Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘educating about stuttering

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?

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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?

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!


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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.