Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘talking about stuttering

Well, last week was a very busy one for me. Like I mentioned in my last post, I had several opportunities to talk about stuttering and hopefully raise awareness in my little corner of the world.

Last Monday, I was a guest on a local media production’s podcast where they interviewed me about stuttering. They sent me the link a few days later and I was really happy with how it turned out. The interviewers had done some prior research and asked me some great questions. Take a listen if you’d like. (Although that is an awful picture of me! Ugh!)

On Wednesday, I had the chance to “tell” my story at a 25th anniversary celebration of the Interfaith Story Circle, which is a local group here in Albany, New York that focuses on the power of storytelling. I was so delighted to have my story about women who stutter sharing their stories included in their celebration event.

And on Thursday last week, my podcast was featured on one of our local news channel’s segments highlighting women. That was such an exciting experience, as being on TV is a big deal, at least to me anyway. Fortunately, I was more photogenic in this clip here.

http://wnyt.com/news/pamela-mertz-podcast-for-women-who-stutter/4902733/?cat=11883

 

 

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Hey everyone! It’s that time of year again! Here in the United States, it’s National Stuttering Awareness Week. In fact, it’s the 30th anniversary of this special week. In 1988, the second week in May was declared as National Stuttering Awareness Week. 

Two individuals that were involved in what was then the National Stuttering Project (NSP) were the driving force behind making this happen. Paul Castellano and Barbara Hubbard Koval, with the support of their NSP chapter, pitched the idea to their local Congress members in 1986.  Eighteen months later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation making the second week in May National Stuttering Awareness Week and it’s been commemorated every year since then.

While I believe that every day should be used to raise awareness for stuttering, this week is a great opportunity to talk about stuttering to people who don’t stutter and try to get some media attention to bring it into the spotlight. Many people involved in what is now the National Stuttering Association (NSA) contact the  media to get people talking about stuttering. Here are some good ideas from the NSA on what you could do!

I am really psyched that I have two media opportunities this week. Tonight I am going to The Sanctuary For Independent Media which is local for me and will be a guest on their live podcast. I am excited that they were interested enough to bring someone on to talk about stuttering.

Tomorrow morning, I will be interviewed by a local TV reporter for a segment on her Today’s Women which airs weekly on the local evening news. The piece will run on Thursday evening. I was a guest on her show seven years ago, and she is doing a follow-up with me about stuttering in general and the growth of my podcast. I’m definitely excited.

What can you do to raise awareness about stuttering?

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I had an appointment with a health care provider I’ve seen for over 3 years. I see him once every other month for a quick maintenance visit. At this visit, we exchanged small talk which included him asking me about my weekend.

I shared with him that I’d been in Chicago for a long weekend to attend a Board meeting of the National Stuttering Association. He asked if I had ever had a problem with stuttering and I told him that I stutter, and that I was sure I had at least once shared that with him. He said he’s never noticed.

He asked me a little about my experience on the Board and what ways I contribute to the organization. As I was talking, he acknowledged that he indeed heard me occasionally stutter and found it interesting that he never really heard it before. I thought to myself that probably that was because he usually does most of the talking and our visits are always really brief.

He went on to say that he has a large family and eight males in the family stutter. He wondered if there was a genetic link. I told him yes, that there is recent and current research that supports a definite genetic influence and that a NIH researcher has even identified three genes for stuttering.

He was fascinated and I took the opportunity to educate a bit more. I shared that the male to female ratio in stuttering is 4:1 male and that most children often stutter during language development but that about 80% recover naturally and that early intervention was key for children who stutter for more than six months.

He asked a few more questions and then we got to the business at hand! It was the longest conversation we’ve had outside the confines of the reason I was there. I was pleased that he shared his family history with stuttering and that we made a little connection about it. We concluded our visit with comments about how it was nice to have had that chat and interesting how stuttering just came up casually after making small talk for a moment.

I believe I educated this doctor while at the same time I shared something personally important to me. Educating and talking about stuttering with the medical community in a positive and non-shameful way is so important. I’m glad I took the opportunity that was presented to me. And I’m glad I was able to answer some questions for him as it was clear that he was lacking education about stuttering despite having so many family members that stutter.

Last Friday I spoke to high school students about stuttering. These students are in an accelerated science class during their senior year. They are studying methods of scientific research and for their neuroscience unit, the teacher invited me in to talk about stuttering. I talked a little about the neurology and genetics of stuttering and a lot about the emotional complexities of a communication disorder.

It was such a pleasure to present to these students. They had so many questions and were truly interested and engaged with what I shared. I didn’t get through half of the formal presentation I had prepared as I just decided to go with the flow of the student’s questions.

Yesterday, the teacher emailed me thanking me again for coming in and included thank you notes from the students. I was touched and overwhelmed with what they had to say. Here’s a few of the messages from the students.

Ms. Pam Mertz, On behalf of the New Visions Scientific Research Program of 2018 I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your morning to come and teach our class about stuttering. It was very beneficial for us all to learn about this speech disorder, as it is one that is often not taught about. It was very interesting to learn about the association between dopamine and blood flow levels in the brain and stuttering.

Ms. Pam Mertz, thank you so much for meeting with us on Friday and introducing us to just a little snapshot of what stuttering is and how you deal with it in your life. I really appreciate that you were comfortable enough to embrace your stutter with us and that you let your powerful and comforting voice show through. I was very interested in how you explained how stuttering does not affect those when singing because a different side of the brain is used. I really do thank you for meeting with us and I hope that we can meet with you again later on this year.

For someone that stutters, it must be pretty terrifying to have a job that has you speak in front of crowds so often. To be able to overcome any fear and do your job is very inspiring, and for you to let down your guard and openly stutter in front of us is very kind. Thanks again for coming and telling the new Visions Class about your lifelong experience with stuttering. I thought the most interesting part was how you met another student that was the only stutterer in her school, and were able to connect to based on shared experiences.

Thank you Pam for taking the time out of your day to come and talk with us and teach us about stuttering. I really enjoyed hearing about how you have overcome your stutter and learned to deal with it. It is very inspiring!! I did not know much about stuttering and I didn’t know how much of a mental toll having a stutter had on a person. Thank you so much Pam!!

Thank you so much for coming in and talking to us about a topic that doesn’t get enough recognition in this world. I really enjoyed hearing your story and the view on the subject from someone who experiences stuttering everyday of their life. You are very brave for stuttering freely and being able to encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Keep moving forward and I hope the world begins to realize how important this is. I found it really interesting how much of a psychological impact it has on a person and maybe the reason is because they don’t know that they have a huge group of people like you that are ready to support them. Thank you again so much for coming in and teaching us, it was one of the most interesting rotations of the year so far.

Pam, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to us about something that’s very personal to you.  I think that it’s great that you made a platform for yourself to speak on stuttering and make the impact that you do on others.  When you explained the story about the little girl Kira when you spoke at the one middle school, it shows how much what you’re doing matters.  Learning about how certain things can aggravate or increase one’s stuttering was quite interesting and important knowledge. Thank you again for talking to us I really appreciated it!

Ms. Mertz, Thank you for giving of your time to meet with us on Friday.  It was very interesting to hear a first hand account of what it is like to live with stuttering.  I realized how uneducated about stuttering I was after hearing your presentation.  I think so often people are uneducated about it and do not see it as the real problem that it is.  Stuttering in itself is a large problem but it causes many other issues like depression because of the stigma surrounding it.  It is important that people are educated about it and thank you for educating our class on it.

 

stuttering presentation NovemberI had the opportunity earlier in the month to talk to middle school kids about stuttering. I gave three presentations, one each to the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. There was about 100 kids in each group. This is a piece the school did about the presentations and put on their website.

It went great. I talked about what stuttering is and isn’t, discussed myths about stuttering and how to interact with someone who stutters. I had several interactive activities for the kids to participate in, so they could “try on” stuttering and so that I could normalize it for them.

I had several large grapefruits and asked a few students to come up to the front of the room and try to hide them somewhere on their person where no one would be able to see them. They had fun trying to conceal a big grapefruit. I explained that it was like when I tried to hide my stuttering – as much as I tried, it still showed.

I also had Chinese Finger Traps for the kids to play with and experiment with getting stuck. I explained how it feels to get stuck when you stutter and get a block.

And I had the students experiment with a quick moment of voluntary stuttering. There were lots of reactions to this. Many felt uncomfortable, awkward, aggravated, found it hard to do. A teacher in the audience shared that she felt many students didn’t want to do it as it might seem disrespectful to someone who really stutters.

The best part of the morning was when a SLP came up to me and said that there was a 6th grader who stutters and she really wanted to come up and meet me and ask some questions. Keira came up after the presentation, introduced herself, stuttered openly and asked several very insightful questions.

She told me I was the first person she had ever met that also stuttered. I could tell it was a big deal for her to have come up to me. I was so glad she did. Hopefully, the experience reassured her that stuttering is not the end of the world and it’s just another way of talking like I had mentioned in the presentation.

Anytime we can, people who stutter should share our experiences, especially to young people. It teaches them about compassion, tolerance and diversity and that’s what makes the world go ’round.

I am sure most people who stutter have experienced negative self talk. When we are faced with a challenging speaking situation, a little voice in our head tells us that we shouldn’t be speaking because we might stutter. Or when we do stutter, that voice reminds us that we’re stupid, inadequate or embarrassing ourselves.

I’ve definitely experienced this. Less so these days now that I’m more comfortable in my skin. I can remember hearing that voice tell me all kinds of things. Sometimes quite loudly too!

I have also heard the voice tell me positive things. I have heard my self-talk be encouraging, reminding me that my voice is worthy to be heard and congratulating me after getting through a challenging speaking situation unscathed.

What if you were hearing both negative and positive messages at the same time? Would that be confusing? Would the positive messages override the negative ones?

This weekend at the NSA’s 4th Annual Fall Gathering, we had a number of opportunities to explore our speech, play with different scenarios and see what happens when we listen to the voices in our head.

One particularly powerful exercise involved a fluent speaker who was asked to describe what she was planning to do for Halloween. She stood in the front of the room preparing to speak to the group. Two people who stutter were asked to stand on either side of her and whisper in her ear, one saying negative things and one saying positive things.

She was so flustered by hearing these different voices that she was unable to speak clearly. She gave up. It was a very good illustration of how listening to conflicting voices can impact our ability to think and speak clearly.

What do you think? Do the voices in your head affect how you speak? Do you ever find yourself giving up in a speaking situation?

 

There was a very thought provoking post made on Facebook this week from a parent. It seems her teenage son asked her not to speak at a school parent meeting they were attending. Specifically, the boy told his mom that when she “twitches,” she looks weird. When mom asked her son what he meant, he said she twitches when she stutters. Needless to say, she was embarrassed and mortified.

There were dozens of replies to mom’s post, most in support of her and hoping that she was OK. Some, like myself, offered reassurance that teenagers are embarrassed by everything their parents do, but that this issue should be talked about.

Other comments focused on the disrespect of the boy, suggesting that he be punished for what he said. Many then disagreed with those comments, feeling the moment should be used as a talking point and teaching opportunity.

As we know, talking about stuttering can be difficult. Often, it’s the “elephant in the room,” never getting talked about. People are embarrassed to talk about differences or challenges, or feel they risk making things worse by bringing “it” up. Stuttering is complex, as it’s an emotionally charged issue, not just a physical impediment. As we see from mom’s post, she was mortified and embarrassed by what her son said.

But deeper than what he said, mom was probably embarrassed by what her son may think of her. Mom may now be wondering how long her son has felt this way and why it never came up before. Mom may now become even more self-conscious of her stuttering, if she wasn’t already before.

It really struck me how many people responded to this post. I wonder how many times this kind of conversation has occurred between parents who stutter and their teenage children. Or hasn’t. It speaks to me to the reason we should be as open as we can about stuttering. Parents of fluent children should be sure to have open discussion about differences and that stuttering is just the parent’s way of talking.

This very open conversation on Facebook reminded me of a NSA friend, Stacey, who has quite a severe stutter. She is parent to a teenage daughter. The daughter has never been embarrassed by her mom’s stuttering, as they have had open conversations about stuttering since the child could talk. She think’s it’s normal that her mom stutters and isn’t bothered by it, even as an infamous teenager.

What do you think? How would you have reacted had this been your son making this comment to you? How can we use stuttering as a teachable moment?


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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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