Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘covert stuttering

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I participated in the conference of a lifetime this weekend. I was so lucky to have been able to attend the 2018 ASHA National Convention held in Boston, MA. I was an invited speaker of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders along with good friend and guardian angel, Charley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP from South Carolina. Together, we delivered a presentation called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Treatment for Covert Stuttering.”

We both felt it was extremely important that we talk to current and future SLPs about the importance of “treating the right thing” when it comes to working with people who covertly stutter. Because for covert stutterers, it’s not the possible stuttered word that is the problem. It is the complex layers of shame, guilt, paralysis, and fraudulent identity that must be peeled away and processed that is the the real problem and challenge.

Charley and I only had one hour to convey a whole lot of information to an audience mixed with eager, young graduate students and established clinicians and researchers in the field. We chose to tag team and alternate anecdotal story telling with clinical strategy suggestions. It worked. I must say we were engaging, funny and drove our points home.

I talked extensively about how covert stuttering robbed me of my personality and I knew it, but like the Stockholm Syndrome, I stayed in that bad place for thirty years. I shared details about “pretend Pam” and what it was like when “real Pam” finally emerged. At one point, I said something like, “real Pam stutters openly now with little shame and she’s a damn good communicator.”  At that, the audience rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation. I got choked up and felt my heart swell. It was such a proud moment.

I had doubt that I actually would be able to get to Boston and deliver my part of the presentation. I have not felt well for many weeks and I actually took a month of sick leave off from work, something I have never done. But getting to this convention was immensely important to me and I decided to be upfront, share my situation and ask for help. Charley was there for me, every step of the way, as were others.

The ASHA Convention was the largest I have ever attended. It was intimidating and overwhelming to be among so many people. It was reported that this convention had the most attendees ever – over 18, 000. With few exceptions, everyone was a professional in the fields of speech and hearing. Everyone had impressive letters after their names and I didn’t. But I’m indeed an expert on my stuttering and that’s one of the key messages that I really wanted to convey to the audience.

It’s important to listen and respect the lived experience of people who stutter and don’t assume that professionals have all the answers. It doesn’t always work that way.

PamEpisode 191 features Mara Ormond, who hails from eastern  Maryland, where she, her husband and 5 year old daughter Lula have been for about a year. Mara has moved around a lot, but identifies DC as “where she’s from.” Mara is a leadership coach, helping people with workplace and life issues. She’s also an avid swimmer.

In this episode, we focus on the many new situations in Mara’s life and how she has to stay on top of making room for stuttering in her life.

We explore how harmful hiding stuttering can be to one’s self image and psyche, and even physical health, as Mara notes. We also talk about how spending so much time hiding hinders development on all counts – career, emotional and social.

When you don’t go through regular adolescent and young adult experiences, like active socializing and making friends, because of fear of stuttering, you miss out on becoming self actualized. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’ve missed those opportunities until well into adulthood.

And we spend time dissecting shame – probably one of the core issues with stuttering.  Mara shares an important “aha” moment – when she realized that “everyone feels shame.”

Listen in a to great conversation that once again dives deep into how complex stuttering really is. It was wonderful getting to know Mara better through this conversation.

Music used in today’s episode is credited to Bensound.

He-StuttersEpisode 25 of this occasional male series features Rob Dellinger who hails from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a school-based SLP who stutters who also serves as a consultant for peers who work with students who stutter.

This episode is a little longer in length than I usually like to go but it is important, compelling and current. We both share a little bit about our stories of trying to hide our stuttering and how stuttering dictated our career choices.

We focus very much on how to go about helping kids who stutter, or have any diagnosed mental health issue, like anxiety, learn healthy strategies to develop successful communication skills, stuttering and all in some cases. We talk about not perpetuating avoidance when kids “opt out” of public speaking in school or college.

We emphasize the importance of having compassion and meeting kids “where they’re at.” Pushing kids who may not be ready to be pushed may actually “tip the scales” in favor of a kid who stutters choosing silence (like I did) or a kid with anxiety being caused needless harm.

There are ways to hierarchically help kids start with small challenges and then move up to bigger challenges as they are ready. Rob mentions how he does this in therapy with kids who stutter. This helps the kid feel like the adult/teacher/SLP cares about them and helps them develop crucial communication skills that we all need for college and careers.

We reference the article Teens Are Protesting In-Class Presentations. Take a few minutes to read the article. It’s not long and it is really important.

This was an amazing conversation. Both of us would love your feedback.

The music clip used in this episode is credited to Bensound.

 

PamEpisode 188 features Sarah Albannay, who hails from Kuwait, but is presently living in Pocatello, Idaho while attending college. Sarah has been in the USA for four years now, and is studying Political Science. She says she’ll know what to do with her degree when she’s done.

We had a really interesting conversation. Sarah finds it so much easier to stutter here in the USA. Americans are so much more open about personal issues than she finds people to be at home in Kuwait. She feels quite comfortable advertising that she stutters with classmates and professors here. Sarah says she was a totally different person in Kuwait. (You’ll have to listen to hear her explain that!)

Sarah feels there is so much support here in the USA. She’s found the NSA and good stuttering therapy which has included participation in “intensive stuttering programs.”  Sarah wanted to be sure she gave a shout out to Dan Hudock, the professor at Idaho State University that has really helped her see stuttering differently.

See below for a one minute look at what Professor Hudock is doing at ISU. I also included a fantastic Tedx Talk that Dan did about stuttering. Couldn’t resist – had to include it.

 

 

The music used in todays episode is credited as always to ccMixter.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

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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?

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.

Last night in a Stutter Social hangout, we had a rousing conversation about whether one would take a pill to cure stuttering if it was available. There were 8 of us in the hangout and there was a lot of discussion on the pros and cons of suddenly being fluent.

Several people said they would take such a pill in a heartbeat. They want fluency and the ease of communication that comes with it. They couldn’t really fathom why someone who stutters would choose NOT to take the pill.

Several people indicated that they wouldn’t take the pill because they’re not sure they’d like the person they might become. After stuttering so many years, one of course gets used to being the person they are, stutter and all. And some said that stuttering has helped shape the person they are.

One person said that stuttering or suddenly being fluent brings us choices. Fluency would bring us choices that we don’t now have. We might choose to put ourselves in speaking situations that we’d never dream of now.

And it was mentioned that if we didn’t stutter, we wouldn’t have the rich connections and friendships we now have in the stuttering community. Of course, we’d have other friendships with people that don’t stutter that certainly could be just as rich as those we’ve made.

It’s certainly an interesting question. Personally, I wouldn’t take such a pill. Being covert so long, I hated my stuttering and did everything I could to deny it existed and to pretend that I was fluent. It worked but at a toll. It was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting to live a life of hiding. When I finally couldn’t take it anymore – when I felt so inauthentic I felt like a fraud – I made the decision that I wasn’t going to live like that anymore.

I embarked on a journey of self discovery that I could live, and even thrive, with stuttering. I learned how to stutter openly and to accept that it’s a part of me. I learned how to stutter fluently. It took me over 8 years to reach that point and as far as I ‘m concerned, there’s no going back. I like who I am. I like all the pieces that make up me. And stuttering is one of those pieces.

What about you? If there was a pill you could take that made you fluent, with no side effects, would you take it?

PamEpisode 164 features Sofia Espinoza, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, although Sofia is originally from Peru. Sofia works for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. She is an engineer and works in IT, implementing systems.

Sofia went into engineering because she thought it would be a field where there wouldn’t be much talking. When she began her Masters program, she saw it was much more interactive and would require talking and class participation. It was at this time that Sofia began researching support opportunities and found the NSA and Toastmasters.

She threw herself into both at the same time, as well as seeing a counselor. All of these things helped Sofia to graduate.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering, baby steps, shyness and anxiety, and the pain of stuttering.  We also talk about wearing armor to protect ourselves and how heavy that armor can be to carry around.

Sofia attended her first NSA conference this year, as it was held in Atlanta. We talk about her experiences and her favorite workshop.

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

PamEpisode 158 features Jennifer Allaby who hails from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. Jennifer retired from a career in social work, most recently working with First Nation communities.

Listen in as Jennifer describes how about a year ago she began to seriously look at the stuttering part of her life. For about 30 years, she had been covert. She says it had become like work to keep up the façade of not stuttering.

She explored the stuttering community and marveled at how open and welcoming people have been. She also shares that since becoming involved in the stuttering community, she’s learned a whole new language.

We also discuss Jennifer’s involvement in Toastmasters, which she describes as the best thing she’s done for herself. Jennifer’s initial goal with Toastmasters was “to stutter,” and to be the best communicator she could be as herself.

Jennifer also explains what Toastmasters is for those who may not know, and shares how welcoming and supportive other members are. Nobody expects perfection, she says. It’s gentle and you don’t feel pressured but you do feel accomplishment and appreciation for what you’ve done.

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

 


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2021. 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 2021.
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