Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘educating about stuttering

I am so proud and excited to share that I gave a 90 minute presentation on Monday at the annual national conference of The Indian Stammering Association.

The session was presented remotely of course, but I felt like I was there as we did it through Google Hangouts live and I was able to see and hear everyone, and of course they could see and hear me as well. I did a couple of interactive activities, which members of the audience participated in and there was lots of audience sharing and feedback.

What a great experience for me. It was an honor to be asked to help be part of such an empowering process. I didn’t even mind that I got up at 4:30 for the 5am start time.

If you’re interested, here’s the whole thing, complete with the “muskmelon” activity and questions and sharing from people who stammer in India.

 

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?

PamEpisode 177 features Claire Norman who hails from London, UK. Claire is 26 years old and keeps very busy. She works as an intelligence analyst in fraud prevention and is studying for her Masters degree in counter fraud and corruption studies.

She also founded and directs S.T.U.C. which stands for Stammerers Through University Consultancy. Based on her own poor experience with the disability support office at her university, Claire has organized partnerships with 16 universities in the UK that are now equipped to help students and staff that stammer. Her initiative is four years old. It’s amazing what a difference one person can make.  If you are interested in helping Claire with the S.T.U.C. initiative, reach out to her on her Facebook page, or on Twitter @STUC_UK or Instagram stuc_stammer.

Listen in as Claire discusses how she has organized these partnerships and the work she does to provide resources and support. We also discuss the extensive support networks for people who stammer in the UK and how Claire has spread awareness of S.T.U.C. through the stammering community.

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

 

 

 

Last Friday I spoke to high school students about stuttering. These students are in an accelerated science class during their senior year. They are studying methods of scientific research and for their neuroscience unit, the teacher invited me in to talk about stuttering. I talked a little about the neurology and genetics of stuttering and a lot about the emotional complexities of a communication disorder.

It was such a pleasure to present to these students. They had so many questions and were truly interested and engaged with what I shared. I didn’t get through half of the formal presentation I had prepared as I just decided to go with the flow of the student’s questions.

Yesterday, the teacher emailed me thanking me again for coming in and included thank you notes from the students. I was touched and overwhelmed with what they had to say. Here’s a few of the messages from the students.

Ms. Pam Mertz, On behalf of the New Visions Scientific Research Program of 2018 I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your morning to come and teach our class about stuttering. It was very beneficial for us all to learn about this speech disorder, as it is one that is often not taught about. It was very interesting to learn about the association between dopamine and blood flow levels in the brain and stuttering.

Ms. Pam Mertz, thank you so much for meeting with us on Friday and introducing us to just a little snapshot of what stuttering is and how you deal with it in your life. I really appreciate that you were comfortable enough to embrace your stutter with us and that you let your powerful and comforting voice show through. I was very interested in how you explained how stuttering does not affect those when singing because a different side of the brain is used. I really do thank you for meeting with us and I hope that we can meet with you again later on this year.

For someone that stutters, it must be pretty terrifying to have a job that has you speak in front of crowds so often. To be able to overcome any fear and do your job is very inspiring, and for you to let down your guard and openly stutter in front of us is very kind. Thanks again for coming and telling the new Visions Class about your lifelong experience with stuttering. I thought the most interesting part was how you met another student that was the only stutterer in her school, and were able to connect to based on shared experiences.

Thank you Pam for taking the time out of your day to come and talk with us and teach us about stuttering. I really enjoyed hearing about how you have overcome your stutter and learned to deal with it. It is very inspiring!! I did not know much about stuttering and I didn’t know how much of a mental toll having a stutter had on a person. Thank you so much Pam!!

Thank you so much for coming in and talking to us about a topic that doesn’t get enough recognition in this world. I really enjoyed hearing your story and the view on the subject from someone who experiences stuttering everyday of their life. You are very brave for stuttering freely and being able to encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Keep moving forward and I hope the world begins to realize how important this is. I found it really interesting how much of a psychological impact it has on a person and maybe the reason is because they don’t know that they have a huge group of people like you that are ready to support them. Thank you again so much for coming in and teaching us, it was one of the most interesting rotations of the year so far.

Pam, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to us about something that’s very personal to you.  I think that it’s great that you made a platform for yourself to speak on stuttering and make the impact that you do on others.  When you explained the story about the little girl Kira when you spoke at the one middle school, it shows how much what you’re doing matters.  Learning about how certain things can aggravate or increase one’s stuttering was quite interesting and important knowledge. Thank you again for talking to us I really appreciated it!

Ms. Mertz, Thank you for giving of your time to meet with us on Friday.  It was very interesting to hear a first hand account of what it is like to live with stuttering.  I realized how uneducated about stuttering I was after hearing your presentation.  I think so often people are uneducated about it and do not see it as the real problem that it is.  Stuttering in itself is a large problem but it causes many other issues like depression because of the stigma surrounding it.  It is important that people are educated about it and thank you for educating our class on it.

 

Yesterday I answered the phone at work and stuttered on the name of the school I work at, as I often do. The caller immediately laughed and asked, “Did you forget where you work? Do you really wish you were at the pool?” For an instant, I felt that sinking feeling I get when I’ve been made fun of and I sensed my shoulders tighten and my face flush.

I sighed and then quickly said, “No, I stutter. Sometimes that happens.” The caller then gasped a little and apologized. She then paused and proceeded to tell me where she was from and what she wanted. She was from one of our district’s schools and needed some information which I was able to help her with.

She thanked me and apologized again. When we were done with the call, she wished me a good day and apologized a third time.

When I got off the phone, I was pissed. Not how I handled it, but that it happened. It still stuns me that grown adults react this way when someone stutters. I know she probably had no clue that I was a stutterer and thought she was making a joke. But still, not knowing who is answering the phone, a professional should not laugh like that and make matters worse by asking a dumb question.

I was happy I advocated for myself (and others!) by stating that I stutter and that stuttering happens sometimes. I feel she may have been embarrassed and I did not intend to embarrass her, but simply wanted to explain what she was hearing and that I hadn’t forgot where I worked.

I know this has happened to many of us who stutter. How do you react?

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?

You all know that I write about my experiences involving stuttering. I have wondered what will happen when the day comes when I don’t have anything more to say. Well, I am not wondering today.

Last week, I presented a training to a professional audience on public speaking and communication. The group consisted of speech therapists, occupational therapists and training coordinators who are all terrified of public speaking.

As an ice breaker, I asked everyone to introduce themselves and use one word or phrase to describe what public speaking means. Like expected, most of the responses were negative. We heard words like nervous, anxious, stressful, shaking, sweating, fear, and embarrassment. The last person said she didn’t want to stutter when speaking.

I felt my face flush when she said that. I had not yet disclosed my stuttering. She provided my cue. I reintroduced myself and said my word for public speaking was opportunity. I then added, “oh, by the way, I stutter, and I am OK with it. I hope you all are too.”

No one said anything, but I did notice a few glances toward the woman who had mentioned stuttering. I did not say this to embarrass her. It just seemed like the perfect time to disclose and advertise.

As soon as I did, I put it out of my mind and proceeded. Towards the end of the training, someone asked me why I had used the word opportunity.

I was the only person who had chosen a positive word to describe public speaking. I replied that it allows me to grow and push outside of my comfort zone, and that I don’t let stuttering hold me back.

This past week, I facilitated the second of two adult education graduations in one week. I had coordinated both events, arranged for speakers, and was the emcee at the first one. One of our district superintendents spoke at both affairs. He spoke on the same theme, changing the second speech up just slightly from the one he gave earlier.

After the ceremony, and before we proceeded to join the graduates for a reception, the administrators were chatting and I happened to be close by.

I overheard one assistant superintendent say to the one who had spoke, “hey, you did a nice job. You didn’t stutter as much as last week.” And she laughed. I glanced at them both – she was laughing, he was not.

I felt uncomfortable. It seemed like an insensitive remark to make, given that I had stuttered openly when I had emceed last week.

Maybe I am overly sensitive. What do you think? Would you have said anything?


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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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