Stuttering Pride – What is it? (Bruce Imhoff)

imhoffAbout the author:  Bruce Imhoff is a PWS from Australia and has been involved with organisations for PWS since about 2006, both locally, nationally and internationally.  Bruce is currently serving as Vice Chair of the International Stuttering Association, working with a great team of people in the International Stuttering Association.

Bruce also works with the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference team, delivering the conference since 2013.  He works in the local health department managing a software application used in public health.

A message of pride in a community of people who stutter (PWS) can be a difficult concept to understand.  Society is changing, but there has been much history of exclusion, segregation, even the murder of people who do not conform with, or are different to, the majority.

We still have a long way to go.  It is hard to believe that only seventy years ago, during World War II, over ten million people were murdered because of their beliefs, ancestry, sexual orientation, or because they had a disability.  In some countries we think we’re making progress (although still with undercurrents of intolerance), and yet in other countries, intolerance is actively encouraged, even by governments.

Different minority groups are gaining ground, and rights, for themselves, by challenging discrimination and working with international groups such as the United Nations to formalise those rights.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has helped change to happen.

Why does all this matter?  Depending on the country in which you live, as people we have certain rights.  As people who stutter, we may also have certain rights, depending on the disability legislation in force.  But having those rights and actively applying those rights are very different things.

For example, a US citizen travelling from another country into Atlanta was detained as a direct result of her stuttering and they failed to believe her explanation about stuttering.  While she complied with the requests of the officials, she was, for good reason, disappointed with the outcome and launched a media blitz to educate others that this happened, and worked with the Stuttering Foundation of America to develop the ‘I Stutter Card’ that PWS can use to help identify themselves and explain stuttering.  But we don’t often hear about these types of positive outcomes coming out of such a negative incident.

So, back to the subject, what is Stuttering Pride?

Stuttering is still not clearly understood.  There is still much research to be done. But it is clear that much can be done to educate the public about stuttering and to prevent discrimination against, and misunderstandings with, PWS.

But it is us, people who stutter, who need to advocate for change, to be recognised, to get the respect of others and keep our dignity.  To be proud of who we are.

The interpretation of the theme for the online conference, this year, Stuttering Pride, is left up to participants in the online conference.  There are often many different interpretations, adding interest and different perspectives to the content of the conference.  Some people have made an interpretation to suggest it is ‘anti-treatment’.  Others have spoken about their belief that it is ridiculous, and they can’t possibly be proud that they stutter.

My interpretation is that we can be proud because we are people who stutter, not because we stutter.  If I stutter, I’m not going to spend the next ten minutes worrying what other people think of me because I stuttered.  I might acknowledge my stutter but I will move on, doing what I do, being who I am, and not mentally punishing myself because I didn’t speak fluently.

I’m going to take pride in my achievements, which were made possible, partly through my path as a person who stutters, but not because I stutter.  I’m going to take pride in all the friends I’ve met through communities of people who stutter, not because they stutter, but because I like them and I enjoy their company and friendship. I’m going to enjoy my life as a person who takes pride in my career, not because I stutter, but because my path as a person who stutters has lead me to the career I am in.

I challenge readers to share what makes you proud to be a person who stutters!

Like those pioneers in the LGBTI community, we need to stand proud as a community, to fight injustice and discrimination against PWS, and to stand up for each other.  Nobody else is going to do it for us.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit the Centre for Civil and Human Rights while at the World Congress in Atlanta.  While I found it emotionally challenging, it was a rewarding experience and one I will always cherish.  There was a lot that resonated with me, particularly statements from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including;

  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Let me finish with a picture and a quote from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta while I was there for the World Congress, with my friends and colleagues in the online conference Hanan and Anita.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

Margaret Mead

imhoff-quote

At the Center for Civil and Human Rights with Hanan (left), Anita (centre) and Bruce (right).

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Comments

Stuttering Pride – What is it? (Bruce Imhoff) — 48 Comments

  1. Bruce – great interpretation of pride. Thank you for sharing your ideas on stuttering pride, so that others may be able to gain perspective and realize that we can indeed feel pride in our stuttering identity.
    I’m happy to have met you at the congress in Atlanta and that we’re working together for the ISA.
    Thank you for your part in hosting and organizing this ISAD conference.

    • Thanks Pam, it was great to meet you too, I know we’ll do great things with the ISA over the next three years, and thank you for being such a great advocate for people who stutter!

  2. Bruce – I hope to be able to meet you some day in person. Your work with stuttering really inspires me. I had minimal stutter while growing up. Not too many people noticed it, but it impacted me in a big way. I always wondered why I felt so bad after stuttering, not knowing that this was what is now known as “mental punishment.” Thanks to the awareness that has been raised by the various stuttering organizations, I feel fortunate now that I can accept and embrace my stutter. I almost never stutter, but when I do, I smile and feel glad that I’m free of guilt, shame, and other negative feelings. In great appreciation, Lourdes

    • Indeed Lourdes I very much look forward to meeting you! I think stuttering is probably a fairly unique condition that attracts many people who experience the condition to also learn to treat the condition. I also think even those clinicians who do not stutter themselves are often very empathic and work with the self-help groups very closely. We’re making progress and, together, I’m sure we will find an answer and, hopefully, we can convince people who stutter that stuttering isn’t such a big deal after all.

  3. Wonderful interpretation of the Theme, Bruce. Thanks so much for all that you do.

  4. Bruce,

    Thank you for a wonderful explanation of what stuttering pride is! I really liked how you emphasized that people who stutter are PEOPLE. Sometimes I feel like just because someone looks differently or talks differently or acts differently than us, it’s a bad thing and there is something wrong with that person so we treat them differently… But that is wrong! People who stutter are PEOPLE, people who have dreams and goals and desires just like people who don’t stutter because they are PEOPLE! I hope that as the awareness of stuttering expands and people become more educated, the more that our society will change their perspective and acceptance for stuttering. But you are right, WE need to start the process of change and WE need to bring awareness to others… Because if WE don’t who will! Thanks again for an inspiring interpretation of what stuttering pride is!

    Jackie

    • Thanks Jackie, I think there needs to be less focus on the stutter and more focus on the person. We put so much pressure on ourselves to appear ‘normal’, it’s an enormous expectation to live up to, and if we feel we fail, some of us mentally punish ourselves and that’s just unnecessary. I believe most other people are very understanding. I think it’s really only a minority who react differently either because they truly don’t understand what’s going on (re stuttering) or they just don’t know who to react and can react inappropriately. We need to educate people so they know about stuttering and can react perhaps a little more appropriately.

  5. Bruce,
    Thank you so much for you comments and point of view. I am not a PWS but as a Speech language pathologist student I am interested. I feel like there is a lot of truth to what your saying that change has to start with in the community of PWS themselves. I feel like even on this website I have read the opposite view of stuttering pride. Individuals who view stuttering as a disease. Do you think that the majority of PWS feel this idea of pride and acceptance or the opposite?
    Ben

    • Good question! The theme as I suggested is left up to the interpretation of each individual, so I can’t comment on how this online conference represents the population of PWS. But how do I think the majority of PWS feel? Honestly I can make such a call. I’ve read some comments from the experts that suggest levels of self-esteem of PWS are the same as fluent people. Does that equate to pride? I cannot say for sure, but I get up every day, go to work, talk on the phone, talk in front of colleagues at meetings and do the work I need to do, stuttering or not, and just get on it. Honestly I see both types of opinions expressed, but I wouldn’t claim to know how many of us are proud, how many of us are not proud and who doesn’t care?

      But I’d like to think that we can turn some people around from being miserable to seeing more positive aspects of their lives and, even, stuttering.

  6. Hello! I really enjoyed reading your post. I am currently studying to become a speech-language pathologist, and I was curious if you had any advice for helping PWS be at peace with their stutter? Though I can’t relate on a personal level, what strategies might be helpful in helping PWS find pride in their stutter? Thank you!

    • Thanks Brittany, it’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be a PWS. You’re talking and all of a sudden the words stop. My last significant experience at work was a colleague asking me if I wanted a glass of water while I was having a major block. Maybe that would have helped at the time. What’s helped me won’t necessarily help others, but I’ve found persistence and putting myself in increasingly challenging situations has helped me improve my levels of fluency. More importantly, while I do ‘care’ if I stutter, I’ll still get up and talk in front of a crowd. Probably not a eloquently or fluently as I would like, but I won’t let a stutter stop me from speaking.

  7. Hello! I am a graduate student in speech-language pathology taking a fluency course this fall. I very much enjoyed reading your perspective. My question for you is, how can we as professionals help children be proud of their stutter? An SLP’s job is to help decrease stuttering occurrences so how can we show children it is ok to be a PWS when it may be perceived as we want to change them?

    • Thanks Morgan. I think social stigma is the real issue, and unrealistic expectations of ‘normal’. Children are sponges growing up, absorbing everything. If they are told ‘stuttering is bad, we must stop that behaviour’ then there is an enormous pressure on the child to conform to normal. Children are very resilient and I understand there is a great level of natural recovery. For everyone else, whether treatment of some type is successful or not, it would be great to see that the differences in people are embraced and helping people with tools to help manage stuttering, rather than a focus on fixing something defective.

      While I myself went through a prolonged speech technique which I was taught two, maybe three times between 1978 and 1985 in week-long therapy sessions, it in itself wasn’t ultimately what helped me. I helped myself by changing how I manage my stutter. But I’m always thinking about and trying to employ those techniques I learnt all those years ago in the daily management of my fluency.

  8. Dear Mr. Imhoff,

    Thank you for your thoughts on pride. This is so important to remember that we are people first! I haven’t spent much time thinking about how stuttering could effect one’s ability to travel and communicate in foreign languages. How much is stuttering talked about internationally? I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be traveling to a foreign country for business/leisure, not knowing the language and having to worry about stuttering in addition to speaking a different language. Thank you!

    Best,

    Avery Perryman
    SLP Graduate Student

    • Hi Avery, I think I speak for every monolinguist when I say that an enormous amount can be achieved by pointing and gesturing! I understand that there’s a whole field on study on stuttering in people who are bilingual and that the severity of stuttering can be completely different or even non-existent depending on the language spoken by the PWS. For now I will only say that I’m keen to learn French and I hope to stutter well in that language!

  9. Hi Bruce,

    Your attitude is inspirational! I agree with your stance that people, no matter what differences may exist, are people. It is unfortunate that this is somewhat of a rare moral in today’s society. I am a graduate student in speech-language pathology. I was wondering, what advice might you give a new clinician, such as myself, so that I can help my future clients attain the same level of confidence and pride that you have? Thank you for sharing!

    Stephanie

    • Thanks Stephanie, I think I can only reflect on my earlier reply to Morgan. I think focussing on giving PWS the tools to help them manage their stuttering, rather than calling it a cure, would be an enormous help. My first experience at a self-help group wasn’t positive. After being nurtured in a professional controlled support group for some time, I was then introduced into a self-help group. At that time I didn’t understand or appreciate that stuttering would be a life-long condition, or that these other people who were stuttering in a uncontrolled way could help me in any way at all. I didn’t go back for some years.

      But when I did, my perspective had changed. I’m not suggesting I was given the wrong perspective, but if I had a clearer understanding that I would be stuttering for the rest of my life, but that I could learn techniques and methods that might help me manage it, then I may have been more receptive, back then, to staying on with the self-help support group and helping to support others.

  10. Hi Mr. Imhoff,

    I appreciated and enjoyed reading your thoughts on Stuttering Pride. I found it disappointing that some individuals who stutter are not proud of their stutter. Could this be due to the fact that they these individuals do not feel they are “normal” because they are frequently disfluent? In addition to this, it was also unfortunate to read that society still needs to be educated on the concept of stuttering. You mentioned creating “I Stutter Cards” to create more public awareness for stuttering. What are some other ideas for making the public more aware and possibly even more accepting of people who stutter? I look forward to hearing your response! Thank you!

    • Hi Anna, thanks for your question! I wasn’t aiming to be proud of my stutter, I was aiming to be a proud person despite my stutter, there’s a big difference, and I don’t let my stutter get in the way of doing things. I think the I Stutter Card is a good start to raise public awareness, but we have to do it cleverly, create messages that are memorable and get those messages out in an accessible form for little cost. Clearly that’s a tough challenge but possible, just look at the ALS ice bucket challenge.

  11. Bruce,
    I enjoyed reading your post and your interpretation of stuttering pride. I am in my final year of graduate school for speech pathology and currently I am taking a fluency course. After reading your paper, I found it appalling that someone was detained in an airport due to their stuttering. Do you have any advice or resources for a PWS that has had a traumatic incident similar to the one you mentioned? I will be sure to save the I Stutter Card download. Thanks for sharing that. Also, I was curious what your thoughts were on the label of a people who stutter (PWS) versus stutterer? I know there has been some controversy of which the stuttering population prefers. I look forward to your response.
    Kelcy
    SLP graduate student

    • Hi Kelcy, thanks for your thoughts and it’s a difficult question. Mental trauma is a tricky subject and should be handled carefully. The mind is complex and trauma, left unresolved, can cause a lot of grief. My suggestion would be to talk about the trauma with someone, preferably a professional SLP/psychologist who can help work through the incident and identify a path forward.

      As to my thoughts on a label? I don’t really like labels but if I had to choose one, I am a person first, so I am a person who stutters.

  12. Hi Bruce,
    What a great and inspirational post. I loved getting to hear your first hand experience with stuttering pride. I loved your message. I am an speech pathology student and I am currently taking a fluency course. Your message of having pride in yourself is such an important thing to remember in all aspects of life. As society changes and evolves, I hope we continue to see growing acceptance and personal pride. I love how you talked about advocacy. I think having pride in the person you are is an important part of self advocacy. I also liked how you mentioned culture. I think this is an area that is often overlooked in relation to stuttering pride (and in many other areas of self-pride/acceptance). I see that you have had many experiences working internationally with stuttering organizations. What are some of the biggest differences you have noticed in stuttering pride in various cultures? Have you experienced any major differences between Australia and America related to stuttering pride? Thank you!
    – Katie

    • Thanks Katie, I really enjoy travelling! I’ve been to the World Congress for People Who Stutter twice, once in The Netherlands and once in USA. I have to say, however, that I’m not sure many cultures can claim to have the assertiveness of Americans in general and I think the same applies to American people who stutter.

  13. Hi Bruce,
    I think you particularly should feel very proud of yourself as a PERSON who stutters. You have helped yourself and are now helping others. My question is in relation to your link with pride in stuttering and pride in the LGBTI community. You seem to be inferring that stuttering is an accident of birth and therefore a permanent disability. Is that correct? Do you believe it is ever possible to cure both the stuttering disability and the social anxiety disability that often accompanies it? Mark

    • Hi Mark, always a pleasure to share thoughts with you! The only inference intended was the alignment between us (LGBTI and PWS) as minority groups who are struggling to have our needs and rights heard amongst the deafening roar of ‘normal’ people.

      A cure for stuttering AND social anxiety? Of course I would like to think so, but these differences make us unique. Would I choose to not be a person who stutters? I’ve thought about it and, being where I am today, I’m honestly not sure I would want that other life, if it was there waiting for me, as that life would be very different to who and what I am today.

  14. It makes sense that you reiterate the need for PWS to have stuttering pride and advocate for their community. However, what are some actions people who don’t stutter could take in order to promote advocacy?

    • Hi Kathleen, that’s a big topic! They could work with organisations of people who stutter to help advocate via the media. Groups of family and friends helping can make a huge difference to getting a message out about stuttering awareness. More personally, when accompanying a person who stutters and there is an incident or misunderstanding, it can be helpful for a non-PWS to speak up, as it can be difficult for a person who stutters to advocate on their own behalf in the middle of a tense situation. Having a friend or colleague who understands stuttering and can give appropriate advice in the heat of the moment can be helpful.

  15. Hi Bruce,

    Have you ever used the “I stutter card”. If so, what was your experience with using the card? Do you think it was beneficial to use?

    Thanks!

    • Hi! I think the I Stutter Card is a great idea, but I have not personally felt the need to carry one with me.

  16. Hi Bruce,

    I am also a Speech-Language Pathology student. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on stuttering pride. Your positive attitude is very inspiring. I am wondering if you have always been positive about being a person who stutters, or how long it took you to get there? I am also wondering how much support you had growing up from family, friends, teachers, etc. and how that affected your feelings about stuttering?

    • Hi there! Have I always been this positive? Definitely not! It’s been an incremental growth for me, trying different things, making progress here and there. How long did it take? I think the first step was realizing all the therapy in the world wasn’t going to help me unless I had a fundamental change in attitude. Once I reached that conclusion I made progress over the years and I’m still improving, but without that change I wasn’t going to change either. The therapy I had is always there in the back of my mind and I apply those techniques from time to time but mostly I do ok. Support from others? My mother was my biggest supporter but it wasn’t really something we generally talked about in the family.

  17. Hi Bruce,

    Thank you for your insight on this important topic. I am a graduate student in CSD, currently studying fluency therapy. Are there ways for me to advocate pride in treatment as I am not a person who stutters? Also, what are your thoughts about SLPs/people who do not want to embrace this message? (I haven’t met one yet, but in case I do!) I believe that it is very positive to have pride in one’s stuttering and wonder how detractors see it as anti-treatment. Keep up the good work!

    Thank you!
    Katey

  18. Hi Bruce,
    I love your message of pride! I am a first year graduate student and am currently taking a Fluency class. You talked a little about people being discriminated against for being different. Have you ever been personally discriminated against because of stuttering?
    Thanks!
    Kim

  19. Hi Bruce – your message is inspiring. I like the way you said that you take pride in your achievements made possibly by your path as a person who stutters not because you stutter. That distinction is important. It is also great that you challenge others to share what makes them proud about being a person who stutters. I hope your positive energy spreads. Thank you for sharing!

  20. Hi Bruce,

    I appreciated your explanation or stuttering pride, since I was not familiar with this term prior to reading your article. I’m currently interning with an SLP at an elementary school and I’m working with a child who stutters. As part of therapy I have tried to help him understand this concept (being confident in who he is as a person, his strengths, etc). However, it’s difficult for him not to be self-conscious about his stuttering because of negative responses from his classmates. Do you have any suggestions about how we can increase awareness of stuttering in peers of children who stutter?
    Thanks!
    Jenna

  21. Hi Bruce – My name is Kali and I am studying to get my master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Something we talk about a lot in my fluency classes is how there is so much we don’t know about stuttering. There is much research that needs to be done, but I completely agree with you that many people are not educated about stuttering, and really don’t understand what it is. I love your interpretation that people who stutter should be proud because they are “people who stutter, not because they stutter”. Too often we as a society put the disorder or disability or difference before the person, speaking about this disorder instead of focusing on the individual. My goal as a future SLP is to stand for people who stutter, along with people with other communication differences, and educate my community. I see above you answered a question about difference in stuttering pride between different countries. Would you say that other nations have the same stigmas about PWS that Americans seem to have? For example, in my fluency course last year I studied how the media portrays stuttering through movies, TV and music as people who are overly anxious or unintelligent. Do you think other countries have a similar problem with negative stigmas about PWS or people with communication impairments in general?
    Thank you for your post… I really enjoyed reading about your interpretation of stuttering pride and your advice for other PWS!
    -Kali

  22. Bruce, there is nothing more empowering than realizing that we are people above all else. When we have perceivable differences from others it is easy to let that define our entire lives. When did you begin to learn that we are people first and how did you see it change your life? What do you wish you had known sooner?

  23. Bruce, thank you for sharing that with everyone. I love your meaning behind stuttering pride. What has been one of the most empowering or moving moments that you have experienced while embracing stuttering?

  24. Bruce, thank you for this. Stuttering pride is something that everyone should try to understand. i love the way that you wrote this article and your word choice. I really love that you said that you were not going to worry what other people thought of you. You are such an inspiration! What would you say is the hardest part about people making fun of stuttering?

  25. I found your article very interesting and feel that stuttering pride is an amazing concept. An individual should never be labelled as a “stutterer” because stuttering does not simply define a person. I find the “I Stutter Card” very empowering and feel that the positive outcomes, like this one, should be addressed so the world becomes more educated and aware.

  26. Thank You for sharing your understanding of what stuttering pride means. Also I think it was important how you emphasized that people who stutter are in facr PEOPLE, they are normal human beings which people seem to forget. I also enjoyed the account of the US citizen, it really made it read and helped me get a better understanding of what people who stutter may go through. The “I stutter card” was a great idea but I feel that if people were more educated and accepting of people differences, a card would not have to be made. Do you think people should have to carry around an I Stutter Card or do you think people should be more accepting?

  27. Bruce,
    Thank you for sharing what stuttering pride means to you. What stuck out most is the importance of person first language and how it translates to how people view themselves. I find myself, for lack of a better term, correcting others. For example, when someone says they know someone who’s autistic, I like to remind them they are a person with autism. It probably gets annoying but is something that’s important to me. When it comes to anything, we are people first. I enjoyed reading how using person first language impacts how you view being a person who stutters.
    Kayla J

  28. Hi Mr. Imhoff, I am studying to be a speech language pathologist. I really enjoyed reading your paper! I was wondering, as a speech language pathologist, what can I do to help my clients be proud of their stuttering?

    Thanks!
    Victoria F

  29. Hello, enjoyed reading your post. I liked how you explained and emphasized an often overlooked characteristic of PWS and that is that being a person is first.

  30. Thanks for your passion to raise awareness of stuttering and to give PWS a sense of pride. I get so much energy from you to keep on passing it forward and I’m happy and proud to call you my friend. Thanks for this whole conference, thanks for the positive theme and thanks for being a part of my life. You truly make a difference.

    Hugs, Anita

    • Oh Anita I have very much enjoyed getting to know you better during our time together working on the online conference, I don’t think you know how inspiring you are to other people and also to me. I consider you a close friend. We don’t always see eye to eye on all issues but we’re both headed in the same direction and we’re doing it together! I look forward to many more online and face-to-face conferences with you!

      Big hug!!!
      Bruce

  31. Thanks everyone for you comments and I apologise I was unable to respond to everyone. I hope you were able to take some of the messages from different submissions in this online conference to understand that stuttering isn’t all gloom and doom, it’s about perspective. A positive perspective can have a considerable change on a person’s outlook on life in the face of adversity. I hope you enjoyed my paper and those others posted this year.