Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘listener reactions to stuttering

10 days ago I shared here that I was concerned and shocked actually that a nurse in one of my physician’s offices laughed and made fun of my stuttering when she asked me my birth date. I remained composed and called her on it, fairly calmly telling her I was stuttering and that was what she was hearing. Not only did she laugh, twice, but she also made a smart comment, saying, “It’s not a trick question,” when I stumbled over the numbers of my birth date.

I really was shocked that this happened. It’s been out there over the last year in the media, where people who stutter have been laughed and mocked by retail or fast food customer service employees. It had been a long time since a medical professional had reacted like this with me and it really bothered me. After standing up for myself to her, and not getting an apology, I stewed about it for a day or two.

Then I decided to contact someone in the “Patient Experience” department in the hospital that oversees the practice in question. I wrote a detailed account of what had happened and how it made me feel and included all of my contact information.

Two days later I got an email response that my information had been received and forwarded on to the appropriate people.

Yesterday I got a call from someone in “Patient Experience” who said she was one of a number of people who had been forwarded my email. She apologized on behalf of the hospital and wanted to know what could be done to make it right. I reiterated like I had in my email that I think some type of education needs to occur to prevent another such belittling experience from happening to someone else who stutters, possibly someone who is not as far along as I am to feel comfortable to stand up for myself like I did.

I also stated that I don’t want it to become a situation where it becomes uncomfortable for me to go to back to the office for follow up, as I like my provider. The woman was very thorough and professional and again offered up apologies during our conversation. I mentioned had the nurse in question apologized to me when I stood up for myself we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

This person let me know that she would be passing this along to the specific office manager of the practice where this encounter occurred and that person would likely contact me next. I look forward to that conversation.

And I am happy with myself for having the courage to follow through on this. All of our voices need to be heard.

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to all of the different places I stutter and the observations that I’ve had that I stutter differently in those places. I am sure this is not a novel thought but is one that I’ve noticed I’ve paid attention to more recently.

I stutter at work. But differently in the many roles I play. When I cover for the receptionist, I almost always stutter when I answer the phone. I always repeat a couple of times on the “R” that begins the name of my school. Sometimes that brings laughter from the caller and it really bothers me, even after all these years of being OK with stuttering.

In small group conversations with the office staff, I almost never stutter. In larger group meetings, I might stutter when called on spontaneously. When I go out to my district schools and deliver outreach presentations to large groups, I stutter, but variably. Not so much for the first one or two, but I observe much more noticeable stuttering towards the end of the day as I tire. Also, I stutter much more when reading from prepared notes or a script and much less when I am just speaking more conversationally.

I stutter at home on the phone. It doesn’t seem to matter much who I am speaking with. It happens and for the most part I am OK with it, probably because, unlike at work, the caller doesn’t laugh when I stutter.

I don’t seem to stutter much at family gatherings but I do tend to be more on the quiet side, so not as much opportunity for stuttering if I am not talking, right? That is a long ingrained habit from my childhood. I was always quiet because of the negative reactions I received from my father. I enjoy being social and chatty when with friends but still retain my quiet, reserved, guarded side when with family.

I stutter when with friends who stutter, comfortably and easily and probably even more so than when I’m at work. My guard is down when with friends who stutter as I have absolutely no fear of judgement.

What about you? What are the different places that you stutter? Have you observed this or paid attention? Do you have different feelings about your stuttering depending on where you are and who you are with.

I’m interested. Please share your thoughts.

I had the opportunity to present about stuttering to a group of high school students specializing in neuroscience and all things associated with the brain. They are all so smart, far smarter than I ever remember myself being at their age.

The teacher has invited me to do this talk for several years and I am always up to the challenge. To keep a talk about a disorder that is limited to just a small percentage of the population interesting and engaging enough for young people is indeed a challenge.

But I did it and was just so amazed with their genuine interest and thoughtful questions. I spent about half the time sharing current research with them on stuttering and the brain and the other half of the time sharing personal stories that hopefully truly illustrated for them what stuttering really is and is not.

Today I got some feedback from each student. It really made my heart sing to read their comments and be left feeling that I really did help educate them on something that might stay with them for years to come.

Here are a few of the feedback pieces I am so proud to share here.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us about the neuroscience of stuttering. I really enjoyed how your talk with us was so different than the other ones we have had. Nobody really talks about stuttering and the science behind it, so I thought it was really interesting. I never realized how low the statistics were of developing a stutter and not growing out of it. It really interested me how women are so much less common to stutter than men. I really wonder why. I really would like to say that the confidence you have when speaking is really something noticeable and powerful. The fact that you don’t care as much about what people think of you is really something important. Thank you so much again!

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us on Friday.  It was really interesting and illuminating to see stuttering from the perspective of someone who stutters and then to see the neuroscience behind it as well.  I never really thought of stuttering as being so stigmatized before, but after your talk, I realized how bad the media makes it seem. Now being aware of that will make me more able to communicate with someone with a stutter or even someone who has something similar.  The key to being able to better communicate with people from all different backgrounds starts with making an effort to understand those backgrounds and treating them as you would anyone else. Thanks again for taking the time talk to us.

Thank you so much – and I mean it – for coming in to talk about stuttering and the problems or lack thereof associated with it. I was able to relate with what you said even though I myself don’t have a stutter, and it’s nice to see someone so confident and well-spoken talk about something I relate to so much. Although the science was interesting as well, I will say just you talking about your experiences and how stuttering affects your everyday life was my favorite part of the rotation.

 

 

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?

I came across this great phrase “living out loud” in a post I referenced on Facebook four years ago. It popped up in my memories section of Facebook today.

The article was about a high school senior who was going to give opening remarks to 2500 people at his graduation. He stutters and wasn’t letting anything stand in his way.

The headline of the article read “Tenacious grad doesn’t let fear stop him from living out loud.” I remember thinking how much I liked that phrase, particularly about someone who stutters.

How many of us have lived silently, below the radar, taking a backseat at school or work because of our stutter? How many of us have let fear of possible negative social reaction hold us back from doing something we really want to do? How many of us have been told we couldn’t do something because we stutter and we believed that and took it to heart?

I did all of those things for a long time when I tried, unsuccessfully, to hide my stuttering. I let people’s negative reactions affect the way I thought about myself and purposely chose to stay in the background. I thought that was safer and I wouldn’t be subjected to other people’s ridicule or negative beliefs about me.

But it wasn’t safer. I was compromising my self respect and authenticity by pretending I didn’t want to be involved in life’s moments. I desperately wanted to be involved. I had a voice and it yearned to be heard, repetitions, shakes and all.

I wasted many years being silent and pretending that I was OK with that. Over the last nine years, I have made up for lost time. I let my voice be heard. I don’t let anyone silence me. I don’t choose silence. I am living out loud and letting people hear my unique voice.

I challenge you to do the same. Let your voice be heard. Take a chance and say yes when someone asks you to do a talk or presentation or participate in a conference call. Go on job interviews with the confidence that you’ll be memorable and that people value your abilities. Talk to your child’s teachers, make your own phone calls and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything because of your speech.

Live Out Loud.

 

So often, I read on social media about people who stutter being frustrated that they stuttered. People share posts that they had a bad day because they blocked on every word during a presentation. Or they didn’t order what they wanted at a restaurant because they couldn’t say the word lettuce that day.

Some people describe an upcoming speaking situation they have and how nervous they are that they are going to stutter. They ask for good luck to be sent their way. They hope for fluency.

We who stutter are so quick to describe our bad days – stuttered out of control, stuttered really bad, or didn’t finish speaking before someone interrupted or walked away.

We might beat ourselves up for how we’ve reacted to our stuttering moments. That’s something I continue to work on. I often stutter and then feel embarrassed, and then beat myself up for being embarrassed. I’ve heard and read similar from others who often second guess what they should have done or how they should have reacted to their stuttering. I guess it’s just human nature to commiserate with each other.

So, given all this, what then constitutes a good speech day? Is it when we don’t stutter?

I don’t think it can be that, since as people who stutter, we stutter. Right? We’re going to stutter every day.

I’d like to suggest that a good speech day is when we’ve said everything we’ve wanted to say, stutter and all. We got through our presentation, we had the important talk with our boss, we ordered what we wanted at the restaurant. And we stuttered.

I think conveying our message and getting our point across in the way we talk, as stutterers, is important. That can be our measure of success, instead of trying to be unrealistic and hope that we don’t stutter.

What do you think?

 

 

PamEpisode 152 features CiCi Adams, who hails from Pennsylvania, but is presently living in Brooklyn, New York. CiCi is a journalist at People Magazine and enjoys writing, dance and eating lots of Chinese food.

Listen in as we discuss what’s helped her to be OK with stuttering, how she handles interviews at work, interacting with other people who stutter and so much more.

CiCi is a member of the NYC National Stuttering Association chapters and talked about the one day conference that NSA NYC is sponsoring in May.

And Cici blogs. She wants her blog to grow. Please check her out at The Plight of the Stuttering Journalist and let her know you’ve visited by leaving a comment.

This was a great conversation with yet another amazing woman. I feel so lucky to be able to host this podcast. My life has been enriched by all of these women’s stories.

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

It is very interesting to review the words we use to describe stuttering. Very often, the words are negative or paint a negative image in the mind. Words like “disabled,” “disorder” and “debilitating.” When we use these words along with the word “stuttering” we get an image in our mind that there must be something wrong with the person.

It’s not often that we hear positive words to describe stuttering, like “successful,” “strong” and “confident.” But there are many successful, strong and confident people who stutter. We just don’t always know that based on the words that are often chosen to describe stuttering.

A prominent writer in the stuttering community, Katherine Preston, blogs for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She has a great piece out Tuesday, titled Stuttering and the Power of Suggestion. In it, she examines how the power of suggestion paints those negative or positive images in the minds of people trying to understand stuttering.

If negative words are chosen for the description, people will naturally think of stuttering as negative, a challenge, or as a deficit. This then clouds the perception we have of the actual person who stutters.

If positive words are chosen for the description, then we view the person who stutters in a positive light. We can see the person from a reference of strength and confidence.

The words we use are important. If we who stutter use negative words to describe our stuttering, how can we expect any differently of the people we are interacting with. It’s important to make a mind shift and re-frame our stuttering into positive words whenever possible.

Words make a big difference.

Whenever I advertise my stuttering, I always reassure people it’s OK to ask me to repeat something if they didn’t understand it due to my stuttering.

I often wonder why I do that. Why would I want to risk stuttering again on the same word or phrase and perhaps have the listener still not understand? And have somebody ask me to repeat it yet again.

This has happened to me a couple of times and it’s pretty uncomfortable.

I pride myself on being upfront about stuttering and I encourage people to ask questions. But when someone actually asks me to repeat myself and indeed I do that – repeat myself, or get stuck in a block – it can be embarrassing.

This happened yesterday when I was talking with a small group of students about school program options. I mentioned that I stutter and for them to feel free to ask me to repeat anything they did not understand.

I was having a stutter-y day and of course had a lot of repetitions. One girl shyly asked me to repeat myself and I did, stuttering on the same words I did the first time. She nodded and said thank you. I’m not sure if she was just being polite or if she really did understand me, but I didn’t think so.

But I let it go. I didn’t want to stutter yet a third time on the same phrase and didn’t want to make the girl feel uncomfortable. I was worried that she might be thinking she was embarrassing me.

Isn’t it funny the self-talk we have with ourselves?

Has this ever happened to you? Do you ever offer to repeat something and then regret it? Because you’re really repeating it?

How many times have you encountered a situation where a listener reacted negatively in some way to your stuttering? He or she either laughed, rolled their eyes, spoke over you or interrupted, or mimicked you.

When this happens, the person who stutters often winds up feeling angry, ashamed or hurt. I know when this has happened to me I often walk away from the situation feeling like a failure. I often rethink the scenario countless times and wonder what I could have done to make it easier or better. I automatically assume the “failed” speaking situation was my fault. When I say “failure,” I mean that the speaking situation was not a positive, two way engagement. To me, that’s what communication is all about, two way engagement.

I can remember a situation from well over a month ago now where I was giving a presentation to a group of 10th grade students. Mostly everyone in the audience was 15 years old. 15 year old students are immature and don’t have the longest attention span, but I did expect a certain degree of respect and decent behavior as I was a “guest speaker” in the class.

As I was talking, I noticed one girl having a really hard time composing herself. She was laughing and trying to cover it up. She continued to laugh with her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle the laugh, but unsuccessfully. She kept glancing over at another kid who grinned but managed to keep himself composed.

This girl was clearly laughing at me and making me very uncomfortable. After about 10 minutes, I stopped and “called her out.” I asked if she was OK and if she maybe needed to get a drink of water or move her seat. She said she was fine, but I stated that I noticed she was laughing the whole time I was talking and was there something funny about my presentation. She said everything was fine but looked embarrassed that I had called her on her behavior.

I felt better after addressing it the way I did. I was able to go on with my presentation, but did notice when I glanced her way that she was still laughing and had her hand over her mouth. I tried to chalk it up to her being 15 and very immature.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I hadn’t done anything wrong or that was so funny that it warranted laughter. No, I concluded that this girl was just a poor listener.

Poor listeners abound. People who stutter and fluent people alike encounter people who are poor listeners. We see them not paying attention, trying to speak over the person speaking and not making eye contact. Active listening requires that we be present with the speaker, that we take turns and that we make eye contact. Listening is a very big part of communication. It’s a two way street.

When we encounter a poor listener, it’s really important that we don’t take it personally and think it’s our fault for the poor speaking situation just because we stutter. It might have absolutely nothing to do with that at all. Or it might. If possible, be assertive and say something to the listener that you notice that he or she is not paying attention and is there something you can do to help him. Although this might make you “gulp” a bit, being assertive will help lessen any negative self-talk you might take away from the encounter.

Because we do not have to take anything negative from a speaking encounter. If we speak and stutter, it’s up to the listener to be a good listener. They have that responsibility in two way communication.

 

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. During moments of stuttering, our internal voice starts talking to us and we have a running dialogue about how awful it was to stutter. What must the listeners have thought? Did they think I was incompetent? Did they think I was nervous? Did they think I shouldn’t have been the one to be presenting to them?

Those are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind earlier this week when I had to do presentations at two different schools. These were planned talks that I do every year about career options to high school students. I know the material like the back of my hand. Each presentation takes about 40 minutes. I have current students with me who help to co-present about their experiences in the programs we are talking about.

My stuttering took center stage both days. I stuttered a lot, mostly “beginning of the word” repetitions. I was not nervous and I knew my material well. I was not stressed or overly fatigued (until later in the day anyway.) For some reason, my stuttering showed up in full force. It seemed like I stuttered on almost every other word. I was very self conscious and aware of my stuttering. When I repeated or blocked, those thoughts ran through my head and I did not feel positive about how the presentations went.

If we let it, our imagination can run wild. I am sure that most of the listeners didn’t really care if I was stuttering but I thought that they did. I thought they were all thinking about how bad a job I was doing and what was wrong with her.

When I was done with the presentations, 5 on Monday and 4 on Tuesday, I was just exhausted. I was exhausted from all the talking, all the stuttering and all the thinking. I had to remind myself that I stutter and consequently I am going to stutter when I give presentations. There’s going to be days like that – when I stutter more than usual. That’s the very nature of stuttering. It is unpredictable and shows up when it feels like it!

I learned a lesson from this. I can’t give in to the inner voice that is fueled by my imagination gone wild. I have to be kind and gentle with myself and not beat myself up.

What do you do when your stuttering takes center stage?

Someone asks you to repeat something you’ve just stuttered on and you stutter again the same way?

You’re remarkably fluent all day and when something important comes up, you have a huge, ugly block?

Someone uses those annoying hand gestures to hurry you along in your speaking?

You’re on the phone with a doctor’s office and you stutter on your date of birth and the receptionist asks, “are you sure?”

Someone rolls their eyes at you when you’re in a mid-stutter?

You begin to stutter and your listener looks so uncomfortable you actually feel sorry for them?

You can’t get hazelnut out in the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, so you order french vanilla, even though you don’t like it?

A grown adult mimics your stuttering and then laughs, thinking he’s just told a great joke?

Someone finishes your word or sentence for you and they’re right?

A waiter brings you the wrong thing and you’re afraid to speak up to send it back because you might stutter again?

People often view stuttering as a flaw, a deficit, a challenge to be overcome. Many of us who stutter have been met with negative social consequences for our stuttering: teasing, bullying, mocking, exclusion and being laughed at. Many of us apologize to our listeners for our stuttering. We often feel as if we are a burden to the listener, because we take longer to speak than the “normal” fluent speaker.

As a result of all this, people who stutter may spend lots of time, energy and money to change their stuttering so that our speech will be more socially accepted. We participate in speech therapy, we practice speaking for hours, or when these fail, we may avoid speaking situations all together.

Online stuttering forums are loaded with people looking for advice on dating, job interviews, talking on the telephone and ordering food in restaurants and drive through stations.

Sometimes it can get very depressing reading about all the difficulties that people who stutter have and face. It can also be depressing to personally deal with negative listener reactions and feelings of shame.

So why is the title of this post called “The Benefits Of Stuttering,” you may ask. So far, I haven’t mentioned anything positive about stuttering. Can stuttering really have benefits?

Well, if you think about it, there are many benefits to stuttering. People generally remember us because of our stutter. When I answer the phone at work and stutter, it’s not unusual for someone to say “hi Pam.” They equate me with my stuttering and remember who I am.

People who stutter often have more compassion and empathy for others with differences. We’re also good listeners and are very patient. These are benefits that we often don’t think of because we get so caught up in what’s wrong with stuttering.

My UK friend Lisa recently shared a great example of how stuttering was an advantage for her. (She gave me permission to recount the story here.)

I started my new role as a 1:1 teaching assistant at school recently with a little boy who has a muscular disease that affects the muscles in his mouth resulting in a stammer.

I was nervous to meet his parents, as I didn’t know if they would be happy with a person who stammers overseeing speech practice with their child who stammers. I explained from the outset that I also stammer but was able to mainly control it and that I was familiar with the different types of stammering, secondary behaviors and therapies associated with it.

I was so wrong in assuming that the parents would have an issue with me. The mum actually said she was over the moon, more for the fact that I would first hand understand how he might feel not being able to communicate as quickly as his peers. I said that because the staff know too, and are patient with me, they would already know to do the same with the child and that some of the children are aware of being patient with me, so would just adapt with him.

She then said that after our meeting, she was 100% sure it was the right thing to move him to the school. For once I felt stammering was an advantage.

What a great story that illustrates one of the main benefits of stuttering – empathy for others and instinctively knowing what it’s like and how best to listen and respond to another person who stutters.

So, the next time you think there are only negatives associated with stuttering, think again. There are benefits and sometimes it’s to our advantage to stutter.

What do you think? Have you ever thought of your stuttering as an advantage or realized one of its benefits?

I had a good experience last week with someone who was meeting me for the first time. During our conversation, I was stuttering quite well.

After several moments of really good stuttering, she leaned in and asked me how did I want her to respond when I was stuttering. She said, “you don’t want me to finish your words, right?” I said no, that I preferred to finish my own thoughts.

We talked about that for a moment. I told her people often guess wrong when they try to finish my thought and it’s just more respectful to let me finish. After all, it only takes a few extra seconds.

I thanked her for asking and bringing it up. I let her know I also appreciated her keeping good eye contact and staying present with me. I was so pleased with her interest and willingness to talk about stuttering.

Have you ever had someone ask you so directly how best to respond while your stuttering?

I’ve recently been thinking about disability, as I just finished writing a paper for the October ISAD conference. In my paper, I talk about the role other people play in defining a disability. Sometimes, society regards us as having a disability when we might not.

Interestingly, this coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

I also recently listened to an episode of the Stuttertalk podcast, where the social model of disability was discussed.

My mind wandered back several years ago to this amazing TED Talk by Sharon Emery, who talks about the person who listens as being disabled, as opposed to the person who stutters. I blogged about this a number of years ago, and included the link to Ms. Emery’s talk. It’s so worth watching again.

Also, I’m pretty excited to note that this is my 700th post on this blog. Pretty impressive, if I must say so myself.


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