Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/My Life in Stuttering

How has stuttering affected your life? What setbacks and frustrations have you had? Has stuttering given you any positive experiences?

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What does it mean to be a stutterer? by Matt Goodman What does it mean to be a stutterer? Can't talk, can't speak, and can't communicate. I go though more pain than you will ever know. My life has been a hard one, filled with pain, and sorrow, and disgust. My voice can be changed to British, to Scottish, ... to Texan, ... to sometimes a New Yorker, ... and yet I cannot speak. But what is normal? Is it not being able to speak, being thought of as a freak, not being able to communicate your ideas. Is that normal? Maybe not for you, but it is for me. I am a stutterer now and forever, one of the few, the proud, the ridiculed, the Stutterer! I have been a stutterer for 14 years now, and it has not been easy for me. I have gone though the pain of childhood. Elementary school was terrible. Kids make fun of you, just because they do not understand you. Junior High was worse, The teens made fun of you because it was accepted, as normal. I survived, but why? Why me? Why me, to suffer for all these years! Just because I was born with this? I know the question all stutters are asking! WHY US? Maybe it developed over time, or yet... maybe... it just happened, maybe... we learned it, or better yet... maybe... its just a phase, or maybe... it is Genetics. Oh, yes that's the one, huh. And maybe if there was more knowledge there would be a cure? or better yet a cause. Day and night Day and night, Day and night, 24 to 7 you are fluent. 24 to 7 I am not! I am one of the few, the Proud, and the disgraced. And you are the Majority, the Normal, the fluent. This is my life, my challenge, my dream. Oh, when will this curse, this wretched curse be over. I will survive, now and always, Forever, I will never give up, my fight for fluency, for if I do, ALL IS LOST, but all is not lost, there is hope. There is always hope. That is what it means to be a stutterer.

It means trying not to be afraid of doing things that others take for granted; ordering a meal at a restaurant, booking a reservation over the telephone. It means preparing yourself to appear like a fool every day - but you grow a thick skin: you have no choice - you have to get on with it, but you have a feeling that you are never going to reach your full potential, primarily because other people prevent you from doing so.

By this, I mean the job interview. I have lost count on how many I have had. Sure, some of it is that I'm not quite the right person for the job, but in other cases it is evident that I am the subject of other peoples misconceptions. I now tell people that I have a stutter to try to make them feel more comfortable, but you still see their wringing hands and stressed eyes, even though you are a lot less embarassed than they are. "Was my speech an issue when it came to choosing the right candidate?" I asked once when seeking interview feedback. The reply was, "it was a concern for one of the members on the panel". I was told that the company had a profit to make. This implied that if I was employed I would have reduced their profitability. Of course, I raised this with the personnel department, but by then they had figured out their excuses.

For me, age brings it's benefits. The older that I get, the more I am happier in my own skin, the more fluent I become. My early teens were the worst - all that angst and stress. If only I knew then that it would get better. When I was younger I could barely speak at all. I wasn't teased so much, it was the situations that one had to endure. Now, a whole week can pass without realising that I speak in a clumsy way.

Although I hate giving presentations and know I freak out the audience, I try to go ahead and do it anyway (although I don't actively seek out these situations). I try to remember that whatever doesn't will you makes you stronger. Most people are accepting, but there are some who give you a wide birth, not knowing how to deal with you or what to say to you. I want to tell these people, "just be normal... after all, in every other way, I am as normal as everybody else".

I've participated in two different periods of therapy when I was young. I enjoyed the first, and liked the therapist and was interested by the whole experience, but then I moved home and went into remission. My second session was as a teenager. The therapist saw me as a stutter rather than a person who has had the stuffing knocked out of them what feels like a million times. The whole person needs to be considered - how they feel about themselves, and what they think others think about themselves too.

It's never going to go away, but I have already achieved more than I thought I would achieve, yet I still have a desire to do more with my life. You get reminded of who you are from time to time, when you put yourself in difficult situations and get knocked back, but I try to think that this isn't your fault.

You have to be 'superhuman' to move forward. You have something that most other people don't have. I take solace in the fact that I am undeniably special - I am gifted with a unique way of experiencing life.

Here are my words of advice to stutterers - do not give up. There is hope.

I am 56 years old and have been a stutterer all my life and know first hand how embarrassing and debilitating it can be. It has severely limited my social life and has prevented me from making female friends. We all know the horrifying situations, speaking to strangers, answering the phone, ordering in a restaurant, public speaking or speaking to someone in authority.

As a child, I remember being taunted by my uncle and cousins. In hindsight, I believe that relatives and peers have exacerbated the problem which may not have occurred if less attention was given to it.

I recall a classmate in high school who was a severe stutterer. When he was required to answer a question in the classroom he would block completely, and yet, outside in the playground he would be yelling for the football at the top of his lungs.

Some of my most fearful stuttering experiences occurred in my teenage years. In high school they tried to introduce us to public speaking. We had to make oral presentations in front of the class. On another occasion, for five straight days each student had to read passages of scripture in front of about twenty priests gathered for lunch at the local seminary.

In my first year at university I realized that I could benefit from professional intervention but could not afford it as a student. In the end I never received any direct treatment. The turning point for me came in my university years. I started to get involved in committees. I became president of a student club. I started to gain confidence speaking in front of the class on subject matter of which I was knowledgeable. It was much easier for me to speak out when I had the floor. But it was never easy in speak in random conversation within a group.

What was my most embarrassing moment as an adult? As the president of a local community club, I had to make a short presentation to city council. Even though I was well prepared with script in hand, the words just did not want to flow. I must have sounded like an incompetent fool. Fortunately my vice president was with me and he did an excellent job of delivering what I had failed to do.

The following is simply my own experience and analysis and does not represent any formal academic thesis on the subject. I characterize my experiences and observations of stuttering into three stages, repetition, blocking and facial contortions. Repetition appears at an early age and is common in children. It is like trying to start a car engine that just doesn’t want to go. Or it is like having "to make a running start" in anticipation of getting over the hump or block. Blocking is the real manifestation of stuttering. Repetition is a learned habit of attempting to overcome the block.

Facial contortion represents the more severe manifestation of blocking where the facial muscles, through a lifetime of undesirable training and exercise just would not let go of old habits and the words just would not come out. Forcing the words out while blocking will only reinforce the problem. Sometimes severe blocking is accompanied by slapping the hand on the legs or thighs, or by foot stamping.

Some consequences of stuttering are avoiding certain situations such as answering the phone or talking to people. You tend not to participate in group discussions or to provide verbal answers in class. Word substitution becomes common. When you anticipate that you will stutter on a certain word, you substitute it with another word sometimes resulting in lesser impact or conveying the wrong message. Common stuttering words are "but" and "and". I used to think that certain consonants such as "b" or "p" cause me the most problems but I believe that this is no longer true. Multi-syllabic or difficult words such as "meteorology" or "epidemiology" are examples of stumbling blocks. The strangest of them all is I stutter saying my own name. To this day I still do. I took a year of learning Spanish. For whatever reasons, my stuttering increased when speaking a different language.

Stuttering is not a neurological disorder. It is a developmental disorder. It is an involuntary habit trained and exercised since early childhood. If you began walking with a limp you would end up walking with a limp. If you walked slumped over you will end up like that. If you speak ending every sentence with an um or eh you will continue to do so. The difference is stuttering is involuntary and it is very difficult to break out of the rut. You have to literally untrain your muscles in order to break out of the habit. I agree with the statement that "stuttering is what stutterers do trying not to stutter". Speaking is an art form of expression. Just like dancing or playing a musical instrument, it takes years of training and practice to be able to do it automatically and fluently. Ideally, I would like my speech to be automatic and I should not have to be conscious of my efforts. The more I think of my stuttering the more likely I am to stutter. The chapter on Zen in the Art of Stuttering is wonderful reading. Another section that I find very useful is the discussion on autonomous motor learning, Three Stages of Motor Learning.

Here is what appears to work for me. First of all, I have a lot of self confidence in what I do. I have high self esteem. I believe that this is very important. You have to believe in yourself and know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Here are the things that I have done in the past. I began by reading aloud privately. I read slowly and quietly at first. I paid attention to my breathing, trying to be slow and controlled. I focussed on articulation and exaggerated the spacing between words. When I became comfortable with this I gradually increased my volume. I pretended that I was in a large room and tried to project my voice as if I were speaking to the person at the back of the room.

In general, I have found that taking a deep breath appears to be the wrong thing to do. I am more likely to block by doing so. Instead, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Now while halfway through exhalation, I say the words I want to say. I believe this makes my muscles more relaxed. I certainly want to avoid hyperventilating. If I find myself blocking, I stop. I must not force my way out of a block. I know that doing so continues to exercise the wrong muscles.

Perhaps, what has had the most significant impact is learning to control stress and anxiety. As I grow older I grow mellower. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I am more relaxed. For example, I watch my driving habits. I have slowed down to the speed limit. I don't try to beat the red lights and I stop at all stop signs. I try to be courteous and I let the other drivers in. I don't switch lanes just to get ahead. Instead, I slow down for the slower driver in front of me and I give myself lots of space. Overall, I am a much calmer and happier person.

I was 47 when my father died and none of my siblings would give the eulogy at his funeral service, even though I am the youngest of his children. I willingly took myself to the task and I am pleased to say that my delivery was flawless. As an adult, I have served on a club executive, serving as president for one year. I now teach at a major university. Two of my professors were severe stutterers and yet they were able to conduct lectures in front of three hundred students. On another occasion I was emcee at the memorial service for a professor with about 150 people in attendance.

I have four wonderful children. When one of my sons was about three we witnessed incidences of stuttering. Knowing what I have gone through in my life as a stutterer I did not want him to have to do the same. My wife and I discussed this at great length and mutually agreed on our set of strategies.

1. We recognized that some degree of disfluency in children is normal and quite often they outgrow it. 2. We agreed that bringing the child’s attention to it or the attention of those around him would do more harm than good. 3. We agreed to model both good speaking and listening habits by speaking slowly and clearly and by listening without interrupting.

Most importantly, we allowed the child to speak without interrupting, giving our full attention with eye-to-eye contact, whether on a one-on-one basis or in a group at the dinner table, for example. Today he is eleven, a bright and confident young man and speaks fluently.

In retrospect, I believe that reading and writing have helped me to overcome my stuttering. As a child and teenager I did very little of both. Being a stutterer caused me to be introverted which resulted in my having poor verbal communication skills. I never did dwell on the thought that I might have poor language skills as well. I am now made aware of this having read "Boys of Few Words" by Adam J. Cox. Another book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" by John Gray, discusses how men and women can be so different in communication skills.

As a young adult, witnessing the birth of personal computers and desktop publishing, I became the editor of a club newsletter. I have read and written a lot more since then. I now see the importance of developing language skills and how this has helped me. Being introverted did not necessarily mean that I was capable of internalizing all my thoughts and feelings clearly and fluently. I needed to develop my language skills as well.

I have created my personal book of "Writings" for no other reason except for enjoyment. This is not a diary or journal but a collection of thoughts, ideas, theories or personal analyses of anything that comes to mind, usually about religion, philosophy, politics, economics, conservation, etc. I can write a lot more fluently now than ever before. When I speak I have difficulty finding the right words to say. Quite often I know the word I am looking for but it doesn’t come to mind quickly enough. Writing has allowed me to improve my sentence construction and words appear to come more quickly and fluently.

The goal as a stutterer is to be able to say the words without having any thoughts of stuttering. As said before, "stuttering is what stutterers do when they are trying not to stutter". Let the sleeping dog lie. I can declare myself to be one hundred percent fluent, despite the fact that I do stumble occasionally. I say this because I am no longer afraid to speak to an audience. I can handle all situations that I was so fearful of in the past. I no longer use word substitution. I know that I can speak fluently. When I speak, the words come more easily and I no longer have to think about stuttering. On the few occasions that it rears its ugly head I revive the techniques to allow me to glide over it and put it aside. My life is so much richer now that I have the confidence to speak in public. (--Charlie2 13:14, 3 February 2007 (UTC))

12 September 2008 - Update I am happy to announce that I have been a very active member of Toastmasters, an internationally renowned organization that promotes building confidence in communication and leadership. My purpose for joining Toastmasters was not to overcome my problems with stuttering but to prepare me for the greater role of becoming an effective public speaker. Joining Toastmasters has been a very rewarding and entertaining experience for me. -- Charlie2