Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘stuttering and self advocacy

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?

It’s been a long time since someone told me to “spit it out” when I was caught in a stuttered moment. It happened this morning at work with a colleague.

She’s not someone that I am particularly close with, but I have mentioned to her that I stutter. So I was surprised this morning when she mocked the word I stuttered on and then said “spit it out.” She said it laughingly and while we were with someone else so I was taken off guard and just kind of smiled and walked away.

But it really bothered me!

I felt like I should have said something to her right away that I don’t like when someone says that when I’m stuttering but I let the moment go. I was kind of embarrassed because she said it in front of another colleague.

So, I plan to pull her aside and say something when I feel like it’s the right moment. I always am conscious of not embarrassing the “offender” because that’s not my goal. I just want to educate her so it doesn’t happen again. Hopefully, I’ll have the courage to find that right moment.

What would you have done in the moment?

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a one-day NSA conference sponsored by the Boston chapters of the NSA. The conference was held at Boston University, where one of the coordinators of the stuttering program arranged for space to be used for the day.

I drove over to Boston from Albany, NY where I live. It was about a 3 hour drive, and most of it, both to and from, it rained. It even snowed a little on the way back, which I was totally not ready for in October.

I had no expectations of the one-day conference, except that I was looking forward to spending the day with other people who stutter. And what better day for this than International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) which is recognized every October 22. I met lots of people from the Boston area as we spent the day together in workshops and at lunch. I really enjoyed hearing so many Boston accents!

The first workshop of the day was on self-advocacy, something that is near and dear to my heart. I believe that everyone who stutters should advocate for themselves because no one else is going to do it for us. Jess facilitated this workshop by sharing some scenarios she created to use as discussion points. Our group only got through 3 of 8 scenarios because we all shared our experiences with advocacy – both what we found easy to do and what may be more difficult.

The next workshop focused on choosing activities that we could participate in that would stretch us out of our comfort zones or be a real peak performance for us. People shared what they were willing to try when they got back home. One guy said that he wants to get up the courage to ask a question at a meeting that usually is comprised of 200 people. He wants to be able to do that with no shame of stuttering openly. Another guy said he wants to check out a Toastmasters meeting. Another guy said he wants to make more phone calls than always relying on the internet or email.

The last workshop that we attended was the screening of the short film “Stutterer.” We watched it as a group – adults, parents and SLP students. I had already seen the film but delighted in seeing it again with people who were seeing it for the first time. We had a great discussion about whether we thought the film portrayed stuttering realistically. We also talked about how it made us feel and what we thought about the ending, which had a surprise twist.

It was a great day of coming together, sharing experiences and supporting each other. We wrapped up with watching a video the kids had made about stuttering and how they want to be treated by others when they are stuttering. The kids were amazing with their open and shame-free stuttering.

The Boston NSA chapter leaders Sarah and Jess did an amazing job putting this conference together. I was very glad I went and got to spend time with other amazing people who stutter on International Stuttering Awareness Day.

Kudos to my young friend, Philip Garber, who is featured in this New York Times article today, A Stutterer Faces Resistance, From the Front of the Class.

I know Philip, who is 16 years old, from the NSA. I have known him for a couple of years, so have had the opportunity to see him “grow up” as a young person with a profound stutter.

I also know Philip’s mom, Marin, who is mentioned in the article. I got to spend more time getting to know Marin at this year’s NSA conference in Ft Worth, Texas. We ran into each other at the airport on the way to Texas (!), and hung out quite a bit, sharing some meals together.

When this discouraging incident happened with Philip last month, Marin emailed me and asked my opinion of how Philip might handle the matter. We bantered a few thoughts back and forth, but ultimately Philip decided how it would be handled. He is quite skilled at self-advocacy.

I suggested that Philip should do a presentation to the faculty on stuttering awareness, and am pleased that he IS going to do this at some point.

Please take the time to read this article and the many comments (355 the last I saw!) The reactions are mixed.

What do you think? Do you think Philip was discriminated against? Do you think that the professor was reasonable in asking that Philip not speak in class? Is the article too one-sided? What lessons can be learned from this scenario?

Here’s a video that Philip did last year to commemorate International Stuttering Awareness Day, which is October 22. Hard to remember he is only a kid!

This school year I am excited about the potential to offer self-advocacy groups to students transitioning from high school to college. For most students, entering college can be a rude awakening. They go from a relatively safe, structured environment to a college setting where they are expected to be independent and employ self-motivation.

Many students fail miserably at this, as they often move from a high school setting with hundreds of students to a college with thousands of students. This can be  overwhelming, especially if the student has a special need and requires assistance that they have to ask for themselves.

Lots of young people do not know how to stand up for themselves. They may feel intimidated by the process or embarrassed by the potential of being seen as different.

Right now, I am working temporarily at the same school I have been at for about 4 years. I am hoping the system will find me a permanent title, so I can go about the business of helping students navigate through high school and be ready for success in college.

I have been going around to classes this week and presenting sexual harassment prevention training. I have also let students and staff know that I hope to be providing self advocacy groups throughout the year. I explained what self advocacy is and why its an important skill to have.

I surprised myself by using my stuttering as an example. I told every class that I stutter, and what that was like for me in school NOT talking about it and being afraid to volunteer in class or let anyone know.

I shared that now as an adult, I have learned how to talk about it openly and have disclosed in the workplace. I let the students know that I ask for an accommodation. I prefer to not use the public address system in my building, for fear of having my stuttering broadcast through the building.

I told the students that I always imagined that if that happened, everyone would laugh at me. Even though that probably wasn’t true, that is what I thought, and our thoughts sometimes become our reality.

Surprisingly, as I disclosed this personal information about me with class after class, I felt great. I felt empowered and it made sense to relate a personal example of advocacy as I discussed advocacy.

And the students listened intently, and there was not one look of concern, or confusion, or anyone trying to conceal a smile or humor, which I always thought might happen.

I shared with them that now I won’t have to worry about reactions when I stutter in front of them, since I already put it out there to them.

Do you have any similar examples? Or thoughts?


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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.