Would you like a m-m-m-mimosa?

kittilstvedAbout the author:  Tiffani Kittilstved is a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, studying Speech Science.  She desires to pursue a career as a professor, researcher, and clinician, working, specifically, with persons who stutter.  Tiffani is a person who stutters and desires to research the neural substrates of stuttering in order to better understand the disorder, in hopes of improving our ability, as a profession, to treat this condition.  Tiffani also advocates for the need of acceptance and empowerment for persons who stutter.  Last year was Tiffani’s first year participating in the ISAD online conference and she is honored to be back again this year.

Just about everyone who stutters can tell you that they have feared sounds or words that give them special kinds of difficulty.  Whether these fears are founded in the statistical probability of how often we stutter, using them in relation to other sounds or words is disputed. Regardless, these words and sounds have been built up in our minds to be difficult so we have become afraid of them.  We begin to sweat when we think about having to say them, and we might even avoid the word or sound altogether.  This is one of the many difficulties that co-exist with a stutter.

For me, my feared words have extended to a large variety of words in my vocabulary. However the word that was especially difficult for me this year was the word ‘mimosa’.  Despite my deep fear of this word, I had to say it ALL THE TIME – far more often than I would have liked.  Throughout this year, I worked as a server at a local restaurant/bar in Knoxville, TN, USA.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I was scheduled to serve.  I dreaded these shifts, trading and giving them up as often as I could.  It wasn’t that they were bad shifts – I actually made great money on those mornings – it was because we had $4 mimosa specials.  Our managers liked us to inform every guest of the daily specials and it helped us sell more of our products (which, in turn, increased our tips) so every morning I grudgingly (with a smile of course!) told my guests about our $4 mimosa specials.  And every time I did that, I stuttered….  It was horrifying.

I am, what many experts in this field call, a covert person who stutters (PWS).  Instead of stuttering openly, I do everything I can to avoid stuttering.  A wise man once said,
“Stuttering is what you do when you’re trying not to stutter.” –Johnson
There is so much truth to that statement.  The things that we do to avoid stuttering are probably far more distracting and effortful than stuttering itself.  Also, using these “tricks” makes us more and more afraid of stuttering each time we try to avoid specific words and sounds.  Instead we substitute words rather than using the words that we think will give us trouble. We talk around words that we think will be particularly difficult. We avoid talking altogether when we can’t think of a way to say what we want to say without relative fluency. We change our voices by adding accents or “playing a character”.  The list of tricks that we come up with to help us be a little bit more fluent is endless.  These tricks work for a while but pretty soon our brain catches on to what we’re doing and they stop working.  We begin to stutter in those “character voices” oron words that were previously easier for us.  Using these tricks and having to continuously change them is exhausting and it has given me a sense of evasiveness – I felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not and never saying exactly what I wanted to say.  I have now found so much freedom in stuttering openly or even voluntarily. I know it sounds crazy but it’s kind of awesome!  It enables me to say what I want to say, when I want to say it, and how I want to say it.  The time that it takes me to say it may be longer than I, and my listener, would like, but that’s the reasonable tradeoff in order to achieve a sense of credibility and express my true self.

Naturally, every time I had to say that dreaded word ‘mimosa’ I would try to do something – anything – to avoid it.  I couldn’t substitute it because there aren’t too many proper nouns that actually have synonyms (that’s the unfortunate problem with a specific language).  I tried to talk around it but my guests either didn’t understand or thought that I was weird.  Plus, the time that it takes to say “Would you like a delicious beverage that contains champagne and orange juice?” is just long and imprecise enough that most guests are no longer interested – there’s a lot of sales value lost in vague description.  I tried to avoid the word altogether by either not saying it, prayed that my telepathy would kick in and they’d magically want one on their own, or pointed to the menu that detailed our specials.  This was not ideal either, since most customers don’t really want to read at 11:00 AM on their weekend.  Plus, utilizing both sight and speech (as many senses as possible) has benefits for selling any product, so that was lost every time that I tried to get by with just pointing at the menu.  It didn’t work to simply change my voice because I was already doing that.  All of my serving shift was spent using various character voices that I have adapted and mastered in order to help me be more fluent.  It worked fairly well. By “well”, I simply mean in regards to fluency. This definitely does not imply that it was easier or better in any other way.  Even my best character voice wouldn’t work for this word; I stuttered on it every time.

Stuttering on the word ‘mimosa’ wasn’t that bad in hindsight.  In the moment, of course, it was the worst thing that could possibly be happening.  I was filled with embarrassment, shame, resentment, anxiety, frustration, and so much more.  Who knew a person could feel so much negativity just from saying one word?  That is the struggle that so many other people who stutter face every time they talk.  It wasn’t all negative though. This one consistent opportunity to stutter, enabled me to slowly become more open about my stuttering while serving – which was, at the time, one of my most difficult and feared situations to stutter in.  The week before I quit serving, I decided to try stuttering in front of my tables.  I wasn’t stuttering completely openly but I let it out quite a few times in front of each of my guests.  The responses surprised me.  Almost everyone that I served during these four shifts reacted very positively, just waiting and listening, with kindness and understanding.  It gave me several opportunities to educate people about stuttering and they were nothing but compassionate and impressed to see me doing it very boldly in public.  It was so encouraging.  With each shift that I did it, it became easier and easier.  I had a few confused looks and a couple of people who made fun of me but it was just out of misunderstanding.  When one table was making fun of me particularly harshly, I told them that I stutter and, after that, they were much kinder and more understanding (and actually tipped really well).  The biggest thing that surprised me from all of this is that my tips substantially increased!  I went from getting 20-30% to getting 40% in tips every shift that I stuttered!  I wished I had tried this earlier in my serving career!

The moral of this story, aside from encouraging people who stutter that they can make great tips as a waitress, is the freedom and unseen benefit of stuttering openly.  Throughout my experiences with serving and, in many other situations in my life as well, I have learned that stuttering is not the most terrible thing that could happen.  Although it may feel that way before, and during that moment of stuttering, the positives outweigh the negatives in the long term.  Stuttering openly provides the person who stutters the ability to free themselves of the burden of trying so hard to avoid stuttering.  It enables them to be genuine and authentic with the people they interact with, instead of pretending to be someone that they are not.  We have a right to express ourselves when and how we want to – because we have voices.  Our voices may not be perfect but they are ours and they are a part of us.  There is so much empowerment that can be felt by embracing your real voice – stuttering and all.  As demonstrated in this story, many people really don’t care; heck, they even thought more highly of me when I stuttered!  Some people will react in a negative way, mostly out of ignorance, but they really don’t matter.  We will never please everyone. It is fruitless to try.  There is so much personal benefit that can be gained by stuttering openly that a few confused looks, or frustrating interactions, is a small cost to pay for such an amazing feeling of vulnerability, acceptance, and empowerment.

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Comments

Would you like a m-m-m-mimosa? — 129 Comments

  1. Hi Tiffani! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in such an eloquent manner. As mom to a 19-year old who stutters and a parent advocate, I find so much inspiration in your story. (I also appreciated the humor – having been a server myself for many years.) I will be directing parents from my Voice Unearthed Facebook page to your paper — you’re an inspiration and a role model!! Very powerful piece.

    • Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and willingness to direct your parents to my paper. That’s very thoughtful of you; I appreciate it.

  2. Hey Tiffani,
    As a fellow student pursuing the realm of Speech Science I must say that this was an excellent read and provided a great deal of insight in regards to day-to-day emotional reactions and thoughts surrounding stuttering from a person who stutters. It was quite eye-opening for someone that is not entirely familiar with the emotional components that arise from stuttering.
    Would you characterize the events that took place in your write-up, namely the dread of the word “mimosa,” as a tipping point for you to embrace your own voice through openly stuttering? Or would you attribute this change to some other factor, such as leaving the serving job and disregarding what others may think? I’m curious as to what exactly was the factor that made you stutter openly.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this up!
    Colin Guibault

    • Hi Colin,

      Thank you for your words of encouragement. I would say that at the point in my life when this story took place, I was already trying to embrace my stutter and stutter more openly, however serving was a very difficult situation for my to do that in – and therefore a feared situation of mine. Not being able to say the word “mimosa” fluently was a tipping point for my to stutter openly while serving. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say that word fluently so – I knew I was going to stutter at least on that word – so why not just stutter openly? That was my logic at the time. I would agree with your second question to a point as well though, I did not stutter openly until I was about to quit so I felt like I didn’t have as much to lose. It definitely helped me be more open with my stuttering. It made the feared situation less feared at least.

      Thanks for reading and your insightful questions. I wish you the best of luck with school and hope my paper and this conference has piqued your curiosity in fluency disorders a little bit!

  3. Hey Tiffani,
    I really enjoyed reading your story. I am a graduate student in Speech Pathology, and I am taking a fluency class at the moment. We talk a lot about how people who stutter are just that…people….who stutter. Our professor makes it a big point to look at the individual apart from their fluency or rather disfluency. Your paper was very eye opening though in a world where people look at others who may struggle with something and either feel pity for them or judge them even though the person did not choose to struggle in the way they do. I love that you take your disfluency and “run with it” instead of constantly trying to fix it, and that you encourage those who stutter to do openly maybe just for a few situations here and there. I believe that in order to have success in anything, you have to first accept your situation and realize that there may be some limitations but there is also room for growth or achievement. With this being said, your mindset about accepting your disfluency is a good encouragement for others who may desire to completely eradicate their disfluency.
    How would you address someone who thinks that you should do every possible thing you could to fix the disfluency instead of perhaps embracing it and in your case using it to your benefit (for tips!)? Also, do you believe that everyone should embrace and accept it or do you for the most part encourage a person to take part in some form of therapy to lessen or eliminate their disfluency?
    Sorry if I was rambling! I just had so many thoughts as I was reading your paper. Thank you so much for sharing!
    Roxanne

    • I know this question was directed to Tiffani, but I just wanted to suggest that in any area of our lives, we can accept who we are and feel fully comfortable and confident in our own skin while still seeking to grow in areas where we feel change would be beneficial. In other words, acceptance does not mean we cease becoming the best communicators we can be. I believe a growth mindset is always healthy!

    • HI Roxanne,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. I LOVE that your professor makes a point to separate the individual from their fluency and refer to them as “people who stutter”. That’s something I’m passionate about as well and I agree with his logic entirely – separating the person from their fluency is key to seeing them as real people and not just their diagnosis. This thinking has to start with the way we talk about these things. Our language affects our cognition, the two certainly influence each other!

      I think the questions you ask are really important ones and their questions I was hoping somebody would ask me! I think embracing your stuttering is important – essential even! – to living with a stutter. I do, however, also believe that using strategies to achieve as much fluency as you can or, more importantly, want to achieve can co-exist with that acceptance. I personally use some avoidances (changing the tone of my voice, not changing words or anything like that) to help me be more fluent. I will also use strategies occasionally if I feel the need. Now these avoidances do not allow me to speak completely fluently, but they allow me to speak with fewer and more mild dysfluencies. I’ve reached a point, personally, where I am happy with the use of some avoidances and strategies and some dysfluencies. I think everyone who stutters needs to find that balance. As a clinician I think it is our job to help our client find where that balance is. We cannot expect them to be 100% fluent all of the time, nor can we expect them to stutter openly 100% of the time. Neither are feasible for most people who stutter. It’s all about balance. Whatever strategies we teach our clients, I think it’s essential that we are constantly reminding them that it is okay to stutter and working, concurrently, on those emotional issues attached to how they feel about stuttering. We have a big job as clinicians! I believe doing that is how we make the greatest amount of change in the lives of our clients.

      Thanks for your awesome questions and I apologize for MY rambling!

      Good luck in school, I’m sure you’ll be an excellent clinician!

      Tiffani

  4. I loved reading this and your journey of acceptance! I am in a graduate program for speech and language therapy. I have family members who stutter and it was interesting to read about how free you felt once you embraced your stutter rather than feeling tied down and not yourself using techniques to achieve fluent speech. I think it is so important to embrace yourself first, and not change who you are. I know you said this came about as a learning process, and I know everyone is different, but would you say that when you first wanted to achieve these techniques, was your ultimate goal “stuttering-free speech” before you embraced it?
    Thanks,Melissa Tapia

    • Hi Melissa,

      That’s an excellent questions! By the time I began attending speech therapy I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have completely “stutter-free” speech without a large amount of effort so I wouldn’t say that was my perspective. I would, however, say that I didn’t think it would be as difficult to use the techniques all of the time. I also did not know how much I would not like using them (mostly because they don’t sound all that natural). Prior to my speech therapy this past year, I did not realize how severe my stuttering was so I didn’t realize how difficult being fluent was going to be for me. So reaching the conclusion that I wanted to stutter openly and embrace my speech came out of not wanting to do the alternative. After I found this acceptance I could then begin to use some strategies and now I’ve found a nice balance between strategy use and stuttering openly. I am happy with that balance. I think it’s essential that all people who stutter find what that balance is for them.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Tiffani

  5. Tiffani,

    I want to thank you for sharing your story so publicly. As a graduate student in an SLP program, I have been learning about the importance of acceptance that PWS face on a day to day basis. It is brave people like yourself, and stories like your own, that can help others in similar situations find their strength and control. Your story has also helped me to further understand that not all speech therapy should be directed at techniques and modifications of stuttering, but helping a client to find their self worth and acceptance and to fully embrace their speech as a powerful part of them. I would like to know if you found yourself on the path to becoming an SLP because you are interested in ways to ‘cure’ stuttering, if you found yourself on this path to share your story of embracing your true voice?

    Thank you again for sharing, I believe your story will have a positive impact on many people!
    -Melanie McGinn

    • Hi Melanie,

      Thanks for your comment and question and for your encouragement! I wouldn’t say that I decided to become an SLP to “cure” stuttering but more because the phenomenon fascinated me. I have spent most of my life living with this mysterious condition and I have been able to find all of the strange and interesting things about it! It’s fascinating! The scientist in me was drawn to it because I could physically feel and know what was happening at a different level than someone who doesn’t stutter. I also have not had the most accepting environment growing up with a stutter so I joined the field out of my desire to allow other people who stutter to have a different story to tell than the one I do. I suppose there was still an underlying element of wanting to cure it too but I realize very well now that we are far from that. Understanding is the goal for our field now, that’s a necessary starting point before we can get there. Maybe one day though!

      I love that you already have so much wisdom about how to work with people who stutter and the importance of focusing on more than just the behavioral goals of increased fluency. You will make an excellent clinician! I hope you consider specializing in fluency disorders!

      Thanks for reading my story and commenting!

      Tiffani

  6. Hi Tiffani,

    I just wanted to reach out and thank you for sharing your personal story about stuttering. The title of your post was initially what drew me to read your post and I am SO GLAD that I did. I am a first year graduate student studying speech-language pathology in Illinois and I am currently taking a fluency course. I do not have much experience with fluency disorders or individuals who stutter so reading your story was awesome to see how accepting and empowered a person can be. While I read your post so much of what you eloquently wrote stuck out to me. I love when you said “Our voices may not be perfect but they are ours and they are a part of us.” I just think that is so true and incredibly beautiful!

    While I read your story I did have one question. I don’t mean to pry, but I am curious if you have ever been in speech therapy for your stutter. I see that you are earning your Ph D. in Speech Science (which is incredible, way to go!) so I am sure that you are very knowledgeable about the study of speech pathology. As a future speech pathologist and clinician I was wondering what aspects of therapy, if any, you found helpful/unhelpful or if there was any aspect of your speech that you recognized a noticeable difference in while/if you attended therapy. I want to be the best clinician possible and I know your feedback will potentially differ from the feedback of another person who stutters, but I would love if you could respond if you find the time. I would truly appreciate your opinions towards therapy, a broader glimpse of your history, and any other insight you are willing to share.

    I applaud you for being such a positive and strong woman! I loved reading this post and can’t wait to recommend it to my classmates and friends.
    I hope you will be sharing more throughout the month,
    Allie Ricks

    • Hi Allie,

      Thanks for your question and your wonderful words of encouragement, you are so kind.

      I have been to speech therapy on and off (mostly on) for the last 3 years. I have been to a number of different therapists and tried a variety of different approaches. I have found therapy very helpful. Some programs/therapists I’ve obviously liked better than others but I believe I would not be able to be where I am today – embracing and accepting my stuttering – without my current speech therapist. As a therapist for a client who stutters, the job is rather complicated and certainly not black and white (it seems like everyone does it differently!). The aspects of therapy I have found the most helpful are working through my fears of stuttering, of certain sounds and situations, and all of the emotional baggage that comes along with stuttering (check out the iceberg analogy if you aren’t familiar with it, it describes the dynamic nature of stuttering really well). I have also found that learning strategies has been helpful for me as well. As a therapist our job is to help our client be effective communicators and to feel good about communicating. Whatever that means for them, it’s our job to help them figure it out. For some, that means stuttering openly, for others it means teaching them strategies, for most, however, it means a combination of those two. We need to help them find and maintain that balance. I didn’t like strategies and didn’t use them until I became okay with my stuttering. I felt that, before that, strategies were just like the avoidances I always used and that I was just hiding my stuttering but sounded even weirder than I already did! Now that I’ve embraced stuttering, I can use some avoidances (just changing my voice a bit, not to the point that I have to work hard or feel inauthentic) and allow a certain amount of dysfluency to come through. I’ve okay with that and I’ve found that balance. I also know lots of different strategies that I can pull out if I need them. That’s another important part of being a therapist for people who stutter is to give them tools to use when and if they want to. This empowers them to communicate whenever they want to because they have tools that enable them to do so a bit more easily. So, in summary, the best thing you can do for your clients is help them communicate effectively, teach them tools that they can use when they want, but walk with them through their journey of dealing with the baggage that comes with stuttering and help them “find their voice” – constantly reminding them that stuttering is always okay. Our job is to facilitate this journey for them but it’s something that they need go through – we’re there to help them through it.

      Sorry I rambled so much, you asked a really great question! Good luck with school!

      Tiffani

  7. Your story is bold, honest and inspiring. I think all PWS should spend a summer as a waiter/waitress! A job at a restaurant consists of repeated demanding, face-paced, stressful communication situations… a true therapeutic environment!! If you can openly stutter or use techniques in that environment… and get paid for it??? what an awesome way to embrace your stuttering.

    If I stutter more, I get paid more??? what motivation!!!

    It’s not without its incredible challenges and obstacles. But the strength of character and knowledge of self that comes with overcoming those obstacles is so valuable. (and the tips don’t hurt either.)

    Great work and great sharing.

    Tricia

    • Thank you Tricia!! I agree with you, serving is an experience that a lot of people who stutter could benefit from!

  8. Hi Tiffani! I am a grad student in communication sciences and disorders and am in a fluency class currently. What a bold and inspiring story! I love that you embrace your stuttering and feel empowered by it. I also love that you are encouraging others to do the same.
    I have a few questions for you.
    1. Did you ever seek treatment or get referred for intervention when you were younger? If so, did you find any benefit from it?
    2. What would you say to someone who believes that you should seek treatment for your disfluency?
    3. Since you have chosen to embrace your disfluency, how will you convey to your clients that disfluency is something that can be overcome when you still show symptoms of yours?
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It is eye-opening to hear from someone who has struggled with a disfluency, but chooses to stutter openly.

    • Hi!

      Thank you for your comments and questions and for taking the time to read my story.
      1. I did not seek treatment as a child however, I began to delve into the world of speech therapy when I was 18. Since then I’ve been in various different kinds of therapy programs. I currently am in speech therapy as well. I have found a lot of benefit out of speech therapy! I think it is important for a speech therapist who works with people who stutter to treat the whole person so therapy, for me, has been the most beneficial when it contains two elements: 1) teaching and practicing fluency enhancing strategies and 2) working through the emotional aspects of the disorder. I think strategies should be taught in therapy but should not be the primary focus. Communication is more than just fluency so I think facilitating change in the life of your client comes with providing them with tools to communicate effectively and confidently – whatever that may look like. This is where strategy use comes in. Teaching a person who stutters to use strategies can enable them to communicate effectively and confidently and that’s awesome! I think having strategies that we can pull out of our toolbox when we want/need to use them is super beneficial!
      2. I would definitely encourage someone to seek treatment for the reasons mentioned above. It is essential that they find someone who is experienced and knowledgeable in stuttering, however, since there are many therapists out there who are not familiar/comfortable with stuttering.
      3. This is such an excellent question and one that I am not sure I can answer, this is something I am still working through. I would say that when working with clients who stutter, I primarily demonstrate effective use of strategies and model how these can be used effectively. If my dysfluencies slip through I would use those as opportunities to remind my clients that stuttering is also okay and that 100% fluency all of the time is really not realistic and that stuttering is not something they should feel guilty about. To more clearly answer this question, I would say that I would NOT stutter openly in front of my clients in much the same way I’m encouraging in this paper….it may seem contradictory but I also advocate that people who stutter can gain as much controlled/managed stuttering/fluency as they can/want and I feel that modeling that in therapy is important. Does that make sense?

      Thanks for your great questions! Good luck with your graduate program!

      Tiffani

  9. Tiffani, I felt that your story was very compelling and insightful to read. I am currently a graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology and also a veteran of the service industry. I can remember when I first started to waitress and the anxiety I would feel about going to up random strangers. I could not imagine what this must has felt like as PWS. I do not think enough people are educated on fluency and what stuttering is. Like you mentioned in your article, explaining what stuttering is totally changed the individual’s outlook towards it. I wanted to know if there are any other situations in which you feel like your stutter worsened? If so, what do you try to do in order to increase your fluency?

    • Hi Chelsea,

      Thanks for your encouraging words and your question. To answer it, I would say that there are certainly circumstances when my dysfluencies worsen. In general, my stuttering is pretty severe but when I’m tired or nervous it’s worse for sure. Although I have come to accept my stuttering and embrace it, attempting to stutter openly, I am learning to find a balance between strategies and open stuttering. Most of the time I am talking (unless I am very tired or just don’t want to do it) I am use strategies while letting some dysfluencies through. For me, strategies that have been helpful are changing my voice a bit, adding inflection and different stress patterns, to make my voice sound a bit different but still very natural. This is a kind of controversial idea in the field because some see it as an avoidance and consider it a bad thing. I, however, have found that it works well for me and I don’t feel bad about doing it so I view as an effective strategy that I would prefer to use other some of the other techniques. I do use techniques sometimes, when I feel like I need them and, especially, when I am working with fluency clients. So those are some things that I do in order to increase my fluency. I think for most people who stutter, we just need to find a balance of how much stuttering and how much strategy use we want to have in our speech. I think most people can’t just do 100% either way. Thanks for your questions and comments! Good luck with school!

      Tiffani

  10. Hi Tiffani,
    Thank you for your open and honest story. I really was able to get a picture of what it might be like to stutter from your vivid descriptions. In your “about the author” section you mentioned getting your PhD and researching the neuroscience of stuttering. This interests me as well. What area of the brain or brain processes are you focusing on in your research or plan to work on in the future? There is a voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia that is in some ways similar to stuttering. Speakers with this disorder have involuntary neurological spasms of the vocal folds that either leaves them with moments of no voice as the vocal folds open or with a hard glottal attack as the vocal folds slam together. Researchers have located the basal ganglia as the location of spasmodic dysphonia. I know there has also been some research to show that the basal ganglia could be involved in stuttering as well. What have you learned about this area of the brain and stuttering? It would be interesting to compare the neurology of the two disorders.

    • Hi Jill,’

      Spasmodic dysphonia is a very interesting disorder! I took a graduate course in voice disorders this past summer and learned a fair amount about it, it is very interesting and the symptoms are very similar to stuttering! We still don’t really much about stuttering in the brain but the basal ganglia has certainly been implicated. Our lab uses EEG technology so the basal ganglia is not an area that we can look at directly. We are focusing our work on the premotor cortex and looking for a specific rhythm called a mu rhythm involved in sensorimotor integration. That’s where our research is focused and so far it’s been really interesting! Now what we find here may be for a variety of reasons (causation, compensation, or effects of other, deeper brain areas such as the BG) so there’s certainly no causal statements we can make about anything at this point but it’s all very interesting! There’s a rich literature in stuttering in the brain so hopefully we’re getting closer to understanding what exactly is happening! I think it’d be a really interesting research idea to look at the similarities (neurally and symptomatically) between SD and stuttering….there’s a thesis idea for you! I’m sorry I cannot say more to answer your question but truly we still do not know a lot! Good luck with your research.

      Tiffani

  11. Hi Tiffani,

    Great article (I loved the title). I am currently a first year Speech Language Pathology graduate student and I found your story very honest and inspiring. So far, I don’t have too much experience with people who stutter, so I had a few questions for you if you don’t mind:

    I see you said you were a covert PWS before you realized how empowering it was to stutter openly; however are there certain situations where you still try to conceal your stutter?

    Additionally, are there any techniques you implement to decrease the number of disfluencies in you speech?

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

    Shannon Cassidy

    • Hi Shannon,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your great questions and comments! There are certainly situations where I do not stutter openly, notably with my parents. These situations are more communicatively stressful for me and that makes it more difficult to stutter openly. Additionally, I find that expecting 100% stuttering openly, or, alternatively, 100% fluency shaping techniques is an unrealistic goal for a person who stutters, especially one that stutters severely. It’s a good goal to work towards but in practically, unrealistic. I do use some techniques when I want to, for example, when I read I use intermittent prolongations in addition to changing my voice a little bit to help me be more fluent, since that is a task that gives me a lot of difficulty. I still change my voice to be more fluent but I try not to make it sound too different from my real voice so I try to walk a fine line where I am stuttering comfortably without guilt and shame and managing my stuttering to stutter less severely and less frequently. I think finding that balance is important.

      Great questions! Thanks!

      Best,

      Tiffani

  12. Hi Tiffani,

    Your story was very inspiring. I believe that the people who were making fun of you very harshly at first, but then once they realized what was happening they changed and were much kinder, are perfect examples of people’s reactions who do not know much about stuttering. They had no idea that stuttering was the actual cause so they were harsh. Once you informed them what was going on, they were much more understanding. People who do not know about stuttering can be quick to judge. There is such a huge need for awareness because of situations exactly like this situation you were put in!

    • Yes! I totally agree, which is why conferences like this and other efforts to spread education and awareness are so important!

  13. Hello Tiffani,
    I too have worked in the restaurant industry for many years. I found it to be extremely hectic and stressful. It must have taken great courage for you to even apply for the job! But, what I found very interesting about your experience is how it all worked out. Deep down you have confidence and resilience and strength that transcends the fear and anxiety that you face when you stutter. It’s amazing and wonderful to read about how you have bloomed! It makes be wonder if other people who stutter have this strength within that can be drawn out by stuttering openly. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Thank you so much! I truly appreciate your encouragement! It was very difficult for me to apply and I made the mistake by not advertising that I stutter to my bosses so that was a difficult and stressful situation for a long time. Once I told them, however, they were so supportive and understanding – I had nothing to be afraid of!

  14. Hi Tiffani – thanks for the great paper and sharing your story. I am a woman who stutters too, and am a huge proponent of stuttering openly and advertising that I stutter. As you note, it relieves tension and shows confidence, which in turn cues listeners in to you being OK with stuttering. I was covert for a VERY long time and had to learn to grow into being open and embracing all that comes with that. What would you recommend to someone just starting out on their journey to go from covert to overt? Are there baby steps a person should take? – Pam

    • HI Pam,

      Thanks for the great question and insight from a fellow woman who stutters! I would say that baby steps to get to open stuttering would primarily involve desensitization training. They can start out by just stuttering! Stuttering completely openly at first is unrealistic, I don’t even do that most of the time! But any stuttering is a good start! It is important to build upon these goals and just have our clients stutter and stutter some more and learn to feel comfortable with it. The only way someone can feel comfortable stuttering is to stutter! So it’s an important step in the process.

      Tiffani

  15. Hi Tiffany,
    I enjoyed reading your paper so much! You provided such an honest account and gave me so much insight. I appreciate you sharing your story so much. I am currently a graduate student in speech pathology. My professor for my fluency course is a stutterer himself and is a huge advocate for openly stuttering. I agree whole-heartedly with this. I can only imagine the amount of anxiety and effort would stem from trying to not stutter. Currently I have a client in elementary school that stutters. He is very tense and has many avoidance behaviors. My supervisor and I have been working with him on openly stuttering. However, he gets very upset and mostly stops speaking all together. Is there any advice you would give regarding beginning to stutter openly and by choice? Thank you for your time and for sharing your story! — Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks for your comments and questions! Where do you go to grad school? I’d be interested to see who your professor is! As for your client, that’s a tough – and rather common – situation. Desensitization training is important for clients who get so much anxiety speaking, they have to learn that stuttering is okay and communicating is fun. The only way to do that is to actually do it – to actually stutter and reflect on how it’s not all that bad. Getting there is tough. To some degree, they just need to do it, knowing it’ll be better and easier once it’s down, however, that technique is easier said than done and maybe not as effective for kids as adults. Taking baby steps is important. Start with situations that they already feel comfortable in and ask them to stutter openly in those. Once they feel comfortable, work up the ladder of more difficult situations. Also, it’s important that you talk with them about how they feel, what they’r worried about, what went well and why, what went poorly and why, etc. Breaking down the feelings and rationalizing them can be really good and can help them realize that their fears have been so built up but really aren’t as bad as we make them out to be. Another thing that may be beneficial is to teach him strategies (such as prolongations, easy onsets, etc.) to help him manage his stuttering and feel more comfortable with doing it. I think working on stuttering openly and feeling good about speech and having some control over how severely the stuttering is and how frequently it comes out, are goals that go very nicely together. Good luck with your client and graduate school!

      Tiffani

  16. Thank you for the great article Tiffani! It was very inspiring. As a future Speech-Language Pathologist, if I ever work with fluency clients, I would remind them that various tricks may help temporarily relieve their stuttering symptoms, but only for a finite period of time. I would use your article to show that they should not be ashamed of the way they speak, but instead, if they embrace their stuttering, it can boost their confidence and even make them feel empowered, helping to alleviate previous feelings of stress and anxiety. I have read other articles about the positive effects of openly stuttering and your article helped reiterate my belief that this is a good strategy.

    • Thanks so much Chelsie! I appreciate your encouragement and reflective comments!

      Tiffani

  17. Hi Tiffani,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, and even more for the message that you are giving. It reminds me of the statement Sheehan made regarding stuttering being a “false role disorder”. Indeed, us trying to be something we are not, i.e. fluent speakers, is a tremendous source of frustration and pain. I hope that many young people read you paper, and are encouraged to let themselves stutter. Sure, it’s really difficult to do, but as you write, in the end it is easier that all the effort we go to in order to hide our stuttering.

    Thanks a lot,
    Hanan

    • Hanan,
      I completely agree with everything you said, especially with your citation of Sheehan, what a brilliant idea! Thank you so much for your wisdom and encouragment.
      Best,
      Tiffani

  18. Hello Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing your story! It is very inspiring to see how accepting stuttering as a part of you helped society understand and learn about stuttering. As a future Speech-Language Pathologist I need to help my clients realize that they can’t hide disfluencies in there speech forever. They need to follow your footsteps and stutter openly because it is apart of them.

    I have a few questions for you:
    1. Once you started stuttering openly, did your disfluencies decrease?
    2. Do you have any advice on how to deal with negative emotions of individuals while an individual is in the process of stuttering openly?

    Thank you for educating individuals about stuttering by overcoming your fear.

    Thank you,
    Nicole

    • Nicole,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. To answer them:
      1) My dysfluencies didn’t necessarily decrease but they became less severe. When I stutter openly, I practice forward moving stuttering, this is a great stuttering managing technique where you practice keeping stuttering light and repetitive and try to avoid more severe, more difficult behaviors such as blocks and reduce secondary symptoms. This helps a lot in feeling good about stuttering and the way that we stutter.
      2) There are a variety of things that you can do but counseling is a huge element of therapy for a PWS. Desensitization training is a good way to help someone stutter openly, especially when using a hierarchy going from less difficult situations to more difficult ones. Also some strategy use can be beneficial too, especially with our more severe clients. I change my voice a little bit (but to the point where it still sounds natural) and stutter a bit less (but still a lot) and that is a nice balance for me. Another important thing that you can do (and this is part of the counseling part) is breaking down their worries and rationalizing them to help them realize that they’re really not as bad as we’ve made them. The next step in that is overcoming those fears, one by one, accomplishing the easier ones first.

      Hope this helps!

      Tiffani

  19. Hi Tiffani!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story–you really are an inspiration for so many! I love you sense of humor and how open you are about being someone who has a stutter.

    I was so impressed by how maturely you handled the people who made fun of you when you stuttered. You said “I had a few confused looks and a couple of people who made fun of me but it was just out of misunderstanding.” This is an incredibly mature way of reacting to someone who has made fun of you. Instead of being offended, you put yourself in their shoes, which takes a lot of maturity to do so. I really liked how you said that stuttering more openly and freely gave you the opportunity to educate people about stuttering. I am wondering…did you educate them by actually discussing stuttering and the emotional factors that come with it? Or did you educate them in a more covert way by just openly stuttering in front of them? I guess I am trying to ask if you directly educated them or if you think just stuttering in front of them taught them something new? Sorry if this is a confusing question!

    I was also wondering…what advice would you have for a child or adolescent who is being made fun of for his/her stutter? What is the best way to overcome this adversity and live a more confident life with their stutter? You seem to have learned so much from having a stutter and I think you’re advice would be so helpful for younger people!

    Thank you again for sharing your empowering story–I hope to pass along your wisdom to my future clients!

    • Thanks for your great comments and questions! When I educate about stuttering, sometimes I educate by just explaining that I stutter and that allows them to understand what’s going on. If the moment arises and people are interested, I explain it to them a bit and those are really cool moments! They don’t happen much but just acknowledging it makes a huge difference. Also, just letting them know that because of it, it may take me longer. People are usually pretty understanding.
      As for advice to a child or adolescent getting made fun of, education is a good way to help build those bridges. If it is a situation happening in school, we often go into the schools/classes of our clients and have them give a presentation with us about stuttering. This is a good learning experience for everyone involved and it usually helps a lot!
      The best way to overcome this adversity and learn to stutter openly is just to do it! Start small, stuttering a little bit in comfortable situations and work your way to more stuttering in more difficult ones. Also analyzing your emotions and working with those as you go through the process. The only way to overcome our fears is to face them!
      Hope this helps!

      Tiffani

  20. Dear Tiffani,

    Your paper was a great read. It was really interesting to read about your experiences being a PWS in the serving industry. I few years ago, I was a server and I hated it. I would get so nervous talking to people sometimes, and I don’t even stutter. You’re so brave! It was interesting to read about your perspective of ticks and the things you did to avoid stuttering. How did you build up the courage to start stuttering openly? What advice would you give people who continue to use ticks? It was really refreshing to read that so many people had a compassionate reaction to your stuttering. Unfortunately, when I did a pseudostutteirng project for class people were not as understanding. I also really enjoyed your statement “There is so much personal benefit that can be gained by stuttering openly that a few confused looks, or frustrating interactions, is a small cost to pay for such an amazing feeling of vulnerability, acceptance, and empowerment.” This is something that will really stick with me. Thanks again for the great read!
    – Courtney Lennon

    • Hi Courtney,

      Thanks for your comment and questions. I would say that the thing that lead me to begin stuttering openly was my frustration with how I sounded when I changed my voice. It sounded so unnatural for me and many people made fun of my because I sounded like a valley girl. I felt that there was a disconnect between the “character” that I played and who I really was and I didn’t want that to be the case anymore. It also helped that I decided to do this when I moved across the country to go to grad school so I got to start over. I would encourage other people to give it a try by voluntary stuttering just a little bit at the beginning to see how they feel and if they like it/could continue doing it. I think that’s a good way to start.

      Thanks for reading!

      Tiffani

  21. Hi Tiffani,
    Loved your story. I’m not going to lie, I was very intrigued by your title! I am studding speech-pathology but do not have much experience with people who stutter. I feel that through reading your article and others on ISAD I am beginning to understand the many ways people can be affected by stuttering. Everyone is different but it seems the theme is embracement. I’m sure this is easier said than done as it is with many other things but having your story as a resource for clients could be very valuable in knowing that other people have been in their shoes.
    Thank you again for sharing, Geena

    • Geena,

      Thanks for your insightful comments, I would agree with everything you said. Thanks for your encouragement as well.

      Tiffani

  22. I found your story so inspiring. Sometimes people try so hard to avoid their stuttering, which can lead to having negative impacts on their life. It is important to try to teach people to embrace their stuttering and not try to hide it. In the future I will use this article are a piece of encouragement to clients that I may interact with who stutter. I thank you for being brave and sharing your story with us.

    Sara

  23. Hi Tiffani, thank you for sharing your story. It is comforting to know there are people in this world who are patient, kind, and accepting of others. I think your story can serve as inspiration to others who stutter and give them the confidence they need to stutter openly. Your story proves that reactions of others may be surprisingly supportive.

  24. Hello, Tiffani.

    It was revolutionary for me to read about your experiences as a covert person who stutters and how damaging it was to hide your stutter. In previous fluency disorder courses I have learned about the stresses and negative consequences of hiding a stutter, but never truly understood the gravity of doing so. Reading about the fear, distraction, dread, and anxiety it caused you helped drive home the point which will greatly influence me as a future clinician.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge.

    Kate Collins

  25. Hello Tiffani,
    I have not got much to add, as so many people have expressed my thoughts already. It is really fascinating to hear such a heartfelt account of your experience with stuttering. I am an undergraduate speech and language therapist in the UK, and we need personal stories like yours to sit alongside all the lectures, journal articles and guidelines to remind ourselves of the real people we will actually be working with.

  26. Hello Roxanne,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and feelings associated with stuttering. This article was very insightful and educational. I am a graduate student in communicative disorders and have taken classes on fluency disorders. Even though I have read about stuttering and its effects, your article was very helpful in truly understanding the nature and consequences of avoidance behaviors. Like you said “the things that we do to avoid stuttering are probably far more distracting and effortful than stuttering itself. Also, using these “tricks” makes us more and more afraid of stuttering each time we try to avoid specific words and sounds.”
    I am very happy to hear that you have chosen to stutter openly and to read about your positive experience with it. As a future clinician who will work with people who stutter, what do you recommend is the best way of encouraging a client to consider stuttering openly or to accept their stuttering?

    • Cristina,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. I would say that if you’re trying to encourage your client to stutter openly, I would first have them begin with voluntary stuttering (pseudostuttering) in a situation that’s easy for them. As they continue to feel more comfortable (desensitized) I would encourage them to try more difficult situations. Establishing a list of situations that are difficult for your client and working your way up that list is a great way to do this.

      Good luck!

      Tiffani

  27. Hi Tiffani,
    I’m training to be a speech and language therapist in the UK. Reading this really made me think about all the things that might be going through the minds of people who stutter, even when they are not stuttering. Thanks so much for sharing your story, it will definitely change the way I work with people who stutter once I’m qualified!
    Chloe

  28. Hi Tiffani,

    I loved reading your story here and want to thank you for being so open about your experiences with stuttering. It’s a wonderful thing to read how empowered you were by the end of it. I am a graduate speech-language pathology student and am taking an Advanced Fluency Disorders course right now. In class we often discuss how the perceptions of others impact the person who stutters. I know you said that with this first open stuttering experience the reactions of others were mainly positive. Have you ever had purely negative reactions, and if so, how did you deal with that? Also, is there a “best reaction” someone can have? How would you ideally like someone to react to your stutter?

    Thanks again for sharing your story!

    Tara

    • Hi Tara,

      Thanks for your questions and comments. I have had some really bad reactions. I usually try to take the opportunity to educate them….that’s easier said than done, however. I try to brush it off and focus on the multitude of good reactions I’ve had but I am not always successful about not letting it get to me. I would say that the “best” reaction that a person can have would be to be patient, listen, and relatively neutral. I would rather that a person just treated me normally, rather than having any kind of extreme reaction.

      Thanks for reading!

      Tiffani

  29. Tiffani,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am a first-year graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology and am currently taking a course in Fluency Disorders. In class, I have learned about the secondary/associated characteristics of stuttering, including escape behaviors and avoidance. It is interesting to hear your perspective on this aspect of stuttering and how using these strategies have caused you to feel untrue to yourself. I can imagine that substituting words and adding accents would eventually make you feel that way. Although I do not stutter myself, I admire you for breaking away from using these “tricks” in order to express your true self. What a liberating experience that must be! Secondly, I commend you for having the courage to waitress despite your stutter. I have been serving tables for 7 years and know that I, a non-stutterer, still tense up and mix up my words on occasion when talking to a table full of strangers. It is truly inspiring that you haven’t let your stutter control your life and hinder you from waitressing. In my opinion, you proved your strength and bravery even before you openly stuttered to your tables. Thank you again for your uplifting and empowering story – You are an inspiration to stutterers and non-stutterers alike.

    -Annelise

    • Annelise,

      Thank you for your kind words! As a fellow service industry employee, you can empathize a lot with my experience! I appreciate your encouragement so much! Good luck with your graduate program.

      Tiffani

  30. Hi Tiffani,

    I enjoyed reading your story. Thank you for letting us have a small look into your personal experiences with stuttering. Learning from experiences of PWS has given me a different view on fluency than I had previously. I am currently a student of speech pathology and I know we are still studying the neural components involved in stuttering. I wish you luck in your future research!

  31. Hi Tiffani,
    Thank you so much for your sharing your story. As a graduate student in communicative disorders (and former waitress) I really appreciate your insight.
    I am also curious what your earlier experiences were with speech therapy. I am planning on working in the public schools. I am not a person who stutters, so I would love to get your perspective on what you think a school-based SLP should know when working with children who stutter.
    Thank you!
    Christine Ratke

    • Hi Christine,

      I never had speech therapy in the schools. I, myself did not have speech therapy until I was an adult so I cannot comment personally on this. I have met a lot of people in the field and it seems that some school based SLP’s do great work with people who stutter! Others, however, are not as comfortable/familiar and are not as effective. SO I would just encourage you to ask when you are unsure and stay up to date with the research! I’m sure you will be a great SLP! You can make a real difference in the schools working with kids who stutter!

      Good luck!

      Tiffani

  32. Hi Tiffani,

    Although you may think otherwise, your paper just screams self confidence! As a first year graduate Speech-Language Pathology student, I have only just briefly been diving into all aspects of stuttering: from secondary characteristics and types of disfluencies to the emotional toll it can take on PWS. My fluency professor occasionally has us pseudo-stutter in class and, even as a non-stutterer, I feel a tremendous amount of anxiety. Your story is absolutely inspirational and will definitely be remembered when working with PWS. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has tried to be someone or something they’re not at least once in their life. But it’s that moment when you finally realize being true to yourself that you reap life’s greatest moments.

    Thank you so much for sharing,
    Colleen

    • Hi Colleen,

      I’m glad to hear that your fluency disorders professor makes your class pseudo-stutter as well! My fluency disorders professor made us do that too. It was very difficult for many of my classmate and they expressed similar feelings to what you detail here! Way a good way to “walk in our shoes” for a short time! Thanks for your insightful comments. Good luck with school!

      Tiffani

  33. Hello Tiffani,

    I currently study Speech and Language Therapy in the UK and your paper has given me a much needed insight into the people ‘behind the stutter’. Very often we are taught the medical definition of stuttering but it is not often that we have the opportunity to discuss and discover the true effects of a stutter from a real person’s point of view.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Philippa

  34. I never really thought of covert stuttering as person who avoids. I guess it makes sense, and I know that can be a specific component of covert stuttering could be avoidance, I guess I never really applied it or thought of it as a holistic aspect. Thanks for that viewpoint. Also, when you talked about secondary responses to stuttering being perhaps more distracting, I couldn’t agree more. I wondering if using secondary stuttering truly does make the stuttering event even more dreadful? I notice myself occasionally avoid words, not necessarily because I’m afraid to use it, but more so because I forget the exact word I want to use. I think I have a mild case of anomia, which is word finding difficulty, so in some ways, I feel that I have some similarities. That fact that you feel you were pretending to be someone you are not is heartbreaking and all too true (from those who do stutter, who share their true feelings). I think to some degree, every single person has something that keeps them from feeling normal. What do you think about that? Do you think that could be true? Thanks for sharing your wonderful story. You are truly inspiring!
    Candice

    • Candice,

      Thanks for your questions and comments. I would agree say yes, secondary stuttering does make stuttering more dreadful! Secondary characteristics that are physical are distracting the listener (sometimes gleaning worse reactions) and at times painful – I know that I used to jerk my head rapidly when I blocked and it really hurt my neck). Additional, secondary characteristics such as avoiding can make a PWS more anxious about speaking and afraid of stuttering. I agree with what you’re saying about how everybody has something they’re hiding/ashamed of – something that they feel separates them from other people who seem so “normal”. I think there is power in this idea of being empowered to be yourself for all peoples, not just PWS for that reason!

      Thanks for your insightful comments and questions and for reading.

      Tiffani

  35. Tiffani,
    This was a very interesting and thoughtful essay! I am currently a grad student at a speech-language pathology program in Wisconsin. I really enjoyed being able to learn more about self-acceptance in regards to stuttering. Was there a specific turning point for you? I thought it was incredible how you described the freedom that came with your stuttering. How do you usually address ignorant people? Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate the opportunity to read about your experience with stuttering.

    • Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. I would say that my turning point was when I couldn’t say the word “mimosa” because I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t totally avoid stuttering. Additionally, I was sick of people making fun of me for the way that I talked – like a valley girl – when that wasn’t actually the way that I talked! It was frustrating and inauthenticating. I’d rather be made fun of for something that I actually am/actually do rather than something that I do to avoid doing the embarrassing things that I do. I figured this was a better alternative.
      I usually address ignorant people by explaining to them that I stutter and offering some education if the situation enables me to. Otherwise, I try to brush them off (this is easier said than done). Education is key though and there are a lot of ways to do this – publicly such as conferences like this as well as one on one interactions such as educating an ignorant person in the grocery store. Every interaction we have is an opportunity to educate someone.

      Tiffani

  36. Hello Tiffani,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It was really insightful to hear your perspective about stuttering, and it is inspiring that you view stuttering with such a positive attitude. As a future speech language pathologist, I would like to know what advice you have for helping other people who stutter work through the emotional aspects of the disorder. How should I encourage a future client to realize it is okay to stutter, and therefore, accept their stuttering?

    • Hi,

      There are a variety of things that you can do but counseling is a huge element of therapy for a PWS. Desensitization training is a good way to help someone stutter openly, especially when using a hierarchy going from less difficult situations to more difficult ones. Also some strategy use can be beneficial too, especially with our more severe clients. I change my voice a little bit (but to the point where it still sounds natural) and stutter a bit less (but still a lot) and that is a nice balance for me. Another important thing that you can do (and this is part of the counseling part) is breaking down their worries and rationalizing them to help them realize that they’re really not as bad as we’ve made them. The next step in that is overcoming those fears, one by one, accomplishing the easier ones first.

      Hope this helps!

      Tiffani

  37. Tiffany,

    I truly appreciated the account of your serving experience as a person who stutters. I am a Speech-Language Pathology graduate student and currently taking a fluency course. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful an essay such as this is to a person who does not stutter. Real life accounts of what most people consider every day experiences can clearly be difficult and complex for those who stutter. For a person who stutters, “losing their voice” can be devastating and have a large effect on their lives. I will remember your story the next time I am a customer at a restaurant and surely every time I enjoy a mimosa.

    Thank you,
    Marie Severson

    • Marie,

      Thank you for your comment and encouragement. I hope you enjoy those mimosas and I’m happy to hear that this will serve as a reminder for you! ha!

      Tiffani

  38. Hi Tiffany,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! It was interesting to read about how well you were able to hide your stutter as a waitress, a job that requires you to talk to so many people on a daily basis. You mentioned that you were a covert person who stutters and did everything you could to hide your stutter while at work. Did you also hide your stutter from your family and friends? If so, how did they react when you began to embrace your stuttering and did so more openly? I am so glad you have benefited so much from doing so!

    Thanks again,
    Chelsea

    • Hi Chelsea,

      You ask a great question. I actually still hide my stutter from my family. With my friends, I am pretty open and always trying to be more – those are easy situations for me and I feel very comfortable stuttering openly with friends. At first my friends were shocked that I stuttered (especially so severely) – many had never heard me! My family had a similar reaction. Although I still hide my stutter with them, last summer I told them that I stuttered (beyond childhood). They were shocked! It’s still an awkward subject for all of us and a situation I am still struggling to feel comfortable with.

      Thanks for your question.

      Tiffani

  39. Hi Tiffani!
    Thank you for sharing your post, it is very inspiring! I am currently in graduate school for speech language pathology and am learning about stuttering in my fluency class now. My professor is someone who stutters and he has told us his own personal stories with his stutter, one main aspect I am gaining from his class is that someone who stutters must become comfortable with their stutter. You seem to be very confident and I was wondering if there was anybody or any other situations that dawned on you as a turning point to view your stuttering in a different light? Or have you always been pretty comfortable with your stutter?
    Thank you,
    Molly

    • Hi Molly,
      Thanks for your comments and questions. I would definitely NOT always okay with my stutter. I did everything I could to hide it until I was an adult. I would say that my turning point was when I couldn’t say the word “mimosa” because I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t totally avoid stuttering. Additionally, I was sick of people making fun of me for the way that I talked – like a valley girl – when that wasn’t actually the way that I talked! It was frustrating and inauthenticating. I’d rather be made fun of for something that I actually am/actually do rather than something that I do to avoid doing the embarrassing things that I do. I figured this was a better alternative.

      Tiffani

  40. Hi Tiffany,

    I loved this post! Although I am not a person who stutters, I am a SLP graduate student with a ton of waitressing experience– I found your story particularly relatable. How can I help my clients who stutter reach that step that you took to openly stutter, and therefore eventually accept the stutter? Would you suggest going out into the community with them and giving it a go? I would love your opinion on this!

    Thanks for sharing your experience,
    Dana

    • Hi Dana,
      There are a variety of things that you can do but counseling is a huge element of therapy for a PWS. Desensitization training is a good way to help someone stutter openly. There are number of strategies for going about this. Many intensive programs will do what you’re suggesting and make their clients face their fears by going out into public with them. I think this is super effective and awesome if the client is ready for it (this works especially well in an intensive program – I worked at one a year ago and it was amazing!). If your client is not quite ready for that, you can use a hierarchy going from less difficult situations to more difficult ones. Also some strategy use can be beneficial too, especially with our more severe clients. I change my voice a little bit (but to the point where it still sounds natural) and stutter a bit less (but still a lot) and that is a nice balance for me. Another important thing that you can do (and this is part of the counseling part) is breaking down their worries and rationalizing them to help them realize that they’re really not as bad as we’ve made them. The next step in that is overcoming those fears, one by one, accomplishing the easier ones first.

      Hope this helps! Good luck!

      Tiffani

  41. Hi Tiffani,

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story about stuttering. The title of your paper is what initially drew me in as I am a lover of mimosas! I am a first year graduate student studying speech-language pathology in PA and am in a fluency disorders course this semester. I am so inspired by you and your story! I cannot imagine what it must have been like for you to be a waitress and stuttering all the time. In class my professor has had us imitate a variety of disfluencies and it is so uncomfortable and gives me so much anxiety inside! I do have a question though, did you find you stuttered less once you stopped trying to hide your stuttering and became more open about it?

    Thanks for presenting your story and further inspiring me to be a good SLP!

    -Lauren

    • Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. I would say that my dysfluencies didn’t necessarily decrease but they became less severe. When I stutter openly, I practice forward moving stuttering, this is a great stuttering managing technique where you practice keeping stuttering light and repetitive and try to avoid more severe, more difficult behaviors such as blocks and reduce secondary symptoms. This helps a lot in feeling good about stuttering and the way that we stutter.

      Hope this helps! Good luck with grad school!

      Tiffani

  42. Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing such a powerful and insightful story! As a first year graduate student studying speech-language pathology, I’ve been learning more about the nature of stuttering as well as people who stutter. Our professor always emphasizes the fact that each person who stutters feels differently about stuttering. Some people fear stuttering so much that they avoid social situations or avoid words they know they will stutter on. Some people stutter openly and aren’t embarrassed or ashamed by it. Clearly from this story, you’ve become more confident and open about your stuttering! Recently, have you found yourself in situations where you feel a lot of pressure and revert back to hiding your stuttering?

    -Yesha

    • HI Yesha,

      Your completely right in your comments about how variable the disorder is – it’s amazing! I would definitely say that I revert back to hiding. Some situations are very difficult for me, specifically talking with my family and new people. I go back to hiding and it’s difficult for me to generalize to those situations. It’s a process, however, and I’m getting there. I’m currently working to find an acceptable balance between some, more natural avoiding (by changing my voice only) and stuttering so hopefully that will help me with those difficult situations.

      Thanks for reading!

      Tiffani

  43. Hi Tiffani,

    I can relate a little bit to your story. I have tons of restaurant experience and communicating with customers can be challenging even without stuttering. I am currently a graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology and I wanted to know how I could counsel a client about nervousness and stuttering. You mentioned that your stuttering worsens if you are nervous, and I would imagine this is a common trend among PWS. You can’t just say “Well, stop being nervous”, so what would be a good way to approach nervousness?

    Thanks,
    Shelby

    • Hi Shelby,

      Thanks for your comments and question. As a fellow veteran of the service industry you can empathize with my experience here! I would say for clients who are anxious, desensitization training be a great tool. There are a variety of things that you can do but counseling is a huge element of therapy for a PWS. Desensitization training is a good way to help someone stutter openly. There are number of strategies for going about this. Many intensive programs will do what you’re suggesting and make their clients face their fears by going out into public with them. I think this is super effective and awesome if the client is ready for it (this works especially well in an intensive program – I worked at one a year ago and it was amazing!). If your client is not quite ready for that, you can use a hierarchy going from less difficult situations to more difficult ones. Also some strategy use can be beneficial too, especially with our more severe clients. I change my voice a little bit (but to the point where it still sounds natural) and stutter a bit less (but still a lot) and that is a nice balance for me. Another important thing that you can do (and this is part of the counseling part) is breaking down their worries and rationalizing them to help them realize that they’re really not as bad as we’ve made them. The next step in that is overcoming those fears, one by one, accomplishing the easier ones first.

      Hope this helps!

      Tiffani

  44. Hi Tiffani,

    I really enjoyed reading your personal story about stuttering. I was drawn to your paper in particular by your title as I do love a good mimosa! 🙂 I loved reading your story on how once you accepted your stutter, others began accepting it too. What a huge hurdle to jump and I am sure it took you a lot of hard times and frustration to get to that point. I am so happy for you and wish you the best of luck as a therapist. You will be amazing because your experience is real and you will be able to really connect with your clients. I am in my second year of graduate school in Speech-Language Pathology and am taking Fluency Disorders this semester. My experience with people who stutter is minimal. I have worked with kids with autism who stutter but never did therapy with an adult who stutters. What worked best for you during therapy? What kind of strategies worked and what didn’t work? As a future clinician, I hope I can make my clients feel comfortable and confident in themselves. It seems like it will be a challenge but I think if clinicians take a “teamwork” approach to therapy for people who stutter, amazing things can happen.

    Best of luck to you in your future!
    Melissa

    • Hi Melissa,
      Thanks for you comments and questions. I have been to speech therapy on and off (mostly on) for the last 3 years. I have been to a number of different therapists and tried a variety of different approaches. I have found therapy very helpful. Some programs/therapists I’ve obviously liked better than others but I believe I would not be able to be where I am today – embracing and accepting my stuttering – without my current speech therapist. As a therapist for a client who stutters, the job is rather complicated and certainly not black and white (it seems like everyone does it differently!). The aspects of therapy I have found the most helpful are working through my fears of stuttering, of certain sounds and situations, and all of the emotional baggage that comes along with stuttering (check out the iceberg analogy if you aren’t familiar with it, it describes the dynamic nature of stuttering really well). This, along with desensitization training, was very effective for me. I have also found that learning strategies has been helpful for me as well. As a therapist our job is to help our client be effective communicators and to feel good about communicating. Whatever that means for them, it’s our job to help them figure it out. For some, that means stuttering openly, for others it means teaching them strategies, for most, however, it means a combination of those two. We need to help them find and maintain that balance. I didn’t like strategies and didn’t use them until I became okay with my stuttering. I felt that, before that, strategies were just like the avoidances I always used and that I was just hiding my stuttering but sounded even weirder than I already did! Now that I’ve embraced stuttering, I can use some avoidances (just changing my voice a bit, not to the point that I have to work hard or feel inauthentic) and allow a certain amount of dysfluency to come through. I’ve okay with that and I’ve found that balance. I also know lots of different strategies that I can pull out if I need them. That’s another important part of being a therapist for people who stutter is to give them tools to use when and if they want to. This empowers them to communicate whenever they want to because they have tools that enable them to do so a bit more easily. So, in summary, the best thing you can do for your clients is help them communicate effectively, teach them tools that they can use when they want, but walk with them through their journey of dealing with the baggage that comes with stuttering and help them “find their voice” – constantly reminding them that stuttering is always okay. Our job is to facilitate this journey for them but it’s something that they need go through – we’re there to help them through it.

      I hope this helps!

      Tiffani

  45. Tiffani,

    Your story insightful and after reading it I can tell how genuine your words are! Like you, I am also student studying the Communication Disorders. In my current class I have on fluency we talk a lot about how the person who stutters feelings about their stuttering contributes so much to their communication experience. Your humor and positivity is so encouraging to me as a future SLP!

    What brought you to this point – where you can see the positive in what many see as negative? What advice could you share with me as a future SLP to relay to my potential clients?

    Thank you for sharing your story! It was truly a pleasure to read.

    Kalie

  46. Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing your amazing story. As a graduate student in speech language pathology, you allowed me to truly see the many emotions stuttering can cause. Learning about stuttering from a book does not allow you to see the emotional aspect stuttering has on a person. your story was able to show me how stuttering can affect the daily lives of an individual. Your journey of acceptance was inspiring and I hope you continue to share your words with others.

    Bailey

  47. Tiffani,

    I just wanted to start off by saying thank you for sharing your story. It is not an easy task to open up to complete strangers about something as personal as being a person who stutters. I also wanted to tell you that I think you shared some very useful information. Most people think that using the “tricks” and strategies out there to avoid stuttering can be a quick and easy fix. Based on your experience, this is clearly not the case. As you point out, it is very difficult to try and remember to use a trick, it requires a lot of physical and mental effort, and it is highly distracting. People who stutter should never have to feel like they need to pretend to be something they are not. People who stutter should feel empowered, should embrace their stuttering, and should be heard. Everyone has a voice and deserves to be heard. I am so glad to read that openly stuttering helped you find peace and a sense of freedom. I hope that your story continues to be shared and inspires other people who stutter to accept their stutter and embrace it as part of who they are.

    -Danette

  48. Thank you so much for your honesty and your humor in sharing your story! I am a graduate student in communication sciences and disorders and it was interesting to hear your perspective as a covert PWS. I loved what you said about the personal benefits to being your true self…and the part about making big tips! So true! I never thought about it, but there really are some words (mimosa!!) that are impossible to be called anything else! I also really connected with what you said about something getting worse the more you try and hide it. I totally identify with that!

  49. Hello Tiffani,
    I, like many others here an studying communication sciences and disorders and I found your perspectives on stuttering very interesting and insightful. I really appreciated your discussion about stuttering more openly at work and having the majority of people be receptive to you and open to learning about your stuttering. We discuss in class that we are supposed to encourage our clients to disclose their stuttering and gain acceptance of stuttering openly. Your story shows that this can actually work. I also appreciated your earlier reply talking about how you benefited from therapy and what has worked for you, I love to hear that therapy approaches are working for people! Lastly the following quote was really inspiring “I felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not and never saying exactly what I wanted to say. I have now found so much freedom in stuttering openly or even voluntarily” thank you for sharing your experiences and ideas!
    Michele

  50. Hi Tiffani,

    I loved reading your story. I am also a waitress so I could relate a little bit by knowing how cruel customers can be in tough situations. I really admire your strength and desire to be true to yourself. It is amazing what you can learn when being honest to your customers! I am also a graduate student studying speech-language pathology so I truly enjoyed your perspective about stuttering. What strategies would you suggest to use with future clients to accept their stuttering? Thank you for your honesty!

    -Julz