Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘listening to stuttering

PamToday I bring another short episode, solo, talking about identifying feelings and the grief that many of us feel, but don’t rightly recognize as grief.

Three weeks in now to more enforced lock downs and self isolation for the better good of our communities may have many of us reeling and not knowing how to process some or much of this.

This Harvard Business Review article on grief made a lot of sense to me. Hopefully it will be helpful to you as well.

Stay tuned for future episodes. I have several great guests on deck. Listening to others who stutter feels really important to me now. How about you?

 

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

1. If you are meeting someone new for the first time, and you are engaging in small talk that leads to sharing a little about yourself, consider mentioning that you stutter. An easy way is to say something like, “One of the really unique things about me is I stutter. If you don’t know much about stuttering, ask me, because I’m an expert.”

2. If you are doing a small or large group presentation to people you don’t know well, consider disclosing your stutter early on in your talk. Do it in such a way that you are very confident and matter-of-fact. Let people know that you are comfortable with it. You might say, “Oh, by the way, I stutter, so you may hear some repetitions or pauses. It’s nothing to worry about. I’m OK with my stuttering and I hope you will be too.”

3. Use humor. Try not to take yourself too seriously. If you find yourself talking with someone and you’re self-conscious of a stuttering moment, take some of the pressure off yourself. Consider saying something like, “I hate when that happens. My stuttering seems to be on autopilot today!” And then laugh! If your listener sees that you are comfortable enough to use humor, they will take the cue from you to be a comfortable listener. It’s also a good way to lessen any anxiety you may be feeling.

4. If someone makes fun of you – laughs, mimics, or says something hurtful – feel the “pain” for a moment and then say something. You might try, “maybe you didn’t realize it, but I stutter. This is how I talk. I didn’t like what you just said. Please don’t say it again.” Most people will feel bad and apologize. I always feel a little guilty when that happens, as I don’t purposely want to embarrass someone. But I find that many people really respect the courage it takes to address the fact that we were offended by their teasing or hurtful remark.

5. In a job interview, which most people who stutter think is highly stressful, consider mentioning stuttering as a strength. Yes, a strength! You can say, “I stutter, and because of that, I am an excellent listener, am always well prepared for any speaking engagement and I’m very compassionate, all valuable qualities in today’s workplace.”

Do you have any other ideas as to how to disclose your stuttering? Please share them – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

At the FRIENDS conference this past July, one of the phrases I heard that really stuck with me was “listening deeply.” People were asked what they hoped to get out of the conference, and someone wrote they hoped they would learn to listen more deeply.

I have heard many people who stutter say they think they are better listeners in general because they are more aware of the importance of listening and because they also talk less.

What do you think of that?

Last night, I had to give a high stakes presentation to our school board. It was important that I conveyed my message powerfully in a short amount of time. When we were preparing, my partner and I had considered doing a PowerPoint presentation or just talking without “relying” on visual aids.

We chose to NOT use a PowerPoint and to just speak, and have handouts available for further reference for board members.

The group that spoke before us had a PowerPoint presentation, and I worried that maybe we had made the wrong decision to not use a visual.

As I watched and listened to the first speakers, I also paid attention to the audience. They were not paying close attention. They were looking through handouts and flipping pages as the speakers spoke.  I thought they were not listening deeply, as they were perhaps distracted by the PowerPoint presentation.

When I got up to speak, despite being very nervous, I just spoke. As I made eye contact with listeners, I noticed they were all focused on me, some made direct eye contact and they were listening. I could tell! I could see facial expressions, body language and head nods that told me they were listening.

I got the impression that they were listening deeply, as they were invited to do so by not being distracted with anything else. I think they heard my message loud and clear.

By the way, I stuttered a few times and did not feel in any way that it detracted from my message.

We all should aim to listen deeply. We might be surprised by how much we actually hear.

I chatted recently with another person who stutters about the best way to listen to a stutterer. We were responding to a question posed by a SLP graduate student posed on an on-line stuttering forum.

The student doesn’t stutter, and wondered what people who do stutter prefer for listeners to do or say.

Most people indicated that people should listen to a person who stutters the same way you would listen to anyone else – with patience, presence and respect.

I chimed in that sometimes a person looks uncomfortable or averts their eyes or nervously giggles or laughs. Then I might disclose or advertise that I stutter to let the other person know what to expect. When I do that, sometimes the listener understands more fully that it is stuttering they hear and they don’t have to react differently than normal.

This brought up the difference between sympathy and empathy. The person I was talking with felt that when we advertise stuttering, that alone may lead the person to treat us differently, maybe even inadvertently with pity. He felt that advertising brings attention to our stuttering and therefore away from normalcy.

He felt that we should not say anything about it, and expect the listener to just listen as they would with anyone else.  Most listeners will default to empathy and listen respectfully.

I am not so sure about this. I think that if someone does not know you and does not know what stuttering is, the default reaction might be laughter, surprise or impatience. It seems best in some situations to disclose, so that both stutterer and listener can be at ease.

There is obviously a real difference between sympathy and empathy as it applies to listening to someone who stutters.

What do you think?

Do you ever blame yourself for stuttering? Why do you suppose that is? Is it because of how other people react to us?

My stuttering is very variable. Sometimes my stuttering is hardly noticeable, other times it seems I stutter or block on every other word. I have had people comment to me something like, “do you know just now you didn’t stutter at all? How come you can’t do that all the time?”

I can’t do that all the time because it takes too much energy and time to think about breathing and light contact when I am ready to speak. I just speak, like everyone else. And sometimes my words don’t come out smoothly or at all for a moment (or few.)

What about stutterers who stutter severely – with struggle behavior and blocking on every word, all of the time? What do you think listeners think when listening?  “Damn, they’re just lazy. If they worked on their speech, they wouldn’t sound like that.”

Does a listener listening to stuttering think we can turn it off and on with ease? Or does the listener think we could if we tried harder. You know, tried our “speech tools” or our “targets.” Practiced more, focused more, concentrated on being fluent.

A friend shared recently that he blames himself for stuttering. “Why?” I naturally asked. “People look at me and judge me and think I’m messed up because I stutter.” (he actually used a stronger word than “messed up”)

He thinks he could have, or should have, done something about “it” – and because he didn’t or couldn’t, it’s his fault that he stutters. He’s to blame!

He said, “people don’t look at people in a wheelchair and think if they tried harder, they could walk. But they do think that about stuttering – if I went to therapy, I wouldn’t stutter like this. It’s my fault. I blame myself for stuttering.”

Should we blame our selves for stuttering? Should blame even enter into conversations about stuttering?

What do you think?

A reader sent me this note recently. It made my day, so thought I would share it here with you!

Hi Pam,

We’ve never met before but we have something very much in common and that is we both stutter. This past year I’ve started on a new journey with my stutter as a friend instead of a monster. It feels so good.  I’ve found your blog and podcast on the web and find it very intriguing. I was curious how you got started with that? What motivated you? It gives other PWS a chance to relate to how others cope and manage their stutter.

What I like is that you can listen to people who stutter carry on a conversation despite the stutter. That’s what gave me courage to keep moving forward. It gives us courage and hope. Keep it up.

Now I’m hoping to go to the NSA conference in Florida this year.

Thanks, Cindy

I wrote back to her and shared a little bit about how I got started with this blog and she wrote a little bit more about herself.She has never had much contact with others who stutter.

I am hoping she will indeed go to the NSA conference and make some strong and lasting connections.

Episode 7 of the conversations with men who stutter features Jon Symons, who currently lives in Chaniá, (the island of Crete) Greece.  Jon is originally from The UK and worked in the oil drilling industry for over 30 years. His work in oil took him all over the world.

Jon recently inspired me to write a post called “Be Memorable!” Jon points out that stuttering makes us memorable, and that’s a good thing, especially in business. Any time we can be remembered, we can use that to our advantage.

We talk about the pros and cons of stuttering, and how we as stutterers need to be our best advocates.

Listen is as we chat about lessons learned, being fired, advocacy, differences and being bullied for being English! Yep, poor Jon was bullied not for stuttering, but for being a Brit!

We also discuss how our stuttering, and dealing with it, get easier with age. Take heed, young ones!

This was a great conversation filled with candor, wit and lots of laughter. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from other peoples’ stories.

Please leave comments for us here, or just let Jon know how much you enjoyed his honesty. Especially about who wears the pants in the family!

Music for this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 77  features Lotte Klene, who is 28 years old and hails from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Lotte’s native language is Dutch and throughout our conversation, it is clear that Lotte is more fluent in Dutch than English.

Luckily, we have a translator available to help us! Early in to our conversation, we hear Lotte ask her boyfriend Jeroen to translate for her. Later in the conversation, I ask Jeroen to introduce himself and we chat a bit.

Jeroen Vuijk works for the local government in Rotterdam, and gives us a great perspective of what it’s like to date a woman who stutters.

Lotte talks about what it’s like to stutter in The Netherlands and how its perceived. We talk about therapy, shame, negative reactions, acceptance, and being able to communicate freely and confidently. Lotte shares that her mother also stutters and how stuttering is normal in her family.

Lotte loves to speak and be socially involved. We talk about the Facebook group Stuttering Arena and how helpful it has been for her to connect with other people who stutter. We also discuss Lotte’s involvement with The Netherlands stuttering association and the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA.)

Feel free to leave comments for Lotte or Jeroen! They both did a great job, especially Jeroen for his translation. Remember, feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.


Podcasts, Posts, Videos

Glad you're stopping by!

  • 605,624 visits

Monthly Archives!

Copyright Notice

© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2020. 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 2020.
Follow Make Room For The Stuttering on WordPress.com