Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘taking risks with stuttering

NSA DCI just returned from the NSA annual conference in Washington DC. This year’s conference had a record number of 975 attendees, one third of whom were first timers.

I met a lot of new people and connected with friends that I really only see once a year.

It was a great experience. I co-facilitated several workshops and attended several that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The best workshop I was part of was the First Timer’s Orientation. I co-facilitated this with friends Landon and Lott. Over 200 people came to the workshop, where they had the chance to meet and interact with each other. I met some of the people I had called in advance of the conference.

Some of my favorite moments:

16 year old Jeremy came and introduced himself and his parents to me. Jeremy told me that he and his speech therapist have used articles from this blog and some of my YouTube videos in his speech therapy sessions. Jeremy was thrilled to be at his first conference and had set as a goal for himself to speak at an Open Mic session. He came and told me about it afterward and said it was a success and that he felt great.

Rehan, who I corresponded with pre-conference, came up to me and said he was glad I had been so honest in my introduction during the workshop by saying that it can be overwhelming and scary to introduce yourself to strangers. He acknowledged that he was feeling nervous about doing that, as he has never introduced himself to so many people.  After the conference, he told me he had met many people and was grateful for the opportunity to stay in touch during the year. He also said in an email:

As per my thoughts … well, wow. It was way beyond my expectations. I didn’t really know what to think going in to it, but when I got there and [tried] to introduce myself only to have people patiently wait for my name, I knew I was in the right place. I was definitely apprehensive about continuing to go up to people and introduce myself, but everybody was just so friendly about it! I stuttered, they stuttered, and it was fine!

Natalie came up to me one of the first evenings and introduced herself to me. We had talked on the phone before the conference and she recognized me from some YouTube videos.  Natalie had traveled to the conference alone from Maine and was nervous about what to expect. Here is an excerpt from an email Natalie sent me the day after the conference:

Pam, you are a lovely person and I want to thank-you for all that you did for me at the conference.  You may not think it was much, but simply being kind, talking to me when I first got there, inviting me out with you and others, calling me before the conference and just being around really made me feel at ease.  You are an asset to the stuttering community.

I also met Rohan, who was one of our keynote speakers. I had the opportunity to speak to him before the conference as well, so it was pretty cool to meet up and talk a bit during the conference and then hear his amazing speech about “making things happen” and “no excuses.”

There were so many other amazing moments, but these are an example of how little moments can easily add up to a really big deal.





Episode 111 features Lois “Cookie” Green who hails from Fremont, California.

Lois is presently a photographer, owning her own business after retiring from a 25 year career working for an automobile manufacturing company.

Listen in to a great conversation about how Lois has managed her stuttering over her life time. She shares how she got the nickname Cookie, which is a story that many of us will be able to relate to.

Lois also shares about how a visit to a reflexology practitioner helped her to become fluent on two key words.

We also chat about management strategies, taking risks and becoming a leader. It was great getting to chat with Lois after getting to know her a bit through the Face Book stuttering groups.

Feel free to leave comments or questions for either of us, or just let Lois know what a great job she did. The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

How many of us have ability that we are not using? Sometimes we don’t allow our skills and talents to shine through because we think (or fear) that our stuttering will overshadow everything else.

I used that excuse myself for a long time. I was afraid people wouldn’t see me or my ability if I stuttered openly. Of course, I also used the excuse that it was safer.

When I stayed quiet, no one had the opportunity to react negatively. In an earlier post, I wrote about choosing to be anonymous. That protects us from negative social consequences, but it also often keeps us from growing.

Never in all the years that I was covert could I have imagined that I would have a job that requires regular public speaking. And that I would also volunteer for speaking challenges through my affiliation with Toastmasters.

I knew deep down that I had ability that I purposely was not using just because I stutter. Along with ability, I also had ambition. I wanted to be successful and do the things I knew I could and not let anything hold me back. I have a voice that I wanted heard.

Recently, I heard or read something about ability which really struck a chord and got me thinking about this. I do not know the source, but I hope it gets you thinking about your abilities and ambitions.

“Ability without ambition is like kindling wood without the spark.”

What do you think?

Many of us who stutter choose to be anonymous. We don’t want anyone to know we stutter, so we do everything we can to keep our light from shining.

We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, so we figure out ways to hide, stay quiet, keep in the background. And it’s not just with covert stutterers. Even people whose stutter is very obvious often try to remain anonymous when possible.

It’s safer (we think.) If we don’t get noticed, we don’t expose ourselves to negative feedback. We shield our self from being made fun of, teased or excluded.

But we also fail to get noticed positively, because we often make that choice to be anonymous.

I find it very interesting as a blogger to see how many people comment on blogs as “anonymous” or with just their initials. Especially on stuttering blogs. People who stutter often don’t want their name linked with anything related to stuttering. It seems to be fear based.

Fear of not getting a job. Fear of a girlfriend or boyfriend dumping you. Fear of not finding a girlfriend or boyfriend because you stutter.

Being anonymous also seems to give people a freedom to express themselves more honestly or critically, because they think it can’t be traced back to them.

I heard someone say last week that we should try to look at the light, not the lampshade. But it’s hard to do that when we’re anonymous.


Episode 75 features Kelsey, who hails from Biggar, Saskatchewan, Canada. Kelsey is 22 years old and currently attends Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. Kelsey plans to graduate in April 2012 with an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies, with a minor in Psychology.

Kelsey has always been fascinated with learning about people and understanding differences and similarities. She has just returned from a unique experience studying abroad for a full semester in the Middle East. She spent the majority of her time in Israel and Palestine, as well as two weeks in Turkey and Jordan.

We have a great discussion of life in the Middle East, how Western women are received, and how Turkey is the only secular Muslim state. I ask questions about the food, cultures and how visitors should dress.

We talk about advertising stuttering with different groups. Kelsey touched on how insecurities re-surfaced, especially while she was taking an Arabic language class. We talked about how women often feel inferior because of stuttering and often feel we need to compensate or prove our worth.

Kelsey has deep faith, and talks about how her faith has helped her accept her stuttering. Kelsey shares how she has always felt inspired by Moses, who is thought to have stuttered.

We also talk about Kelsey’s other interests. She is actively involved with wheelchair basketball, and talks about how enriching it is to be fully accepted as an able-bodied player in the wheelchair basketball culture. She has been involved in competitive league play for over a year.

Kelsey loves being welcomed into communities that she is not naturally part of. This was an incredibly fascinating conversation, that illustrates how you can ask personal questions about others after sharing experiences.

Be sure to listen in, and feel free to leave comments or questions for either of us. Remember feedback is a gift! Music used in this episode credited to ccMixter.

Earlier this week, I visited some classes and met teachers and students that I will be working with in my new position of Adult Literacy Program Manager.

My goal is to introduce myself personally to all of the teachers I will work with, and to as many of their students as possible. I think this is the best way to navigate my way through a new position that includes programming I am not familiar with yet!

I visited one of the adult high school equivalency classes. I introduced myself, and personally shared a little about who I am and what my goal is with my new position. That is important to me, since this is adult education. Adults should know who I am and what I will be responsible for, so when they see me walking around or pop into a classroom, they won’t be wondering, “Who’s she?”

It is also important for me to be humble and acknowledge right from the start that adult education is new for me. My learning curve includes honesty and asking for guidance and for people to be upfront with me.

People seem to really appreciate that, and are more willing to reciprocate when I ask them to introduce themself to me and tell a little about why they are taking this particular class at this particular time in their life.

Adults have many different reasons for taking literacy classes. For some, it’s not easy to tell their tales. I had thought that it must be hard to “tell their tells” to a total stranger. It would be for me!

But it has not been an issue so far. Every student I have engaged with has been honest and told me stark details, in front of their classmates and teacher. It was evident to me that the teacher in this particular class did not know all of the details shared on this day.

One woman, in her late 40’s, acknowledged that she is ashamed that she never finished high school and doesn’t want to live with shame anymore. She said it embarrassed her to admit this to her classmates, all of whom were male and considerably younger. Not one batted an eyelash. It is what it is. It may have been their story too.

Another young man shared that he dropped out of school only 3 months before the end of his senior year, because he knew he wouldn’t graduate. He went to school only to leave school. He was bored and unchallenged and didn’t see any value in what high school was teaching him.

He is in this class now because he knows he can’t go any farther without a diploma and he is sick of his life being a dead-end.

I responded to some of what he shared, and got caught in a good stuttering block, followed quickly by lots of repetitions. It seemed a good time to share about my stuttering. I mentioned that I stutter (like I just had!) and that I am OK with it, and hoped they were too. I also mentioned that, like the woman, for different reasons, I used to feel shame and embarrassed to acknowledge that I stutter.

From there, I matter-of-factly moved on and asked the last student to introduce himself. Since he was last, he shared that since everyone else had been so honest, he was going to be as well. He shared a quick story of drugs, wrong crowds, bad decisions, loss and finally “seeing the light.” Everyone nodded and made eye contact, and you could tell everyone understood everyone’s stories as partially “their own.”

This last man further offered, “And you know what else? I stutter too! Not as bad as I used too, but every once in a while you can still hear it. And my mother stutters too. Sometimes her stuttering was so bad it was almost laughable. Not in a mean way, but she stutters really bad, you know. But she doesn’t let it “tense her” as much as it used to.”

He added, “me either. When I stutter sometimes now, I don’t let it “tense me” like it used to. It’s good to talk about it once in a while.”

I was kind of blown away by all that had been shared in 35 minutes. I told the class that and thanked them for their honesty, and smiled and wished them a good day before leaving. And as I left the classroom and looked back through the window, I saw the class turn their attention back to the math “brain squeeze” on the white board.

As I drove home, I processed all I had learned and shared that day. And wondered if that man would have shared that he, and his mother, stuttered if I had not shared it about myself.

Episode 68 features Lisa Bennett, who hails from Wichita, Kansas. Lisa is 29 years old and graduated from Wichita State University in 2010. She is currently in her Clinical Fellowship Year as a SLP in the Emporia-area. She works in the public school coop there.

Lisa and I had “met” online through one of the stuttering email chat groups several years ago. We met in person at the 2009 NSA conference in Scottsdale, AZ. I didn’t realize that Lisa had attended the first workshop I ever did at NSA, back in 2008 in New Jersey.

Lisa mentions that she remembers some things I had said during that workshop, “Letting It All Hang Out: Being REAL With Our Stuttering.” My friend Mary and I had co-facilitated that workshop, which examined some parallels between The Velveteen Rabbit and stuttering. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that it had an impact on Lisa.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering and how Lisa landed in the job that she thought most unlikely – working as a SLP in the schools. We also discuss how stuttering can dictate decision-making, speech therapy experiences, authenticity and acceptance.

Lisa shares a major insight with us – which I just loved. She says towards the end of our conversation, “I don’t hate stuttering anymore.”

Lisa was nervous during this conversation, and I assured her she had no reason to be! Please, leave feedback for Lisa and let her know what a great job she did. Feedback is a gift.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

That was the feedback I got yesterday from the organizer of the Open Mic I spoke at last week. He was absent the night I went, so apparently someone told him about a “stuttering poet” (that would be me!)

Here is what Chase, the weekly Open Mic organizer emailed to me:

“Glad you made it last week. Too bad you didn’t come by this past Monday.

Someone told me about a stuttering poet that performed and said it wasn’t weird and that you didn’t really stutter that much. So is that good or bad?”

I am glad my performance wasn’t found to be weird and that I didn’t really stutter that much. Interesting, huh? What do you think?

Episode 2 features Henryk Sarat, who hails from Chicago, Illinois. Henryk is 24 years old and recently completed his Master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Chicago.

He worked as a trading software developer at a high-frequency trading firm and learned he wanted to create more of an impact so he became a tech entrepreneur. Henryk strives to lift the bar higher and take risks, create and inspire change. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and wants to create the next big thing that will change the world.

Listen in as we talk about how stuttering has impacted his life, positive attitude shift, inspiring change, and pushing out of our comfort zones. He also shares his experiences with speech therapy approaches and gaining confidence.

We have a great time getting to know each other in this conversation and focus on humor and not taking self too seriously.

Henryk is involved in Toastmasters and is actively involved in the global stuttering community. He created the site StutteringCommunity about 3 years ago to allow people to connect with each other via Skype.

Henryk attended his first NSA conference last year, and is planning to attend again this year in Ft Worth, Texas. I am looking forward to meeting Henryk in person this week in Texas and collecting my 22 and 1/2 hugs.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter. Please feel free to leave comments. Feedback is a gift. (Episode recorded on June 30, 2011.)

A very timely and interesting article was written this week at about a police officer who stutters who is being reassigned. He believes his reassignment will endanger his life and others, as he will not be as effective in his road patrol role.

Because of his stuttering, Ken Parson would likely have trouble quickly yelling “Stop, police!” to a bad guy or calling “Officer needs assistance!”, in part, because Parson’s stuttering gets worse when he’s under stress.

Parson also would have a hard time gaining respect from suspects if he stutters. “The attitude might be: ‘No way, I’m not stopping for a stutterer.'”

In his role as a detective, Parson’s speech impediment worked in his favor. His stuttering has disarmed some suspects into confessing.

Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Parson is entitled to a “reasonable accommodation” of his disability. But Parson is not seeking anything other than keeping his current role.

“What they’re doing is removing the accommodation by moving him from his detective job, which he functions very well in, and onto road patrol. That decision is inconsistent with safety.”  Parson has retained a lawyer and is fighting the reassignment.

This will be interesting to follow and see how the law and the ADA respond to this case, where indeed stuttering is a disability in Parson’s job as a police officer. This article was a great follow-up to my recent post on “Who Gets To Make The Choice?” 

In this case, I definitely believe this officer’s stuttering is a disability that requires reasonable accommodation in order for him to perform his job effectively and safely.

What do you think? Thoughts? Comments? Let’s continue the discussion.

Rather than write about how the annual awards ceremony went last week, I have a clip of it here to show you!

I always worry about what impression I create when I speak publicly, especially at school functions. I know I will stutter, but like anyone who stutters, I always hope it will be one of my better days.

These events serve as a reminder of what really counts. It’s not about me. This annual awards night is for the students. No one cares about the person up on stage reading off the names. What’s important is that these kids worked hard all year and deserve their special night.

The candle lighting ceremony went well, considering we had little practice time. And my little friend towards the end who reads the poem brought tears to my eyes. She was so nervous and came to me a few days before and told me. But she also said she was very honored I asked her. Again, note to self – it’s not about me. That was a big step for her. Who knows? She might be a famous talk-show host some day.

A lesson for us all!

“The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.” —Robert Cushing.

I love this saying. My friend Steve put this on our agenda for a discussion workshop we did recently with adults who stutter. We discussed fear and shame, and how we manage our stuttering in our daily lives.

Anything worth having  is worth working for. I tell my students that all the time. Sometimes we have to make ourselves vulnerable and do things we think we cannot do, in order to achieve a goal. Then when we achieve the goal, it is often sweeter because we faced up to something we might not have dared to do.

Stuttering fits in this realm. There are lots of things people who stutter avoid out of fear or shame. For some, it might be public speaking. For others, it might be answering the telephone or placing an order through a drive-through. For still others, it might be speaking up at a meeting or answering an impromptu question.

Life is full of those moments when we have to decide what is most important. Sometimes we have to dive right in and just face our fears, so that we can feel in control, rather than our stutter controlling us.

Reminds me of an upcoming event I have scheduled. Next Wednesday is our high school awards night and our Honor Society induction ceremony.

I am the one who gets to be on stage, using a microphone, explaining the functions and what the different candles we will light actually mean. Then I will call each student’s name for their award. This is always challenging!

Even though it will be my fourth year leading this ceremony, I always feel that anticipatory anxiety. I stutter more when I am reading names.

When I read each student’s name, I repeat on the first and last name, without fail. I worry because I don’t want parents thinking I am mis-pronouncing their child’s name. Getting names right are important, especially when parents will be in the audience.

This is definitely an area that I might stand at the edge and think about the danger and cold, and wish I did not have to do this. But I will. Despite my boss having made negative comments about my performance after the first time I did it. (Not sure I will ever forget that!)

I could ask someone else to do it, but I won’t. It’s my job. It invokes anxiety for me, but I am going to do it anyway. It’s worth it to me to scramble through and do my best, for myself and my students. Even if I am not perfect.

Perfection is not the goal. Just doing it is! Right? Often, the victory is in the doing.

Can you relate? Have there been things you’d rather not do, but have done anyway? Why?

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