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!)

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