Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘Friends who stutter

On the last night of improv class, one of my classmates came up to me to talk for a minute. She had a sheepish look on her face, as if she was wasn’t sure how I’d react to what she was about to say.

She said, “You know, how, like you stutter” and she had her hand cupped over her mouth as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear it. She went on to say, “I have a friend who stutters too and I really think you two should meet. She’ll be here tonight.” I said, “OK.”

Well, we got busy with the show and performing and all and before we knew it, the night was over and I was saying my goodbyes. My classmate mentioned that I hadn’t met her friend. I told her I had to get going, as I was driving my mom home. She said maybe another time then, as she was sure we’d hit it off.

I laughed to myself. How many times has this happened to you? That someone wants to introduce you to someone just because you both stutter. Like we’d be fast friends because we have stuttering in common.

Note to readers: just because two people stutter doesn’t mean they will be best friends. Just like with anyone else, you may not like each other, one might rub the other the wrong way or maybe one is a jerk, (not me of course!) despite being a person who stutters.

It is true that people who stutter definitely have something in common, but it doesn’t automatically mean they will hit it off and become best friends. I just think it’s funny that people automatically want to introduce me to someone else who stutters because they’re sure we’ll hit it off.

This has happened to me several times. What about you?

Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day, a day that recognizes the 1% of the global population that stutters or stammers.

Stuttering is a complicated speech disorder that involves so much more than what (or what does not) come out of our mouths. Stuttering is defined as the involuntary disruption of the normal flow of speech.

It can be characterized by sound repetitions, hesitations, prolongations and blocking, where no sound comes out when the speaker tries to speak. A person who stutters may also exhibit struggle behavior, such as tension or facial grimaces when trying to get their words out.

Stuttering also involves the feelings that go along with not being able to speak fluently. People who stutter often feel enormous shame, fear, guilt, and inadequacy. People who listen to those who stutter often don’t know how to react – and may react negatively, such as roll their eyes, laugh, mock or mimic or walk away.

When those negative listener reactions happen, a person who stutters may feel humiliated or demoralized.

Very often, people who stutter will try to do everything they can to not stutter, because of poor social reactions and those complex feelings under the surface.

Sometimes, people will choose not to speak. They may avoid speaking situations purposely. They may feel they shouldn’t burden others with how they sound or how long it takes for them to speak. They may feel so ashamed that they feel they don’t deserve to speak.

I stutter and have for many years. I have experienced the complicated feelings of fear, shame and embarrassment. I have purposely avoided speaking situations and missed out on life opportunities. Fortunately, I don’t do that anymore.

Don’t you do that either. Whatever you do, don’t choose silence. When we’re silent, we are not connected and engaged with the world. Use your voice and make it be heard. Use speech tools if it helps you, and talk to other people who stutter. But just don’t choose silence. The world needs your voice.

There are many resources available for people who stutter. Here are just a few.

National Stuttering Association

FRIENDS – The National Association for Young People Who Stutter

The Stuttering Foundation

The British Stammering Association

Again, whatever you do, don’t choose silence. Choose to make your voice heard.

Pam

Episode 98 features Danielle W, who hails from the Bay area of California. Danielle is 17 years old and a senior in high school.

Danielle is currently applying to colleges, and hopes to double major in musical theater and either business or psychology.

As you will hear in our chat, Danielle is passionate about musical theater. We discuss how stuttering impacts Danielle when she performs, and what it’s been like for her on auditions.

Listen in as we also discuss family support, speech therapy and the need for a good sense of humor. Danielle is a fighter and doesn’t let her stuttering hold her back. “Just because someone hasn’t done it, doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Danielle is an inspiring young woman with a great attitude and outlook on life. It was such a honor to get to know her more. Danielle and I met at the FRIENDS conference last summer in Colorado.

Feel free to leave comments for Danielle in the comment section. Remember, feedback is a gift. Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 94 is a special “monologue” version, where it’s just me, without a guest. Today, on International Stuttering Awareness Day, I offer my thoughts on a question I have pondered.

Are we, as a stuttering community, better off than we were before we had so many support and self-help resources available?

We can answer that two ways. From an individual perspective and from a larger perspective. I’m interested in knowing if you think the world, our little corner, is more knowledgeable about stuttering since there has been an increase in stuttering awareness over, say, the last 5 years.

Or are our awareness efforts only benefiting the stuttering community?

What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.

The music clip used in this episode is credited to ccMixter, where podcast safe, creative commons music can be found and freely used.

Even when stuttering is safe and encouraged, and in the majority, some people still struggle with the social interaction. It may be because they never learned how to be social. They missed out on learning conversational skills because they feared  judgment

I was one of those people. I was ashamed of my stuttering, so I tried to hide it. Which meant that I rarely talked to people I didn’t know. If someone approached me, my response was usually a head nod or one word answer.

I definitely was exposed to social interaction. As the oldest of 6 kids, there was constant competition among my siblings to be heard. That competition was intimidating for me as a stutterer, but I did get to see kids talk to each other and negotiate the back and forth of communication.

I may not have talked much, but I knew what to do.

I always wanted to be social, but I just wouldn’t risk it. I didn’t put myself into talking situations, whether safe or not.

Six years ago, I found stuttering self-help and Toastmasters, safe and supportive environments that felt comfortable. It took a while, and I hit some potholes, but I allowed myself to express myself, stutter and all. And I got better and better at it. And comfortable.

I am acutely aware of how many people who stutter are NOT comfortable in social situations. Even amongst other people who stutter. I recently returned from two stuttering conferences, where meeting other people who stutter, while stuttering, is encouraged and expected.

A lot of people never learned how to introduce themselves or join existing conversations or have the courage to join existing groups. Even among stutterers, it can still be intimidating.

I saw first timers at both recent conferences. At the large NSA conference, I noticed some people by themselves, on the fringes of conversations, clearly unsure how to break into established groups.

I also saw first-timers at the FRIENDS conference, which is much smaller. It appeared easier for new comers to break into established groups because they saw children do it. And at a smaller conference, it is more obvious if you are sitting alone. Someone will draw you into a group and get you talking.

I’ve heard it said that you have to take some responsibility and initiative to introduce yourself at stuttering community events. But for those who never learned how, or are painfully shy (regardless of the stuttering,) it can be hugely intimidating.

I think it would be a good idea to have small group sessions at the stuttering conferences to discuss how to actually socialize in real-time, face to face with each other, and practice doing it.

What do you think?

Why am I writing about the senseless movie theater shootings that happened last week in Aurora, Colorado? Because I was in Aurora that night. I was at a conference for young people who stutter and their families. The locale was Denver, but our conference hotel was in Aurora.

Each year, Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter holds an annual conference in a different major city. I have been fortunate to be part of this “extended family” since 2008, this year being my 5th conference.

I am not exaggerating when I use the word family. Friends was founded 15 years ago by a mom of a kid who stutters who wanted a support organization that was specific to the needs and goals of young people and their families who live with stuttering.

The attendees of that first conference are all grown up now, and still attend every year. They have grown up together, and each year welcomed new kids and parents to the family. People who know each other for 10 or 15 years and watch their kids grow up together are indeed family.

So it was not unusual for a group of  these kids, ages 14-22, to have planned in advance to go to the midnight premiere of the Batman movie in Aurora. The older brother of a young woman who stutters was with the group and had organized transportation.

No one could have expected that this small group of kids who stutter would have been affected by senseless tragedy. But they were indeed. Our Friends kids were in the next theater when a young man opened fire in the theater next door.

Bullets came through the wall, hitting one of our teens in the arm. At first, he didn’t realize he’d been hit.

In fact, many of the kids didn’t realize what was happening, as the loud “pops” of gunfire were at first thought part of the movie. But as smoke and screams filled the air, the Friends teens indeed knew they were in trouble. Their survival instincts, and love for each other, took over and they all calmly and quickly got out of that theater.

Accounts from the kids, who are survivors, and their parents can be found here (Gage and his parents) and here (Linnea and Melia and their mom’s account.)

I wasn’t at the theater. None of the adults who stutter or parents in our group were. I can’t provide an eye-witness account. So why am I writing about this?

I am reflecting on what can be learned from horrific random acts of violence. Because there are lessons learned.

When the calls and texts started coming in from the kids at the theater to the parents at the hotel, everybody acted together as family. Parents made sure that the parents of the kid who was shot got transported to the hospital. Parents made sure that the 14-year old brother who’d been at the theater was cared for all night and the next day. That call that is every parent’s worst nightmare was a little easier because so many other parents were there for support.

As the other kids returned to the hotel, shaken and emotional, the hotel staff were wonderful. They brought blankets, pillows, snacks and drinks, so the kids could stay together as a group in the lobby all night and process what they had experienced together.

In the morning, as news spread among the conference attendees, people wondered what would happen. Would the conference proceed? Would activities still happen?

The answers were YES and YES!  Normalcy needed to prevail. The group needed to come together in workshops and sessions and experience the love and support that is unique to FRIENDS. When 300 people who share stuttering and the impact of “too close to home” tragedy, the natural instinct is to continue on and share the love and support of family.

That is what I am writing about here – the healing nature of support and family. The kids who were in the theater helped each other by being together all weekend. The parents and families and adults who stutter helped each other by sharing and talking, hugging and crying together, all weekend.

The only change to the conference agenda was the addition of group counseling sessions late Friday morning that were made available to anyone in need. Teens, parents and friends of the kids affected took advantage.

It seems cliché to talk about how senseless tragedy brings people together, closer, or helps us see what good can result from a major tragedy. So I won’t say that.

The FRIENDS friends were already a supportive close-knit family. The power of family and unconditional love and support helped our FRIENDS family process the magnitude of these tragic events and keep talking and holding tight to each other.

And that is the power of support.

I am sitting in my hotel room in Aurora, CO at the end of the last day of the FRIENDS conference. Soon, we will gather for dinner and the kids will dance and sing karoeke and have fun being kids.

Having fun being kids is what the FRIENDS conference is all about. Kids who stutter gather for three days to savor the moments where they can just be kids, free from worrying about being teased or judged.

This 3 day conference was marked by senseless tragedy yet the kids who stutter are showing resiliance, grace and dignity. They have showered each other with love and support and have been talking and sharing their feelings.

We adults are pondering how random life is and re-examining our priorities. When tragedy strikes close to home, we look at things differently. Our perspective shifts – we realize how tomorrow is never guaranteed, and we must live each day as if it were our last.

For we know it can be. Senseless violence is random and can affect anyone anywhere.

Kids who stutter learn how to handle challenge and adversity every day just by living their lives as stutterers. They learn how to handle teasing and bullying and that life is not always just or easy.

The kids at FRIENDS who were touched by the violence in Colorado this week have shown how strong they are and how powerful support is.

These kids have taught me a thing or two about life. Life is about living and sharing and being true to self. No matter what you are faced with.


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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.