|About the author: Elizabeth De Nardo, PhD. She holds a PhD in General Microbiology with expertise in Virology and Biological Control Agents.She works as a Senior Scientist at a private company that sells hand hygiene products. Her main responsibilities as a technical liaison are to interface with numerous key internal and external customers, giving technical support about the science behind the products.
She has been involved with Stuttering for many years since her brother and son stutter. She has participated in the stutter support group led by the University of Akron, Ohio. Her son is graduating by the end of this year with a PhD in speech pathology :”stuttering area”
She believes that talking about stuttering increases awareness in the community reducing “the stutter stereotype.
As a niece, cousin, sister, and mother of people who stutter, I am familiar with the struggles, disappointments, hardships, and disrespect that this communication disorder brings in their lives. I believe that society’s lack of awareness about stuttering is the main cause for the disrespect showed for people who stutter. Here, I describe pieces of my journey as a mother of a son who stutters, moving from a society where stuttering was never discussed and only part of jokes, to a society that emphasizes awareness, provides support, and “almost” doesn’t tolerate acts of bullying related to this disorder.
Having lived in Brazil for more than 40 years before moving to the U.S, I grew up listening to many jokes about stuttering: seeing people imitate stutters on TV shows and comics and use this as a form of entertainment just to make others laugh. People get used to these jokes and situations and this initially seems fine, unless you have someone who stutters who is close to you. I was not aware of any public awareness campaign about stuttering. The subject was never discussed and I personally didn’t know what to do with the discomfort brought on by such situations.
When moving to the U.S. in 1998, my son who stutters was 11 years old and we started searching for a speech therapist in the community to continue the treatment he had started in Brazil since he was 5 years old. From that time, I learned that things here were a little different. We found that there are many organizations involved with stuttering, working towards prevention and improved treatments. There are free resources, services, and support for people who stutter and their families. In addition, plenty of material in the form of pamphlets, posters, T-shirts, and books are available that not only bring public awareness about stuttering, but also help families and those who stutter to have a better understanding about this disorder and how to deal with associated issues of self-esteem. My son and I were part of a monthly support group at the University of Akron for several years, where we had the opportunity to meet other teenagers who also stuttered, as well as parents like me who were looking for support.
Looking back, our family was very fortunate to move to a small and friendly town in Ohio. When school started on August 1998, I went to the elementary school to meet all of my son’s 6th grade teachers and made them aware of my son’s communication disorder. I also asked them to follow the speech therapist’s recommendations: to treat him as a normal person, to allow him to participate in class discussions, to ask him questions, and to never give him any advantage because of his speech disorder. I told them to listen to him, to be patient, and to never finish a word he could not speak.
The school faculty were very nice and they talked to other students about stuttering, bringing awareness and respect to the children who stutter. Throughout his schooling, from 6th grade to high school, my son never complaint about any bullying or jokes about him. He was the only kid who stuttered in the whole school and, to our knowledge, the only one in the community as well. In fact, being the only one was not good for my son’s self-esteem and I heard him complain many times about being the only teenager he knew with a speech disorder. The support group helped him meet other teenagers who stuttered and helped him realize that he was not alone. My son was highly involved in several sports in school and in the community and he gained respect from his peers due to his sports skills, especially as a soccer player. He made many friends that supported him during his teenage years.
By influence of his speech therapist, he went on to college to study communication disorders and embraced speech pathology as his career. His stuttering had highs and lows but improved a lot during his college years. However, he had both positive and negative experiences related to his problem and people’s lack of awareness. For example, one night while having fun with his girlfriend and a group of friends in a popular bar, he was escorted outside of the bar by security he was not allowed to re-enter because the bartender though he was too intoxicated to properly order a beverage. When in fact, he was simply stuttering when he asked for another drink. He and all his friends were very upset and left the bar complaining about the situation. Later that week, he received a letter from the bar owner apologizing for the incident.
Additionally, I recently had experienced situations related to people’s lack of awareness to stuttering. The first situation happened during a theater play, where an actor imitated a stutter and several people laughed. I was both surprised and disappointed. I could not believe that well-educated people would think that such a thing was appropriate. Another situation happened a few weeks ago when I received a joke through a group message thread I that I am a part of with some Brazilian friends. The joke is originally from Brazil, but was sent to the group by a friend who had lived there for several years. Although I could see the humor in the joke, I still realized that its humor was at the expense of people who stutter. I did not respond to my friend’s message and instead decided to work towards creating awareness about stuttering. These two recent situations prompted me to write this text.
I believe that only through awareness about stuttering can we break these jokes and perceptions that hurt others’ feelings and perpetuate disrespect for people who stutter.
As a niece, cousin, sister, and mother of people who stutter, I believe that I can make a difference by talking about stuttering and bringing awareness to my friends and to all people that still don’t know that such jokes perpetuate stereotypes and disrespect.
As a niece, cousin, sister, and mother of people who stutter, I am proud of all of them. All people who stutter deserve respect, dignity, and recognition from all of us!
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