Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘listening to stuttering

Hey everyone! Check out this year’s International Stuttering Association 3 week online conference.  The theme this year is “Speak Your Mind” and my, oh, my, there is speaking of the minds going on over there.

There are 37 wonderful contributions from people who stutter and professionals in the field from all over the world. There are some really interesting points being made. There is also a section where you can ask specific questions of professionals who have volunteered to be on a “panel” for the 3 weeks. Good stuff, I promise!

I have a contribution this year. I’ve love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

I just recently had the below post published as an article on The Mighty, which is a site that features stories about all kinds of disabilities and differences. I am pleased to have my writing featured on another site, as hopefully it will raise awareness about stuttering to people who don’t stutter. You can see the article here, titled “Why It’s Important To hear Other People Who Sound Like Me.”

For the longest time, I hated the sound of stuttering. I hated to hear myself stutter. I thought I sounded choppy and unnatural, and always imagined the bad things a listener was thinking about me. I hated to have to leave a voicemail, as I didn’t want someone to have a recording of me stuttering. And I hated to have to record my own outgoing voicemail message. I remember re-recording my voicemail message about 20 times until it was perfect, without one syllable of stuttered speech.

I did not want to hear other people who stuttered because it reminded me of me and how I sounded.

I hated to hear characters who stuttered in movies. I remember getting red-faced and cringing when I heard the stuttering lawyer in the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” The character seemed to be created to get a laugh and it was a demeaning and demoralizing role. I did not identify with this character, nor the characters in “Primal Fear” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”

But when the movie “The King’s Speech” came along in 2010, I felt a little differently. By then, I had come out of the covert closet and stuttering openly. I was OK with it. I was actually kind of proud to hear a main character in a movie who stuttered realistically and wasn’t solely there for comic relief. I could relate to the stuttering in this movie, even though it was a male (as have been most of the characters who stutter in movies).

Something was changing within me. I was reaching the point where I enjoyed the sounds of stuttering. In 2010, I started a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.” I created this to give women who stutter a place to share their story and hear other women who sound like them stuttering naturally and openly. I made it a goal to interview women from all over the world, and have so far spoken with women who stutter from 32 different countries.

I like hearing the stuttering with different accents. I like hearing the cadence of a woman’s voice that stutters. I like how I sound on the podcast – something I never believed would be possible. How could I like something I had so vehemently hated for such a long time?

I have heard from friends that have heard me on the podcasts that I have a “radio voice.” Me, who stutters, actually has a nice voice. They’ve said it’s easy to listen to, even with the stuttering.

I have heard from listeners to the podcast that many feel grateful to listen to other women who stutter because it helps them feel less isolated. Stuttering can be lonely, especially when you don’t know someone else in person who stutters. That was me until about 10 years ago. I had never met another person who sounded like me. I grew up thinking I was the only one who stuttered and spoke with broken speech.

I just recently returned from the annual conference of the National Stuttering Association, which was held in Atlanta in early July. There were over 800 people who stuttered at the conference, from all walks of life and different parts of the world. The event was a joint venture with the International Stuttering Association. During the day at workshops and at night in the hotel lobby, I heard so many stuttered voices blending together into a wonderful symphony of sounds. It was music to my ears.

Finally, I have realized I like the sound of stuttering. It reminds me of me, that I am not alone and together our voices are strong.

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.

Earlier in the week, I did a presentation on stuttering to high school seniors who are taking a scientifc research biology class. In addition to talking about stuttering in general and my own experiences, I also touched on genetics and the neurological basis of stuttering.

The students were wonderful and asked so many smart and thoughtful questions. Truth be told, I was a little intimidated by them because they are so smart and all biological science enthusiasts. But they made me feel so comfortable and welcome, our time together just flew by.

Below are some comments from the students, which their teacher emailed to me. Feedback is so important. It helps us determine if we met our objective and did a good job. I felt I had and these comments made me feel so good!

Ms. Mertz

Your presentation was such an inspiration. I never fully recognized the emotional trauma that can accompany a stutter. It takes a strong person to be able to accept that and continue living their life. The video you showed us was especially moving, proving that a stutter can’t stop someone from living their dream.

Thanks so much for taking your time to speak with us,

Dear Pam,

I appreciated you coming to speak with us about your stuttering. You showed a lot of confidence when giving your presentation and did a very good job explaining the struggle you went through as a child. It was nice to hear about all of the programs that are available now a days to help people with stuttering issues get to know people that have the same disability. I was unaware that such programs existed.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you for coming in and speaking with our class. Your presentation was very interesting and informing. Before your presentation, I had never thought about the physiological affects stuttering could have on a person. After meeting with you  I now have a better understanding of the struggles a person who stutters and will be more open-minded in the future.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

Thank you so much for speaking with our class, it was so inspiring to see how comfortable and confident you were, I also thought it was so interesting how rare stuttering is in women. I never knew that! Thanks Again!

Dear Ms. Mertz.

Thank you so much for stepping out of your comfort zone to tell us about the struggles you, and others who stutter, have dealt with throughout your lives. I had no idea that stutters were cause by genetic and neurological factors. I always thought they were caused by stress or anxiety. Thank you so much for enlightening me and promoting a better understanding of those who stutter.

Dear Ms. Mertz,

I’d like to thank you for coming and speaking to our class. I understand how it must have felt for you to have done that, but I want you to know that we all benefited from your talk. By you putting yourself in that situation for us, we all have a better understanding of both sides of your iceberg. I hope you continue to do talks like the one you gave us, as to help remove some of the stigma that surrounds your disability.

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I had this article published today in my local newspaper. The commentary editor told me they don’t usually take “issue” pieces because it might sound like a PSA (Public Service Announcement.)

But he told me it was well written, interesting and effective and they would publish it as is, this week for National Stuttering Awareness Week.

As people who stutter, we often worry about how listeners will react to us when we are stuttering. Are they going to hang in there with us? Will they maintain eye contact?

Or will they get “the look” and avert their eyes and look anywhere but at us? Or will they become impatient and finish our words or sentences for us?

There was an interesting thread about this on Facebook, where a group member asked what we as stutterers should do to make our stuttering more acceptable to listeners.

The response was mixed – with many weighing in that it is not our responsibility to alter our stuttering in some way to make it easier for a listener.

I happen to agree with that! We stutter – most of us have lived with stuttering our whole lives, since we began talking. It can be very difficult for us – shameful and embarrassing. Why should we add to the mix by also assuming the responsibility of how a listener might feel?

In this day and age, with so much diversity, a listener should listen to us exactly the same as they would to anyone else. With respect and patience.

It might make it easier to disclose or advertise that we stutter, but that generally is for our own sake, to lessen our own anxiety. When we do that with confidence, it often provides a cue for the listener to react in kind.

But we should do that for ourselves – not the listener. That’s not our responsibility.

What do you think?

Whenever I hear someone else stutter, that I wasn’t expecting, my stuttering radar kick in. What do I mean?

I was at a networking meeting on Thursday and a woman from a local agency was the main presenter. She stuttered. My ears picked it up right away and I felt my cheeks warm, as this surprised me. I am used to being the only one at these meetings who stutters.

And here was this woman talking and stuttering easily. She had no visible signs of tension or struggle. Her stuttering was in the form of hesitations and repetitions.

She was a very good speaker. She kept eye contact while talking and didn’t seem bothered at all by her stuttering. Neither did any of the listeners. There was no visible reaction by any listeners. I know this, as I glanced around to see how people were responding. Everyone was respectfully listening and making appropriate eye contact with the speaker.

I was the only one who appeared to be taken with the fact that this woman was also a stutterer. Thoughts went through my mind: “Hey, I stutter too!” “You go girl.” “Should I say something to her after?” Would that be appropriate? Would she be OK with that?

I decided not to react to her any differently than I would to any other speaker. After all, she was doing something I do all the time too. Speaking, presenting, sharing information that other people need and want.

As a stutterer, my radar kicks up a notch when I hear someone else stuttering. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of, for once, not being the only one in the room who experiences less than perfect speech.


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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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