Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘talking about stuttering

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.

 

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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?

This past Saturday I gave a presentation about covert stuttering to a group of mostly speech language pathologists and students studying to be SLPs. This was for the the New York State Speech Language Hearing Association. I spoke about my journey from covert to overt stuttering and how SLPs can best support people who covertly stutter.

There was a lot of interest in how and why I went from covert to overt and there were quite a few questions during my presentation. I also had a few activities for the group to do which illustrated covert stuttering. I quickly realized I had too much material and was going to run out of time. As the group wanted to ask questions, I allotted the last half hour for just that, and ditched the rest of my formal presentation.

An older woman asked me a question toward the end. She didn’t identify herself as a SLP, but I’m pretty sure she was. She prefaced her question with, “You’re not going to like this but . . . ” and then asked the question. She asked, “Don’t you want to be more fluent? Wouldn’t you benefit from speech therapy?”

I was kind of floored. Here I had been talking for almost 90 minutes about how liberating it had felt to finally come out of the stuttering closet and how I was happy with who I was. I responded honestly and said that speech therapy wasn’t a goal of mine. I was most interested in being a comfortable and effective communicator and that I think one can be even with a stutter. I also said that I enjoyed public speaking more than I ever have and that I think I stutter fluently and that was enough for me.

She didn’t offer a response to my response but did come up to me at the conclusion of the presentation and thanked me and even gave me a hug. As did others. That felt great. One other SLP and professor came up to me and also hugged me and said that I was “almost there” with my effective communication. That kind of bothered me, but by that point, I was feeling really good and proud about my presentation.

What do you think? Has anyone asked you if you want to be more fluent? Do you think I answered the question well?

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to kids who stutter at a stuttering camp. The director had invited me to meet with the kids, ages 8-12, via Skype. Before my talk, the kids explored this blog and my podcast and prepared some questions.

The goal of the week was to get the kids talking about stuttering, to gain confidence and to learn how to create their own podcast.

My chat with the kids was great. They asked about how I feel when I stutter, if I ever get nervous when talking in front of people and what I’ve done to get comfortable talking. We had a real back and forth conversation and we all learned from each other. The kids had never met an adult who stutters. I think they thought it was cool!

Later in the day, the director emailed me. The kids were asked to reflect on their day and several said my talk was a highlight. One kid drew a picture to illustrate what the room looked like when I was talking to them via the computer.kids listening to Pam

Later in the week, the kids learned how to create a podcast and they did several, on all kinds of creative topics. They also presented on the last day to their parents and SLP students about facts on stuttering, what they learned during the week and what they’re thinking about for the new school year.

This was a unique opportunity for these children. They focused on talking and having fun and gaining skills and confidence. I was happy to have a small part in the week.

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

I think the same theory exists in the stuttering community. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from all over the world at the joint conference of the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and the International Stuttering Association (ISA) in Atlanta, Georgia.

I did not get a chance to meet everyone I wanted to at the conference, but I feel I am just one introduction away from meeting those who I didn’t. I met Keisuke from Japan and he introduced me to another friend of his from Japan. Keisuke and I will work together on the board of the ISA and will likely really get to know one another. We had some trouble communicating because his English is not strong but we are connected through stuttering.

I met Bruce and John from Australia and felt an instant connection with both of them. We talked and laughed like we were old friends, but in fact we had just met. And it was great to meet Cameron, also from Australia. He is the author of the book, “First Person Shooter,” which I read and reviewed for this blog several months ago. When I finally met Cameron, I felt like I already knew him.

I have been in contact with Nancy from Western Australia who was going to come to the conference but her plans changed at the last minute. We had a chance to meet last night through Stutter Social – for the first time, she joined in the group video chat and we finally met and talked, and again, I felt like I’d already been connected to her.

It’s funny how connected we all are in the stuttering community. Technology has allowed our worlds to become much smaller and we connect through social media and Skype and Google Hangouts and it feels like we already know each other.

I can’t wait to continue to be introduced to more and more members of the community and share our similar stories. It is special to be so inter-connected with people world wide.


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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.