Likely you’ve never met another stutterer. You’ve never seen a book about stuttering in a bookstore. You may be the first stutterer that your speech-language pathologist has met. You might feel that you’re the only person in the world with this problem.
Last month your speech-language pathologist printed a webpage for you with the time and place of a stuttering support group. You put it off last month, but this month you go. You drive by the house. You see a group of people in the living room. You sit in your car, not sure if you have the courage to walk into the house.
Let’s back up to how you find a stuttering support group. Visit the National Stuttering Association website or call (800) 364-1677. The NSA has more than 70 local support groups across the United States. Many stutterers say that the annual convention is the best experience of their lives.
Speak Easy International has stuttering support groups in the New York-New Jersey area. Call Bob Gathman, at (201) 262-0895.
The National Association of Young People Who Stutter (866 866-8335) has support groups for children and teenagers who stutter.
Some speech clinics have their own stuttering support groups. These are often for practicing therapy. Practicing in a group is better than practicing alone.
If you’re outside the United States, find a stuttering support organization in your country by visiting the International Stuttering Association.
Facebook has groups for stutterers.
Yahoo Groups has e-mail lists for stutterers. The online support groups tend to be a few individuals who do 90% of the chatting, and hundreds of people who don’t write anything. One individual with too much time on his hands used several e-mail addresses and fake names to have long arguments with himself.
Cancer patients who joined a support group, without receiving treatment, lived longer than patients who received treatment, without a support group. In other words, support groups were more effective than surgery, drugs, or radiation in fighting cancer.
A support group will help you learn what works for other people. You’ll get feedback on what you’re doing. A group of people will generate new ideas that no individual would have thought of.
In a support group, you’ll find that you’ve solved problems that other people face. Other people may have solved problems you face. Stuttering will no longer seem like one big problem, but rather will become a set of small problems.
When you ask your support group how to solve a small problem (e.g., answering the telephone at work) they’ll tell you. If your support group has six members, you’ll get six solutions to your problem. At least.
A support group improves your emotional state. Hearing other people’s experiences improves your perspective. Your setbacks don’t seem so bad. Sharing positive experiences makes everyone in the group feel good.
When you feel frustrated or depressed, you have no idea what to do. Talking to individuals who’ve been in the same situation will help you see that you have choices (Personal Construct Therapy).
I was a National Stuttering Association chapter leader. Our meetings usually had a dozen people. We met twice a month. One monthly meeting would have a guest speaker or activity. The other monthly meeting would for “sharing” (talking about personal experiences).
Guests and activities included:
- A speech-language pathologist who stuttered and was the superintendent of 33 school districts and seven community colleges.
- A filmmaker who stuttered showed us the roughcut of his documentary about stuttering. We were the first audience to see the video.
- Local speech-language pathologists presented their approaches to stuttering therapy.
- A psychologist presented his mind-body-spirit approach to stuttering treatment.
- Another psychologist, who stuttered, and was an expert in marital counseling, conducted a workshop on improving communications in relationships.
- A National Stuttering Association board member presented a paper he’d written about his philosophy of stuttering.
- We watched a video about Tourette’s syndrome and discussed similarities to stuttering. (I was unable to find anyone with Tourette’s to join us for that meeting.)
- When I couldn’t find anyone else, I’d invite a Toastmasters International club. Those clubs always have three or four people happy to make a speech about overcoming fear of making speeches!
- Short speeches about “What I did this summer.”
- Reading Dr. Suess books in pairs. With choral speaking you don’t stutter, although some of the Dr. Suess rhymes and made-up-words can trip you.
- Reading a Winnie-the-Pooh story with each character doing a type of speech therapy. Winnie-the-Pooh hums a lot, so he used continuous phonation. Owl used the Hot Airflow Method. Eeyore used Dreary Auditory Feedback, which is tediously slow and depressing, but makes you fluent. T-T-T-Tigger b-b-b-bounced his words. Rabbit talked fast, which makes you stutter. In contrast, the narrator read slowly.
- The funnest meeting was based on the Monty Python skit “I Wish to Report a Burglary.” I passed out cards, each with a speech disorder: stuttering, lisping, aphasia (forgetting words), spastic dysphonia, speaking in a high voice, speaking in a low voice, speaking fast, speaking slow, unusual accents, and spoonerisms (switching the first sounds of words, e.g., the British toast “Let us raise our glasses to the dear old Queen” becomes an academic “Let us glaze our asses to the queer old Dean”). Each person introduced himself using his speech disorder. Then the speech disorders became hearing disorders. In other words, the “lisp” person could only hear people who lisped, the “accent” person could only hear people who spoke in a funny accent. To carry on a conversation with several people, you had to constantly change your speech! People talked and talked and talked, for an hour, saying inane things to each other in funny voices. Or else they were laughing at other people. No one stuttered! Several people were astoundingly good at spoonerisms and hilarious accents. We also learned that there are worse speech disorders than stuttering.
One of my customers sent me this e-mail:
I am a severe stutterer. At the time I ordered the Pocket DAF, I was blocking on every single word I spoke. I decided to try the DAF with the encouragement of my speech therapist.
The first day I brought it to work, everyone in my office tried it. Before long, everyone in the entire office area was in my office wanting to hear me talk and try it out themselves.
I found the experience both wonderful and frightening. It was wonderful to know that so many of my co-workers wanted something good for me and were so excited about seeing it happening. It was frightening because I didn’t know if the effects of the DAF would last. I’ve found that having the DAF allows (forces) me to be more open about my stuttering because everyone can see that I’m using some sort of device. I also think that it helps people understand my stuttering. If something analogous to a hearing aid can help, maybe my stuttering doesn’t seem so mysterious to them after all!
After using the device over a year now, I’m very pleased to report that many people at the National Stuttering Project convention remarked on how much my fluency had improved since they last talked to me.
I use the DAF only sometimes at work and most of the time on the telephone. I’m very glad that I bought it.
In ten years working with the same people, she’d never discussed her speech. When she brought up the subject, she found that her co-workers wanted to support her.
Watch the video I made interviewing people about my speech. You’ll see that everyone was supportive. (The video is on the DVD that comes with this book, or on my website.)
Listeners have different messages for mild and severe stutterers. Mild stuttering is “no big deal” or even appealing to listeners. A movie producer told me that my stuttering was appealing because it showed that I wasn’t a “phony” person. Apparently she’d met plenty of “phony” people in Los Angeles (i.e., people who pretended to be someone they weren’t).
In contrast, a mild stutterer may be able to successfully hide stuttering, but listeners figure out that he’s hiding something. Listeners may not know what he is hiding, but he’ll come across as “phony” or dishonest.
Listeners have a different message for severe stutterers. Severe stuttering disturbs listeners. They don’t understand stuttering. They want to know if there’s anything they can do to help you. But they’re too polite to ask you about your disability. They want you to educate them. They don’t want the proverbial “elephant in the living room” that no one will talk about.
Some disabilities get more respect than others. Most people respect individuals with visible physical disabilities. For example, you’d make room on a crowded bus for a paraplegic using a wheelchair.
Individuals with non-visible physical disabilities, such as heart disease, get less respect. Would you give up your seat on a bus for a man who said that he had a heart condition and couldn’t stand for long periods? What if he were your age and looked healthy?
Non-physical, visible disabilities get even less respect. For example, a man gets onto a bus, talking excitedly to no one. You don’t see a cellphone earset in his ear. Plus he’s repeating the same paranoid sentence over and over. You suspect he has schizophrenia. You see people on the bus getting up from their seats as he approaches—and getting off at the next stop.
The least respected disabilities are non-physical and non-visible. Stutterers look normal, until we talk. Listeners feel shock seeing you go from normal behavior one moment to head jerks, facial spasms, and being stuck in disfluencies the next moment.
But you can move up the disability hierarchy. You can change your stuttering into a visible, physical disability:
- Wear a National Stuttering Association button.
- Tell people that you stutter.
- Tell a stuttering joke.
- Show people your altered auditory feedback (AAF) device.
In contrast, hiding your stuttering throws away the respect and support that people would otherwise give you.
I used to get calls asking for an anti-stuttering device that was completely invisible, 100% effective, and required no speech therapy. I’d explain that no stuttering treatment could do that. Then I’d suggest that perhaps their real problem wasn’t stuttering, but rather was fear of listeners discovering that they stuttered. If you fear listeners discovering that you stutter, then your stress increases and you’re more likely to stutter.
My company used to have a 10% return rate. Then another company marketed their anti-stuttering device as an invisible “miracle cure.” Since then I’ve gotten no calls from stutterers wanting invisible instant cures. My return rate has dropped to less than 1%. I’ve heard that the other company has more than a 25% return rate. I’m happy that the “miracle cure” stutterers buy from them, not me.
Of course, stuttering doesn’t often come up as a topic of conversation. You’ll have to bring it up.
I used to go up to strangers and say “My speech therapist wants me to introduce myself to more people…” That leads to listeners asking about speech therapy and stuttering.
Now I tell people I’m putting on my SmallTalk. Almost always the listener asks me about the device.
I then ask the listener if she wants to try the device. I explain that I can adjust the device to make fluent people stutter.
Then all the conversations in the room stop. Everyone turns to watch my victim tripping over her tongue trying to count to ten with DAF adjusted to 200 milliseconds. Then they line up to try the device. And sometimes, after I’ve been the life of the party for a while, an attractive person wants to talk to me at length about stuttering, usually because she has a friend or relation who stutters.