Stuttering story #1
Abia State, Nigeria
As far back as I can remember, I have always stuttered. On a Stuttering Scale of 1-10, I’ll rate my stuttering a 7. It’s that bad! It’s quite difficult for me to make a complete sentence without the occasional repetitions and blocks of stuttering. The stuttering even gets worse when I’m in a tense situation or when talking to total strangers.
I can remember how people used to make fun of my stuttering when I was growing up. It hurt me really bad that people could be so insensitive. And I really had a very low self-esteem because of my stuttering. I had no confidence in myself. I was mostly withdrawn, preferring to stay indoors than associate with other kids.
I can’t recall how I started stuttering, i just know I grew up stuttering. Growing up, I saw stuttering as my arch enemy, my horror, my thorn in the flesh. Stuttering was a beast in me that refused to leave no matter how much I fought and begged it to leave. It simply refused to go. It followed me around like a dark cloud from the start of my day to the end of my day. I hated it. It was an unwanted guest that I just couldn’t throw out.
Stuttering affected my childhood very negatively. I had a very low self-esteem, I felt hopeless, helpless, and worthless. I had problems associating with other kids. I often stayed alone refusing to engage in conversations. Stuttering was very embarrassing to me. I felt ashamed of myself. I dreaded public speaking, in fact I dreaded speaking at all.
Moses in the Bible is one of the influential persons I draw my inspiration from. Moses stuttered and he even objected to doing the work God told him to do. I can just imagine how he felt. How would he communicate effectively to the people of Israel, and most importantly how would he communicate God’s Word effectively to Pharaoh?
Yet even with his stammering, Moses fulfilled his purpose, communicated effectively with others, and became one of the best leaders the world has ever had. Moses did all this because he cast all his weaknesses on God and I’ve decided also to do just that; cast all my weaknesses on God.
The following negative emotions are what I usually face due to my stuttering and how I’ve been overcoming it:
Frustration: Feeling frustrated is one of the common emotions anyone who stutters feel. Stuttering is like a bully holding me down on the ground. I try so hard to beat this bully but it doesn’t seem to ever leave me alone. It leaves me feeling frustrated because I can’t convey my thoughts and words effectively to others. Imagine the frustration of saying a sentence in a minute versus in 20 seconds, just because of the blocks and repetitions of stuttering. It’s like being caged and not being able to ever get out of the cage. But I’ve learnt that there’s no use being frustrated over what’s beyond my control.
Inadequacy: Stuttering leaves me feeling inadequate or unfit to handle some responsibilities, especially ones that involve public speaking. I handle this feeling by remembering Philippians 4:13 ‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength’. So I know that no matter the challenge, I can do all that I want to do because Jesus strengthens me to do all things.
Isolation: Some people don’t want to associate with someone who stutters. So at times like this I remind myself that I’m never alone. There’s always someone who never leaves me though the whole world turns it’s back on me. Matthew 28:20 ‘…And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ I often utilize my isolated moments for self-discovery, reading, praying, and meditation. Instead of feeling bad because of the isolated moments, I use it to develop my life in more positive ways.
Anger: Stuttering sometimes leaves me feeling angry at myself for not being able to have control over my speech. Sometimes I also get upset at God for allowing me have a stutter, but then I always remember Moses and I remember Romans 8:28 ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose’. So even though I might not be able to see it, my stutter is actually helping in shaping me.
Irrespective of these negative emotions I experience, my stuttering has helped shape my life positively also. My stuttering has made me listen attentively to others instead of trying to give them a piece of my mind. Due to this, most people actually enjoy talking to me because they know I’ll listen. Stuttering has also taught me patience, it taught me how to take things easy with myself and others. It taught me to see positively in any situation.
My advice to anyone who stutters is to see positively into it. Stuttering doesn’t stop you from becoming who you choose to become. History is filled with records of great men that stutter who accomplished their purpose and achieved their dreams. Stuttering is not a limitation for he who is determined to achieve greatness. Lean on God, cast your weaknesses upon Him and allow Him fill you with His strength.
In this stuttering speech therapy online session with Eric and Anthony, these teens discuss the challenges and benefits of mentioning that they stutter to others (advertise). It can be very helpful to meet someone else your age who also stutters. These teens live in different states but online therapy brought them together for a paired session.
Eric and Anthony had an opportunity to work on some open stuttering. One also worked on freeze and fix while the other worked on release outs. Maybe even more important they were able to share some thoughts and feelings around stuttering. It’s great to see you’re not the only one. Listen to this clip where they eloquently explain how you can even be grateful for stuttering. Anthony mentions it as a gift.
Even though they don’t get to choose to be someone who stutters they do get to choose how they respond to stuttering. We all have differences and challenges. Stuttering is one that is out there each time you speak….but it doesn’t have to hold you back or define you and it can even help create who you are for the better. These are courageous and mature young men!
How do parents who stutter talk about stuttering with their children? Do you tell them that your speech gets stuck sometimes and takes a bit longer? Maybe you wait until they bring it up, maybe you feel pressure to be super fluent because they stutter also and you want to be a “good model”, or maybe you even feel guilty if you stutter a lot around them. Perhaps you mention your speech before your children bring it up. These are all real scenarios which adults who stutter have faced. A parent who stutters recently contacted me about this very issue wondering how to broach the topic.
Here are my two cents and then I’ll share what a client recently did. I feel that talking about your stuttering with your child, whether they stutter themselves or not, is a wonderful parenting opportunity. It’s a chance to share a difference you have and something that has even been a struggle and has caused some suffering. Talking about differences brings it out into the light and can help dispel shame. Your child learns about acceptance and empathy. We all have things that set us apart. Learning this at a young age is an advantage and a blessing. Your child may even come to you one day to share their own struggle.
My advice is don’t hide it. Make it age appropriate. Say what it is…sometimes a word gets stuck…it was just how I was born…it’s okay…and it may take a little longer sometimes or you may sometimes hear sounds as I work to get the word out. If you stutter and your child is stuttering also…you don’t have to model perfectly fluent speech. Who can do that anyway? For every parent, using a less rushed rate with good turn taking and eye contact is important. This allows for less pressure on speech and more time for your child to communicate. This doesn’t mean you can’t stutter. Your child cannot “catch” stuttering. If you like to use fluency strategies yourself, they may be a way to help decrease your rate. Just don’t make stuttering off limits because chances are when stuttering is not allowed…you end up stuttering that much more. Read this dad’s experience about sharing with his children. His lovely family is pictured above!
I told my daughters about my stutter recently. I was pretty direct and said, “I have a stutter, which means I have trouble getting words out sometimes”. They are 10 and 8 years old. It followed the same pattern it had with the other people I had discussed stuttering with: my surprise that they already knew and relief that it didn’t change the way they felt about me. The younger one initially said she hadn’t noticed. But when the older one said “I hear it when you talk for a longer time and go ah, ah, ah,” the younger one said “Oh yeah, I’ve noticed that.” So she heard it, but didn’t think it was worth commenting on or even labeling. The exact way I want grown-ups to react! Got me thinking, if I interacted with other people the way I did with my daughters (confidently that even if I stutter I’m their dad and they won’t judge me), maybe everyone would react that way. The older one finished with, “I like your stutter, it makes you different.” I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it was a nice thing to say. And it’s definitely true!
Read this and increase your awareness about stuttering and see what it feels like to walk in the shoes of someone who stutters. Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day after all (http://isad.isastutter.org/)! I’m thrilled to be teaching the Disorders of Fluency graduate course at SCSU this Fall! Being able to relate to and empathize with those who stutter along with desensitize to stuttering oneself is vital for a graduate student in speech-language pathology. After learning how to stutter in class, the assignment was to pair off and go out in public to stores and each interact with 5 different people while stuttering to various degrees. They also had to make 5 phone calls in a similar manner. What does it feel like to be a person who stutters? These were some of the feelings they reported prior to engaging in their stuttering interactions:
Nervous, heart racing, hesitant, burning chest, sweaty palms, tension in mouth, what will this person think?, how will this person react?, will they think it’s a joke?, worried, uncomfortable, wanted to drive away, unsure, fidgety, jittery, shakey, dreading, apprehensive, slightly panicked, shortness of breath.
After reading 28 papers about this I discovered the students feel very similar to my clients who stutter and were sometimes even more impacted since they have lived a life with fluent speech. I felt those who stutter may be very interested in reading these papers. Parents and spouses of those who stutter may find this same assignment quite enlightening and challenging to do themselves. Here are a few quotes from some papers, this exercise had a profound impact:
“While leaving this interaction, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly frustrated and embarrassed, so much so that my eyes actually welled up with tears.”
“Sometimes listeners finished my sentence before I could. This made me feel rushed and a little ashamed as though I was wasting their time or bothering them.”
“I felt increasingly more awkward as the exercise went on. Before I began to stutter I felt nervous anticipation, during the stutter I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and afterwards I felt in a hurry to end the communication. Physically I was sweating with anxiety and my voice trembled at first. I felt butterflies in my stomach.”
“I could certainly feel my nerves rushing to my face and throat when trying to present a more severe stutter.”
“My physical responses were similar to my experiences when giving oral presentations. My legs shook, I had shortness of breath, and my face and chest felt uncomfortably warm.”
“The longer it took me to get a sound or a word out the more burdensome I began to feel to the listener.”
“Every time the only thing I could think of was how the other person perceived me.”
“The employees pitied me, when I would have preferred they treat me like a normal customer.”
“Using a stutter in real life situations made me gain more respect for the courage that persons with a stutter employ in their own life.”
“Communicating with one another is a fundamental human instinct. I can’t imagine having that task be one that you dread every day.”
Here is a student’s full paper:
To practice stuttering and increase desensitization to fluency breaks, my partner and I went out to several stores and made phone calls to restaurants and businesses. I was surprised by the wide variation in responses to my stuttering, as well as by my own emotional responses to my disfluency.
I included all of the surface features of stuttering in my speech, including repetitions, prolongations, and blocks, in varying degrees of severity. Despite my intentions, my stuttering often ended up being less severe than I had planned, particularly in my initial interactions. I also attempted to include secondary behaviors, such as interjections, and blinking or jaw movement during a fluency break. I found that physical secondary behaviors were more difficult for me to incorporate than core features of stuttering, as I became so focused on my speech in the moment of disfluency that I was unable to focus on the rest of my body.
Some listeners were polite, and patiently waited for me to finish speaking before answering my question. Others were friendly, but rushed to provide an answer before I could “escape” from my disfluency. Although most listeners made some degree of eye contact, my partner noted that my first listener merely glanced at me before focusing her attention on him instead, despite the fact that he was standing behind me and did not speak. I had been so absorbed in my own speech, and taken aback by her curt, one-word response, that I had not noticed her lack of eye contact. This interaction left me feeling invisible and hurt.
The most negative listener response that I received occurred in the check-out lane of Walmart. I was most nervous for this interaction, as there were several people in line around me, and I had decided to attempt severe disfluency. The unsmiling cashier also appeared intimidating, and was hurriedly scanning items. While in line, I prepared and practiced the exact wording of what I would say first: “I think this was misplaced- could you tell me what it rings up as?” I stuttered 2-3 times on “think” and then prolonged the /m/ in “misplaced” for several seconds. Before I could even finish the word “misplaced”, the cashier assumed what my question would be, took the item from my hands, and scanned it. This interaction allowed me to experience some of the deeper emotions often associated with disfluency: shame, helplessness, and frustration.
My first few attempts resulted in mild disfluency. I had a great deal of physical tension in my shoulders and neck after my initial interactions, and felt nervous and reluctant after my first attempt was met with a negative response. I also noticed that in my earlier attempts, I was so focused on my speech that I often missed the answer to my question. In my final face-to-face interactions, I was able to increase the severity of my stuttering, despite persisting negative feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. By the end of my face-to-face experiences, I felt emotionally exhausted and physically tense, as well as a powerful feeling of relief.
Interactions over the phone were much easier for me than face-to-face experiences. A sense of anonymity and lack of eye contact created less pressure, and allowed me to emotionally distance myself from the experience. This enabled me to devote more attention to increasing the severity of my stuttering. Speaking over the phone also helped to reduce some of the feelings of shame and embarrassment I had previously experienced, and I was able to focus on bringing my personality back into the interaction. However, I could clearly see why a person who stutters might avoid making phone calls, as I felt some degree of anxiety with each call.
Overall, this experience allowed me to better understand the challenges that a person who stutters may face during daily activities. Although most listeners responded fairly normally, the negative experiences and my reactions to them helped me to empathize with individuals with fluency disorders.
There are so many great stuttering resources out there now. In the last 10 years it seems things have really changed! Whether you need a picture book to use with a child who stutters, a novel for a school-age kid, or want to learn more about effective therapies being used in the U.K. with adults you have some fabulous book choices. The Stuttering Foundation has always been a go to for resources as well and they have stayed on top of the ever changing stuttering field and I have some favorite DVD’s from them. If you want to learn more about Avoidance Reduction Therapy, there’s a DVD for that and if you want to introduce school-age kids to other kids who stutter, there’s a DVD for that and now even a 10 years later follow up DVD. Stuttering Therapy Resources is a newer company which provides a growing number of very helpful resources on stuttering. They even sell the fabulous, “Stammering Therapy from the Inside” which I’ll do a separate post on. Their info for teachers and regarding bullying is a big help but my favorite is “School-Age Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide”. If there is only one book I can recommend to a new clinician working in the schools and needs help right away, it is this one! I’ve used it when supervising grad students and recommend it to my students in the Stuttering course. The websites available now are also incredible….from www.stuttertalk.com to www.thestutteringhomepage.com to many online groups like Stutt-L….there are so many options. I have a 4 page resources list for my graduate students of resources I recommend. Another very useful one for students and new clinicians is “Practical Intervention for Early Childhood Stammering: Palin PCI”. There are CEU’s galore if you are a practicing clinician from many great workshops on www.speechpathology.com to CEU’s you can receive on the Stuttering Foundation website and on the American Board on Fluency and Fluency Disorders site. One of my favorites is reading the Journal of Fluency Disorders where you can stay on top of current research and earn a tremendous amount of CEU’s….more than going to ASHA in just one journal sometimes! Of course I’m a fan of “Clinical Decision Making in Fluency Disorders” as I chose to use it as my main text for teaching the Stuttering course. It was a tough choice as every text has something great to offer. Here are some other good ones. See, there is so so much. You can never stop learning about stuttering….I have some favorite stuttering resources from the 1800’s to 2015, as you can see from these pictures from my office. No excuses! Get out there and start reading, watching, listening, and learning. If you’re a clinician, don’t stick to one approach…learn as much as you can.
I finally got around to reading “Paperboy” by Vince Vawter which is a well written book about a kid who stutters that was published in 2013. I was very pleasantly surprised as there are not many novels about stuttering and especially for this age group, nevermind good ones! I carefully recommend books and write a stuttering book review only after I read them. This is the first time I’ve been able to recommend a book about a character who stutters to my clients of this age group. I recommend ‘A Boy and His Jaguar” for younger kids and ‘Out with It’ for teens and adults. You can find separate blog posts with a stuttering book review on both of those books here and here.
This young adult novel would also be enjoyed by adults, especially those who stutter. “Paperboy” is an excellent read for parents of kids who stutter or anyone who wants to understand living and growing up with stuttering better. True, not every child who stutters is like the main character, Little Man, or has his experiences and thoughts but there are many who have had similar experiences and can relate. I appreciate the inner dialogue in Little Man’s mind we get to experience with him. Of course, the dated speech therapy technique from 1959 of using an “sssss” prior to hard sounds is not one I recommend trying out! I consider this an avoidance.
This book is a Newbery Honor Book and takes place in Memphis in 1959. This means a segregated South so race issues along with coming of age experiences are a part of this story. Little Man is 11 years old. The book recommends for 10 years old an up. I would read the book first if you are a parent of a 10 year old child or younger.
The book reminds me of ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio published in 2012, which I also recommend to kids who stutter. Wonder is a beautiful story of a child who is different in another way, he has a genetic facial deformity. The main character, Auggie, is 10 years old and the story takes place in modern time in NYC. We all have our differences. Some you can see, some you can hear, some are only hidden inside. Empathy and understanding are character traits which can be developed through reading these books and provide wonderful opportunities for discussion with parents.
Enjoy these wonderful books!
You can also find Vince Vawter’s (author of Paperboy) website here.
An interview with R.J. Palacio (author of Wonder) on NPR can be found here.
StutterTalk was created in 2007 and is a unique forum for invited guests to share all kinds of information about stuttering in the form of podcasts (495 of them to date!). Many topics are discussed and you get to hear some great stuttering too! I personally know Peter Reitzes…one of the original founders and the main host. I have wanted to do a blogpost on StutterTalk for a while to alert more people about this wonderful resource. StutterTalk is not an authority on all things stuttering….but it is a great place to find a lot of varied opinions covering a plethora of topics. I assign my grad students each semester to listen to a podcast from StutterTalk and I introduce my clients to the site as well. To know that you are a part of a much bigger community of people who stutter….and professionals who seek to help…as well as loved ones of those who stutter…is a good thing, in my opinion. 🙂 Check out the site and dig around to find a topic that interests you!
I found one of the most recent episodes (#494) refreshing and informative. Craig Coleman is the guest and is an assistant professor at Marshall University. He eloquently explains and responds to some issues surrounding what one speech therapist posted via video on her website. The podcast is titled: Is There a Best Stuttering Treatment? There are many places to find information about stuttering on the internet these days…but what and who can you trust? I won’t reiterate all that was said in the podcast here because it was explored so beautifully in the recording. Check it out here: http://stuttertalk.com/is-there-a-best-stuttering-treatment-ep-494/
Many times in the darkness of struggle we can’t see the growth…the change…the positives that are resulting from what we must endure. This is true in the midst of stuttering as well. Not everyone feels devastated or held back by stuttering….but many parents and those who stutter themselves have. Although we each may have a different struggle to endure…we can often relate to the feelings of being stuck or helpless. In my life, I dealt with a severe and intense illness that took patience, endurance, and massive doses of hope to journey through. I encourage you, no matter how dark it gets…there is hope and help and you can do this. Finding others who can relate to your struggle can help….connecting to God can help…just talking it out can help…hanging on to hope is imperative. Incredible change, growth, and strength develops during the darkness. Stay strong. Never give up. Hold on to hope.
This past Saturday the inaugural stuttering groups for kids and parents met at Hope for Stuttering Speech Therapy in Westport, CT! It was a fun two hours for parents and kids (ages 8-12) to meet and mingle! Six parents had an opportunity to meet in a separate room from their children to share about raising a child who stutters and what the challenges and benefits are. Five children met to share about who they are, what communication strategies they like, and much more including some fun activities like playing Taboo Junior and filling in mad libs. Two of my graduate students from Southern Connecticut State University helped out!
Here’s a clip from the kids group at the very end of our time together. I asked them what was the benefit of this group….the camera is not in the best place as you see the back of my head and only 3 of the kids….but what they say is the important part! Here it is:
I feel groups can be a vital part of treatment for many. There is so much kids learn from being around other kids who stutter that I could never teach them and parents also learn from and feel support when sharing with other parents who are also raising children who stutter. Getting together has a lot of benefits. Our next meeting will be in March 2015 and I’m hoping more kids and parents will be able to schedule in this important piece of therapy into their busy schedules and reap the benefits!
Here are the kids meeting in the back room:
Here I am ready to greet everyone with the coffee and snacks to munch on! As I write this post on the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to say I am so grateful for each and every one of the clients I am working with, it is an honor and a pleasure. I am thankful for everyone who came out to participate in the group this past Saturday. I am grateful for this community of kids and adults who (sometimes) stutter and the people who love them that we are creating here in CT…and beyond (via teletherapy!). Thank you everyone!!
Check out this beautiful video summary below from one of my clients of the new book “A Boy and A Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz. This true story is about a boy who stutters who grows up to help the big cats and animals who helped him survive. There are not many books about stuttering out there and this is a fantastic one to use with school-age kids who stutter…..nevermind adults have also found it touching! What a great way to practice reading aloud and story re-tell.
My spectacular client that you see here in the video has worked hard on his speech. He displays some atypical final sound repetitions, some articulation errors, and some cluttering like qualities. He has made some great improvements over time! He also would like to work with animals some day….
Here is his awesome summary:
Here’s a video of the same client a while back doing a story re-tell of a different story, for the speech therapists or students of speech pathology this is a good example of some less common final sound repetitions, cluttering, and articulation errors.