everyone in the room. Maybe I’m so grateful for this experience because I was not expecting it in the least.  He has certainly made a lasting impact in my life.”

Thanks so much Alex for sharing this honest and insightful reflection.

I want to add one more thought. I attended one of the Open Mic sessions, which are offered throughout the conference. I try to get to at least one every year. I was so inspired by how many first-time attendees were willing to stand-up and share something with the group, whether it be why they were there or just saying their name.

These personal testimonies always move me to tears, and this years was no exception! The session I attended was on the first afternoon, hosted by my friend Bernie Weiner!

As I write this, I decided to schedule it for Thursday. By then, I will be in Ft Worth, Texas at the 2011 National Stuttering Association annual conference. Thursday morning, I am co-presenting a workshop with good friend Joe called “Bring Up The Stuttering.”

We will talk about why it is so important to talk about our stuttering and not be afraid to bring it up.

Afterwards, I hope to meet a LOT of people who stutter. Thursday will be the first full day of workshops and most people will be attending workshops, interacting with each other and meeting new people.

I saw on one of the email groups a question from a conference “first-timer.” He asked, “how do you meet people at a big conference like this?” He also said he felt kind of silly asking it, but had the guts to anyway. He mentioned he is shy and finds it hard to introduce himself to new people.

Here’s the best way! Walk up to someone you don’t know, especially if they are sitting alone, stick out your hand, and say, “Hi, my name is  . . . . . and its great to meet you.” It’s that easy.

I plan to do a lot of that during my time at the conference. Meeting new people, hearing new stories and making new friends. That’s why I go to these conferences. I will be advertising in some way too. I have a couple of shirts that proclaim I stutter, that are unique, like me.

I will post next week on some of the highlights of the conference.

I was looking through some old papers amidst some clutter that I keep saying I will get to and organize. I hate to throw anything away. I always think I will need it for something else. And I like to save things and reflect back occasionally on things I’ve done and people I’ve met.

I came across the outline and notes for the first workshop that I did at an NSA conference back in 2008. My friend Mary and I co-facilitated a presentation called “Being Real: Letting It All Hang Out”. It was based on the story of the Velveteen Rabbit and how he “became real” through the processes we all go through in life when we find ourselves.

In this workshop, we spoke about how we had both moved to places in our lives where we were ready to be real with our stuttering. We drew parallels from other areas of life where we felt it was OK to be genuine.

We discussed things like generosity, emotions and courage. It was a very moving presentation. Mary and I shared honestly from our hearts about our struggles, our covert  journeys and the price we paid along the way for when we had hidden our true selves.

One of the other themes we discussed was also that “Real Is No Regrets”. We need to do the things we want and live our lives to the fullest. That includes even taking huge risks. It means never not doing the things we love so that we will never have to look back and say, “Damn, I wish I had done that”.

We know where “should haves” leave us. Feeling unfulfilled, feeling we missed out on opportunities, feeling like we don’t matter.

For a long time, I didn’t do things I really wanted to, because I didn’t feel I was worthy. Now, I seem to be making up for lost time. I don’t want to look back and regret that I didn’t do this or try that.

We shouldn’t let our past, our circumstances, or our stuttering keep us from getting wet when it rains.

Recently, I had two moments that really illustrate this. One involved me directly, the other involved a friend who told me about a challenge she confronted.

I had a hard time as a kid. One of the most influential people in my life was a high school teacher who really took an interest in me, and knew that things were hard at home. After high school, without fail, she sent me birthday and Christmas cards every year. I usually reciprocated.

Then life got in the way, and I stopped sending them to her. But her cards came faithfully, until a few years ago. My address changed and the forwarding ended before her annual card. I actually didn’t even notice.

Then last year, she crossed my mind several times, fondly. I remembered things she had said that encouraged me. And then I realized I had not received her annual card. I felt guilty, wishing I had stayed in touch.

I felt like I had somehow betrayed her for not reconnecting. I sent her a Christmas card and included my phone number and a note apologizing for drifting away. A card from her came a few weeks later, with her phone number and a note to call whenever I wanted so we could connect.

It took me four months to call her. I was afraid what she would think of me. I finally got up the nerve and we met for coffee this week. It was so wonderful. We both caught up, talked and shared. It made me wonder, “what was I so afraid of?”  I’m guessing it was me!

I am so glad I called Eleanor. We promised to do it again soon. I will make sure it happens.

Last week, a friend emailed me to let me know she finally found the courage to have a tough conversation with her husband. Ann and I had been talking about her attending her first stuttering conference. She shared that she was afraid to ask her husband. I asked her why did she have to ask. Ann felt she didn’t deserve to spend money on something that would only benefit her.

She intimated that her fear of honestly letting her husband know how important something was to her brought her back to the days of when she was a child and felt intimidated by her parents. Ann had stifled her own needs for a long time, just like I had!

I was elated when Ann emailed me and told me she talked to her husband. It didn’t quite go as she hoped, but she had opened a door. A week later, she emailed me that she spoke with him again and that they had reached a compromise and they were going to go together. She only needed to register!

Ann emailed me again, saying her registration was accepted and she had reserved a room. I was so happy and proud of her. We will meet in person for the first time at the conference this summer. I am confident that Ann will not regret her decision. And that we will have a long and joyful hug!

I found myself responding to someone who was thinking out loud about stuttering. She said, “I just don’t get it.”  I mused she probably was referring to, “Why is stuttering so unpredictable?”

The variability and complexity of how we sound, how we feel, how one day it’s one way and the next it is completely different is quite amazing. To me, anyway. There are some who will surely find ways to describe stuttering that does not include the adjective “amazing.”

For a long time, I tried to figure things out – why this, why that, why some people react one way, why others say dumb things, why sometimes I am like an open book, and other times, I find myself with heat on my face and my heart thumping. I stopped trying to figure it out.

It is so much easier to just let things be the way they are going to be. It sounds simplistic. Perhaps it may even seem to minimize the struggle of stuttering for some.

I have an embroidered framed art piece of one of my favorite sayings, “It Is What It Is”. I used to think that even thinking that about stuttering or my reaction was a “cop-out”. Some things are just going to happen and life will go on. I have determined that to be a fact.

No matter how hard I try to analyze or rationalize or convince myself otherwise, some days I am going to stutter a lot and feel tense, and some days I am going to hardly stutter at all.

I think sometimes its harder to just relax and let my natural self be. I had become so used to making excuses, rationalizing, over-thinking, obsessing about everything. It’s what I did, all of the time. That was when I considered myself very covert about my stuttering.

Now, to just relax and be, really BE, sometimes I have to remind myself of just that – that who I am is really OK. Screw everyone else who doesn’t think so.

Yes, this is hard to do in a (perceived) judgmental world, but I guess I just have reached the point where all the needless worrying about how I will sound or what someone will think is just not so important anymore.

Just like the song says, “Let It Be”.

Episode 20 features Cheryl, who hails from the Bay area of California. Cheryl is a recent college graduate with a degree in psychology and a minor in creative writing. She is presently unsure of her career path, but knows that someday she wants to write.

She envisions writing fiction, either novels or short stories. She also is considering speech pathology with a special interest in research of brain pathways of people who stutter. What a great combination, huh? Creative writing, brain research and psychology.

I first met Cheryl on the email group, Stuttering Chat. We learned that we had both attended the same NSA conferences, but just had not met in person. We eventually connected on Face book and Skype and began actually chatting instead of just virtually chatting.

Not surprisingly, Cheryl is a lover of books and calls herself a bookworm. She also enjoys travel, with a special penchant for Paris. She studied abroad in Paris for four months, falling in love with the city of enlightenment. (thanks to B for gently correcting me!)

Listen is as we chat about school experiences, social skills development and how stuttering influences self-esteem. Cheryl also shares  her therapy experiences and how it feels to “relapse” after experiencing fluency.

Feel free to comment or leave feedback for either of us.

Music used in this episode is podcast safe music from CCmixter. The title of the clip is “Scott waves to April’s salty Grace”. (I love this title!)

I was at the NSA Conference in Cleveland Ohio last week, and as always it was an exciting, magical and inspirational weekend. I plan to write about some of the best moments and provide a summary of a couple of really great workshops I attended, plus one I gave!

In the meantime,  Mike Bauer put together a fantastic video that was played during the closing ceremonies. It really summarizes how wonderful the conference was, and the magic feeling you get being around so many courageous people who stutter.

Mike also presented at the Toastmaster Demo workshop and gave his icebreaker speech, and did a fantastic job. I think this was only Mike’s second conference, so kudos to him for stepping up with a presentation so soon.

I feel honored to be able to share this video here! Mike did a great job. He may have found a new volunteer job with the NSA.

Right now, I am at the National Stuttering Association (NSA) 2010 conference in Cleveland, Ohio. By the time you read this, I will have been here for 2 full days. It is a great time to stutter freely and openly, meet new people and catch up with many friends I have made on this wonderful journey.

I made a promise to myself that I would not spend time during the conference blogging, tweeting or updating on Face book. That takes away from the real purpose of being here – which is to connect with others who share the same experience, worries and fears. There is nothing more powerful than the support of people who get it, even if you don’t know them, yet!

I feel that wave of support when I walk into one of the rooms at a NSA conference. I don’t have to explain myself or what I just did. I don’t have to worry about any of the looks, or feel self-conscious. We can talk, and listen, and share, and take as much time as we need.

I will be writing about some of the best moments of the NSA conference upon my return. It will be hard to do, as I know there will be many to choose from. I am facilitating one workshop on my own, helping with the Toastmasters demo meeting, and doing something special with teens on Saturday morning.

I am also looking forward to meeting some friends in person – Danny, Sarah, Gloria, Mandy, Cheryl – and meeting some of the folks who will be experiencing the fellowship of self-help for the first time.

Look for updates here soon!

Patrice, Pam, Bob, Steve and Joe

Getting together with other people who stutter never has to be formal with a set agenda. My friend Steve and I decided to launch a monthly social gathering for people who stutter in our area to just get together over food, drinks and good conversation.

We might talk about stuttering or we might not. What’s important is that we are getting together and feel comfortable to talk and laugh about anything.

We are calling our social gathering “Chat & Chew Too”. We have adopted the name from good friend Russ Hicks, who hosts similar social gatherings in Dallas.

So far we have met twice, and have our time and place scheduled for next month. We plan to alternate the times, days and places in an effort to keep it flexible and reach as many people as possible who want to connect in a very informal setting.

We had a great time talking a little bit about this and a little bit about that. It was nice to meet someone new and catch up with old friends as well. I would recommend fun, regular, social gatherings for anyone but particularly for people who stutter. We love to talk!

Last night, I had a great talk with a very special person.  It wasn’t until I got off the phone with her that I realized how insightful our conversation had been. She is aware that I recently stopped attending a regular stuttering group that I had been part of for several years. (That itself is a long story!).

We both acknowledged that I now had a void in my life, but maybe it was an intentional opening to fill it with other things. We talked about how sometimes you don’t realize how something is really supportive until you “feel” how good it feels.

Just talking with other people who stutter, or someone who really gets stuttering, is support. Whether it be online, over the phone, or in person, just feeling that feeling that the other person gets you, understands and is not judgmental, is so powerful.

Support doesn’t need to come in the form of an organized meeting, at a certain time at a certain place. It doesn’t have to be therapy based, or a workshop, or with one person filling a certain role.

Nope, it can be as simple as just talking with another person who really and truly gets it. And we can create those personal networks all over for ourselves. I don’t have to wait for a certain time to attend a certain meeting. My support comes from all of the connections I have made, and each of us can do that for ourselves.

Meeting people through FRIENDS and the NSA has created many support opportunities for me. And it has extended through social media, other people’s blogs and podcasts, Skype and the phone.

Thanks so much, Lee, for reminding me of that.

I got through the awards ceremony at school on Wednesday night, as I knew I would. It went well, considering the people element and human nature. What do I mean?

I had instructed the students who were to participate in the induction ceremony to arrive by 4:15, so we could rehearse. I figured most would arrive by 4:30. When 5 of the 15 were a half-hour late, I had to kick in with Plan B. Re-assign some of the student roles.

This would be our only rehearsal, as the students were coming from three different programs with different schedules. By show time, the last two eased in and took their seats. I asked the students to fill-in the late comers.

I went up on stage to the podium, took a deep breath, smiled and opened the proceedings. As soon as I began speaking the scripted lines, I noticed I was stuttering more than usual. My heart was beating a little faster, but I just kept breathing and moved forward. I stuttered on the first sound of many of the scripted words, which I could not substitute, and had some stuttered moments during multisyllabic words.

The candle lighting ceremony went well, considering we only had 5 minutes practice. Only one student fumbled with the switch on the fake candles. (Not allowed to use flames in a public building).

As I called the names of each student to come and get their certificates, I stuttered on most of the names. I could see out of the corner of my eye one student begin to rise and then sit again until I had finished his whole name.

Towards the end, after three students had each read a piece on courage, achievement and not limiting themselves (which I had thoughtfully selected and conned them into doing),  I decided to be bold and make a comment about my stuttering. I started by saying that it takes courage to come up on stage and speak to a large audience.

And that I was proud of the student’s courage. And that I was showing courage myself, by not allowing stuttering to hold me back from what I needed to do.

After the ceremony, our Assistant Superintendent came up to me and congratulated me on a job well done. He commented, “you were pretty nervous, huh?” I said “no, I was just stuttering.” He looked surprised and said he never noticed that I stutter.

Then he asked a couple of questions, like had I done any work on my speech. And then he commented, “Oh, now that we are talking about it, I pick it up”. I think my face flushed at that. He concluded with telling me that he was glad that I do not let stuttering holding me back.

The following morning he sent me this note via email: “Just a quick note to again say ‘Fantastic Job’ last evening. I was very impressed with your advance preparation and presentation throughout the Induction Ceremony. We are lucky to have you working here!

The school psychologist came to me as well and said that she was impressed how I chose to mention my stuttering and tie it into the student’s theme of courage. She said it made a lot of sense to be upfront, put it out there and not leave anyone wondering.

This was the first time I had occasion to mention stuttering with these two people. It made me feel good!

With risk comes growth, right? And more and more acceptance.

Episode 5 welcomes NSA friend Stacey Fitzenrider, who hails from Seattle, Washington. I e-met Stacey several years ago through various stuttering groups and met her in person last year at the NSA Scottsdale conference.

She and 5-year-old daughter Ava came to the Open Mic session that I hosted at 8:30 am on Thursday, as a favor to a good friend who asked me to fill in for him at the last minute.

Always the good sport, I was at the ready at 8:30am. Not too many other people were (!), so I had the chance to chat it up with Stacey and Ava. We chatted as if we had known each other for ever. And Ava did a good deal of the chatting. It was a treat getting to know them.

Really cool fact – Stacey’s “handle” is chattygirl. Don’t ya love it? And you will love Stacey’s gut honesty as we chat about all kinds of things, including choices, parents that stutter, feeling whole, and living life.

Musical credit for the intro song “Today Then Tomorrow” goes to Dano Songs.

Feel free to leave comments. As a matter of fact, I encourage it. Let Stacey know your thoughts.

I am always surprised when I hear myself express the need to be validated because I still don’t do it directly. I don’t come right out and ask someone, “Hey, can you validate me?’ I will dance around whatever it is that I need, until I hear either directly or indirectly that I am a good person or am loved.

We all need to hear that, right? This may be one of the most basic of human needs, yet for me, one of the hardest. I always believed I wasn’t good enough, or didn’t measure up, or didn’t even count enough to deserve good things said or felt about me.

A lot went into that: the ingrained belief I had that I was no good, that I didn’t matter and that my feelings weren’t valid. And of course, the fact that I stuttered. Putting that all together left me feeling I had no choice but to close myself off from the world.

Now I have opened myself to the world and allowed feelings to be felt. I let things seep in that I had always pushed away. I am beginning to see how good it feels when people affirm me, tell me I am good, and that I matter. Sometimes I still feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, maybe like I don’t deserve it, and other times it makes me feel warm and glowing inside.

I have almost reached a point when I can tell when I need that. And I will dance around the issue with a good friend or loved one, until they tell me something that makes me feel good.

I wish I could be direct enough to just let someone know, “hey, I need someone to tell me I have done a good job. Will you do that for me?”  I guess I also wish that I really didn’t need to hear that at all – that I just know it, that it comes from within.

But we are human. And need to hear others affirm us. We need to be validated. It feels good.

Episode 3 welcomes Annetta Price from Trinidad and Tobago. I first came to know Annetta when she started commenting on this blog and began sharing some of her own feelings about stuttering,which she had rarely made public.

We do a lot of honest talking about how stuttering makes us feel. We cover a lot in a short time, including some of the tough stuff, like feeling flawed, vulnerable and inadequate.

Annetta starts off by explaining that she prefers to be affectionately called Marie, because she can say that, instead of always stuttering on the “A” in the name Annetta.  I was very impressed that she shared that right off the bat – as that certainly is not easy to publicly admit.

This episode features my first attempt at adding a little intro music. It took me a long time to add a 15 second clip. I am confident that I will get better at this each week.  Musical credit for “Silver Shine” goes to “Free Royalty Free Music” by Dano Songs.

Annetta authors a wonderful blog herself, called Finally A Mom. Her blog has been commended by the community health blog-o-sphere, as her personal experiences helps many, many women. Check it out!

Feel free to leave comments or ask Annetta questions.

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