Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘covert stuttering

PamEpisode 180 features Petra Ammerlaan who hails from Dreischor, The Netherlands. Petra has been a nurse caring for the elderly for 28 years. She is married to a very supportive husband who never cared that she stutters.

Petra got into nursing because she always liked taking care of people. She works mostly with people at the end of their lives and treasures the stories they tell.  Patients have never cared about her stuttering, but it’s sometimes been a different story with bosses and coworkers!

Listen in Petra shares about being covert for a long time, still trying to hide it sometimes. “Being yourself is often hard with a stutter.”  We also talk about speech therapy experiences, being around those who love and care about us, and the importance of taking baby steps on our journey with stuttering.

We also chat about the Facebook group Stuttering Community and Petra’s recent leap of courage to record and post a video to the group, for the first time.

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

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hand-to-ear-listeningI came across something in the “Notes” section of my phone from three years ago. I obviously felt it was important enough to write down. I’m not sure what lead me to read it again this week, but it really spoke to me.

“For years, we have gone to speech therapy to change the way we speak to make it more comfortable for others. We shouldn’t have to do that anymore.”

This brought back memories of when I participated in speech therapy for the first time as an adult about ten years ago. It was traditional fluency shaping therapy with the goal of changing the way I spoke. I greatly resisted this, without even knowing I was resisting!

I found it hard to learn the “targets” and even harder to demonstrate them. It felt mechanical and clinical and I couldn’t figure out why this wasn’t working for me. I also began to feel like I was failing and I wasn’t used to failing at anything. The harder I tried to “shape my speech differently” the more I failed to do so.

Finally, I realized that the reason I wasn’t succeeding with using fluency targets was because I didn’t want to use them. I felt like creating a different way to speak really just made me covert again. And more importantly, it felt like creating a different way to speak was more for the benefit of others than for me. It seemed like I was working at changing my speech so that listeners wouldn’t be uncomfortable and so that I wouldn’t have to explain why my speech was different than the norm.

People had told me I should try to be fluent when going for job interviews and giving presentations at work. But inside, I felt like that was taking my voice away, and I had been taking my own voice and hiding it away for years. This was the beginning of my personal realization that I didn’t want or need to be fixed and that I didn’t need to conform to be like everybody else.

We don’t need to make people feel more comfortable when listening to stuttering. We all need to just be patient and present communication partners.

Have you ever considered why you participated in speech therapy? A friend recently mentioned that his employer “made him” attend speech therapy sessions because a client was having difficulty with his stuttering. Thoughts?

Jill's class

Recently, I had another opportunity to speak to a master’s level fluency class about my experiences with stuttering. Good friend Jill had asked me to guest lecture to the class and cover the piece on covert stuttering.

I always enjoy doing this. I know many other persons who stutter are invited and take the opportunity to share our stories with the people who will be working with us in the future. It’s critical that future therapists understand stuttering from the perspective of someone who has stuttered all their life. You can’t fully understand the stuttering experience just by reading about it.

I found myself talking to the students just briefly about my journey with stuttering, and how essentially I overcame the fears of stuttering to transition from covert to overt. I spent more time talking about lessons I had learned when I was in therapy as an adult and what I thought are the most important things for SLP students to focus on when working with people who stutter covertly.

I talked about being sure that the therapist is treating the right thing. When I was in therapy, I did not want to learn about techniques that would hide my stutter and make me sound more  fluent. I needed to stutter, after hiding it for so many years. Understanding what the client needs and wants is crucial for successful therapy. Not everyone is looking for fluency. Many people who stutter want to work on acceptance and have someone affirm for them that stuttering is indeed OK.

I think tomorrow’s therapists really need to wrap their head around that today.

 

I know someone who stutters who refers to himself as someone who stutters “some of the time.” He mentions this in email and Facebook posts every time he comments about something stuttering related.

He’s right, you know! All of us who stutter only stutter some of the time. We generally don’t stutter when we’re alone and talking out loud. We usually don’t stutter when talking to children or animals. And most of us don’t stutter on every single word when we stutter.

This individual often brings up the notion of the “fragmented self” that pioneer speech therapist Charles Van Riper coined. Basically this means that those who stutter see themselves as two beings – one who sometimes stutters and one who is sometimes fluent. Interestingly, I wrote about this six years ago in a post titled Self, Divided. I talked about how I often felt that I lead two separate lives – one being a covert stutterer and the other passing as fluent.

I really don’t do that anymore. Since “coming out,” I largely stutter openly and do not attempt to “pass” as normally fluent. I’ve shared before how liberating it is to not worry about being found out or exposed as a stutterer.

I wonder how you feel about this. Can you relate to the notion that we can be people who stutter some of the time? What does this mean in terms of how you see yourself?

 

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.

 

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!

2016.CSD.521.PM (1)

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?


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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.
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