Five Ways The World Can Better Understand Stuttering (Pamela Mertz)

About the author: Pamela Mertz is a person who stutters who is quite active in the stuttering community. She is a 4-year Stutter Social host, writes the blog “Make Room For the Stuttering” and hosts the podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories”. She has presented many workshops on stuttering both regionally and nationally, and has spoken at three international stuttering events. Pam achieved Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) status in Toastmasters International. Pam works full time in a high school in the Albany, NY area as a recruiter and outreach specialist. Pam is on the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Association in the USA, serving as Special Projects Co-Chair and also serves as Secretary for the International Stuttering Association Board of Directors.

In this year 2017, the world doesn’t really understand stuttering. This is evidenced by children who stutter still getting picked on and teased by peers on the playground and at school. There is also evidence that adults still get mimicked, made fun of and laughed at by fellow adults. And there still appears to be workplace discrimination going on by employers who don’t understand stuttering, and who don’t hire or promote perfectly capable individuals just because they stutter. I believe the world still adheres to old myths that people who stutter are less intelligent than people who don’t stutter, or are nervous, shy, insecure, lack confidence or are emotionally unstable.

I talk to people who stutter regularly through my podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” (www.stutterrockstar.com) and my role as host/facilitator for Stutter Social (www.stuttersocial.com). People share with me that they often feel ignored and excluded when in conversation with people who don’t stutter. They have shared with me that they get interrupted, that people finish their sentences for them or have people get impatient and roll their eyes at them as they are talking and stuttering.

Young people who are finishing school talk to me about having to go out and face job interviews, one of the most stressful speaking situations for people who stutter. They ask for advice as to how to handle the matter of stuttering if they are lucky enough to get an interview. They obsess over phone and Skype interviews, where time is pressured and the person who stutters feels they won’t be given the time to express themselves. They worry about whether they should disclose the stuttering at all during an interview, and if it should be at the beginning of the interview, as a disclaimer, or somewhere in the middle when it’s become pretty obvious that the person stutters.

Job seekers also worry about mentioning stuttering on their resumes or in their cover letters. They think if they do they might automatically be discounted. And they worry about not disclosing and coming off as dishonest for not having mentioned it.

Young adults who stutter have shared with me that don’t know how to make small talk, how to socialize or how to join in a conversation. They haven’t had practice with those skills that many people take for granted because the person who stutters may have spent years trying to hide their stuttering and therefore never practiced the art of small talk or joining in. They have also shared with me that they are not good listeners because they are always rehearsing what they are going to say next instead of truly listening to the other person talking.

It can seem pretty hopeless to “move forward” as a person who stutters in a world that doesn’t fully understand stuttering. So what can be done? How can we create a world that better understands stuttering?

I think the following 5 ways can help the world better understanding stuttering and also create an easier, gentler world for people who stutter to live in.

 

  1. Schools need to include stuttering in the awareness activities that they do for diversity and inclusion. Teachers often plan lessons around different physical disabilities, the “easy” ones that we can see. Once children understand about a difference, they generally move forward and treat it as a “non-issue.” Similar training needs to be provided for unseen differences, including stuttering. When stuttering is well explained, most youngsters and older kids can grasp that it’s not something to be made fun of. I have gone into middle schools and done presentations on bullying prevention, with an emphasis on differences and stuttering. I’ve given kids a chance to “try on” stuttering, to experiment with it and feel how it feels to get stuck on a word. (I’ve used Chinese finger traps to illustrate what it’s like to get stuck.) Schools would be very open to having a guest speaker come in who could explain stuttering to their students. It would be a win-win situation: the non-stuttering children would gain an understanding of stuttering and the child who stutters will feel less anxious and perhaps not prone to hide his stuttering.

 

  1. Employers need to be trained on stuttering so that we can have more inclusive workplaces for people who stutter. These days, people who stutter are still discriminated against in the workplace. As noted above, job seekers who stutter often can’t get past the hiring stage because hiring managers and Human Resources staff believe the negative stereotypes about stuttering. Advocacy associations need to step in and provide awareness training and myth busting to employers so that people who stutter can get a fair opportunity in the job search process. Also, people who stutter themselves can be hugely instrumental in helping employers see that people who stutter can be effective communicators. People who stutter who are employed should try to be open about their stuttering to supervisors and co-workers and show how they can effectively contribute to the company’s bottom line. People who stutter need to be brave enough to “come out” at work and show colleagues that stuttering is just another way of talking. Perhaps increased training and awareness in workplaces will allow for people who stutter to feel comfortable enough to do just that – “come out” at work.

 

  1. The media needs to consult with actual people who stutter when considering portraying stuttering on stage or on the small or large screens. I know that some media production companies have indeed done that when making such films as “Rocket Science” and “The King’s Speech.” Those portrayals turned out to be more accurate than past portrayals, where stuttering was seen only in a negative or comedic light. Including people who stutter in media projects will ensure authentic portrayals. Even more so would be the actual casting of people who stutter into acting roles on stage or screen. That would go a long way towards increasing understanding of stuttering, as many parts of the world now have easy access to media. This could also include having people who stutter openly be highlighted in the news, on the radio or interviewed for print journalism. In 2017, we do not have enough positive role models in the media who actually openly stutter. We have a lot of celebrities who “used to stutter,” but they don’t necessarily inspire confidence in people who deal with stuttering every day.Other differences are making headway in the media – a major US network TV station has a program called “Speechless” in which an actor who really has cerebral palsy plays a like character. I think people are drawn to the show because of its authenticity. And Netflix debuted a new program called “Atypical” that deals with a character with autistism. To ensure an accurate depiction of autism, Netflix show creators worked with a professor of special education at California State University Channel Islands.

 

  1. More people who stutter need to be willing to speak to future Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) while they are in school and learning about stuttering. Many colleges and universities that offer communications science disorder programs only require that students take one, that’s just ONE, course in fluency. That is hardly enough to learn about the complexities of stuttering, which is more than just a physical disorder. Future SLPs need to learn about stuttering from people who live the experience every day. Good professors will bring people in from the community that they know who stutter. If there isn’t a known community of people who stutter in the local area, good professors will reach out and ask people who stutter to speak to a class remotely via Skype or Zoom or some other platform. I’ve done that with several classes for a number of years. It’s very satisfying to share my story and know that people who will touch the future are actually learning from it. And I can always tell that the students enjoy the experience from the good questions they ask and the feedback they offer. It can’t always be the same people talking to students, though. More people who stutter need to take the risk and do this, as it has a measurable impact on the future success of these young SLP students who will be working with children who stutter, who may grow up to become adults who stutter.

 

  1. People who stutter need allies who don’t stutter to help the stuttering community teach the world about stuttering. Yes, that’s right – we need fluent allies who understand what stuttering is, know how to interact and listen to someone who is struggling to speak. Allies can be spouses, significant others, parents, siblings, other family members, friends, supervisors and co-workers. Having more people in our circles who understand stuttering will help to exponentially increase the numbers of people beyond our circles that understand stuttering. People who stutter can’t do it alone, as we’ve seen in today’s world. We’ve all heard that saying “it takes a village.” Well, I think it will take a village and then some to help the world better understand the experience of stuttering. If we have allies who support us, help us advocate and help us teach about stuttering, I think we’ll go a long way toward reaching the goal of a world that understands stuttering. It starts with me and you and the people we know. And it starts with talking about stuttering. We can’t hide it from the world if we want the world to understand us.

1,335 total views, 2 views today

Comments

Five Ways The World Can Better Understand Stuttering (Pamela Mertz) — 82 Comments

  1. Wonderful paper and ideas, Pam. These ideas will, I hope, help focus activities of national associations of PWS. I suggest to have these ideas posted in the Resources section on the ISA website. Perhaps create a subsection on what to do to further our vision of A World that Understands Stuttering.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Thanks Hanan for the wonderful feedback. I will definitely see if we can list these ideas as Resources on the ISA site. Good idea.

  2. Hi Pam,

    Thank you for contributing yet another thought-provoking paper to this annual forum. We have both been “singing from the same hymn sheet” for many years. 🙂 I have long advocated the need to increase public awareness about stuttering and, like you, have similarly taken action to achieve that goal.

    If your suggestions were to be widely implemented, the world would certainly acquire a more meaningful understanding of how stuttering can impact upon someone’s life.

    Pam, you are owed an enormous debt of gratitude for your personal efforts to improve the lives of persons who stutter.

    Thank you!

    Kindest regards

    Alan Badmington

    • Alan, thank you so much for the very kind feedback. I enjoy being able to contribute to this annual forum, and hope people get inspired by my ideas.

      We have indeed been “singing the same song” for many years and it’s great to know we are still in harmony.

  3. Great paper Pam! I enjoyed reading your thorough take on what needs to be done to spread advocacy.I have in my work email signature “A person who stutters” #LetMeFinish. This goes out not only within my location but to all the other locations I converse with including corporate, as well as outside vendors.

    I would be interested in talking to SLP students, if an opportunity arises feel free to let me know.

    Talk to you soon on Stutter Social!

    • Thank you Ian for reading and leaving the great comments. I know you advertise in your email signature – I think that’s great and very courageous. Not everyone would think they could do that in their workplace.

      If a speaking opportunity to SLP students comes my way this year, I will also recommend you to speak.

  4. These are fantastic, practical suggestions to help the world reach a greater understanding about stuttering. I love that you mentioned both children (educating students with in schools about disability awareness) as well as adults in the workforce. We need the education to start young, but it can’t end there. I also completely agree that the media should portray PWS in a different light and show famous PWS who actually currently stutter and do so openly. How do you suggest we go about getting more PWS out there in the media?

    • Hi Chani – thanks for reading and the great feedback. I’m not really sure about the best way to get more people who stutter out in the media. I guess it would come form us, regular, ordinary non-famous people who stutter seizing every opportunity possible to appear on radio and TV for interviews about stuttering. I’ve done both radio and TV several times – all it took was calling the stations and asking if they’d be interested in hearing my perspectives on stuttering. As far as getting real people who stutter to portray stuttering characters on TV or in film, I think the stuttering organizations need to do more outreach to “Hollywood” to help them see the importance of having an authentic voice portrayed on screen. It’s something we need to keep working on.

  5. Pam,

    Thank you for the article. You expressed stuttering from all angles and not just one point of view. Please continue share your experiences on stutter it helpful for all ages. – Jeannine Mcconnell

  6. Pam, I enjoyed reading your contribution. I think it’s very true that people who stutter to be comfortable enough with themselves (and brave) to “come out” in the workplace. The focus of individuals who stutter needs to be how to demonstrate that they have good communication skills and that stuttering is just one small part of what they do, and that they can make great contributions to the workplace. It was also interesting to point out that there is a lack of casting for actors/actresses who openly stutter.

    • Hi Lisa – “coming out” in the workplace is tricky and requires that the person be ready and have a good support system at work. It also requires that that individual who stutters believes in being a self advocate. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. Very good and concise paper, Pam.

    5 simple, applicable solutions, and you are already doing them all. We need more people like you in our community. Understanding starts with us wanting to talk more about Stuttering, and it takes a village, as you said.

    • Hi David – thank you for your affirming words. I feel as more and more people come out and self identify as people who stutter, our village gets that much bigger. It’s good to be part of a village.

  8. Pam,
    Thank you so much for your insight and suggestions! I am in graduate school and have not worked with very many clients who stutter, so this was very helpful. I really like the idea of bringing in a guest speaker to schools so the students can become educated. When you have gone into middle schools to present on bullying prevention/stuttering, what is the most important point that you feel the students took away from your presentation?

    • Hi Steph – thanks for reading and for the question. I have just recently been invited back to a middle school to do three presentations on stuttering to each of the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. I think the take away kids get when I do these is that kids can be mean when they don’t understand something (same is true for adults too!) I think talking about stuttering and letting kids who don’t stutter “try it on” helps to normalize it for kids and they really see it’s just another difference like we all have differences and it’s not something that’s cool to make fun of. I think normalizing stuttering in our society – for both kids and adults – is the best way to combat bullying, discrimination and exclusion. Realizing that people who stutter can still be great communicators with a stutter is also a big take away when I do these presentations.

  9. Hi Pam,
    I really enjoyed reading your paper and seeing stuttering from your angle. I love the idea of more awareness activities and including those who stutter in the media as well. How do you think social media has affected relationships of people who stutter? I could see it helping or making it worse, but wanted to see your perspective.

    Kacie

    • Hi Kacie – thanks for the good question. I think the rise in social media, of all types, has not helped people who stutter in building relationships. I think pws tend to rely too much on text or instant messaging and therefore lose the ability to carry on real, face to face conversations with people. I think this is true for a whole generation of people, not just pws. Conversation seems to be becoming a lost art. I see a lot of people who stutter who appear to hide behind social media because it affords them easy expression of speech. People can write so eloquently but struggle on the phone or in person. I don’t know what the answer is, but people who stutter have to communicate verbally in order to get better at it, especially if fear is involved.

  10. Pamela,

    Thank you so much for providing us with some suggestions and insights! I really enjoyed reading this paper! For the media suggestion, how would you recommend getting correct information and portrayal of PWS out to the different medias? It is such a huge component in our daily lives and I feel like that could be the perfect platform to discuss PWS with accurate depictions.

    Thank you,

    Hannah Adams

    • Hi Hannah – I think the stuttering advocacy organizations could be more proactive and reach out to the different media and remind them we are here to offer support and guidance when the media is thinking of portraying stuttering. The ideal is to one day get real people who stutter on the big and small screens, so there is an authentic experience to share. I definitely think the time has come to consider honest, authentic portrayal of stuttering in the media. And I really wish that “famous people who stutter” would actually stutter openly in the media. It would go such a long way towards normalizing stuttering.

  11. Hello, I really enjoyed your article. I hope I am not being insensitive by asking this question. As a former journalist for a print newspaper, I was curious how the stuttering community would like to be represented in print journalism. When quoting a person who stutters, the editors would likely quote the person without including visual representations of the stutter, or comment that the source stutters unless it was pertinent to the topic. Would the person who stutters want that visual representation in print, or that there is acknowledgement that the person interviewed was a person who stuttered?
    Thanks for your thoughts,
    Melissa

    • Hi Melissa – not insensitive at all. I’m curious what you mean by a “visual representation” of stuttering. What do you imagine that would look like?

      • I am currently in grad school for Speech Language Pathology. In our fluency class, we are learning to take speaking samples and how to transcribe them so that we can analyze them for types and severity of stuttering. Some examples would be “s-s-s-sorry” to illustrate stuttering on part of a word versus “ssssssorry” for a prolongation. I can never see that as appropriate in print media, however. I think probably the best way to represent people who stutter in print media would be to do more articles about awareness maybe. Thoughts?

  12. Hello Pamela,

    Your five ways to better understand stuttering are quite insightful. As a student in a Speech-Language Pathology program, I agree that it is important for people who stutter to not only explain to future SLPs what their lives are like, but to inform them about the best ways to advocate for people who stutter and why it is important to have such ‘fluent allies’ to help fight for the most authentic view of stuttering through the use of various outlets such as social media and radio. I feel that the second point you presented about making the workplace an inclusive environment is a very important point because although many aspects of the life of a person who stutters are affected, there is nothing more crippling than having to face an environment where friendships are commonly made, but also feared by people who stutter because they aren’t able to listen to co-workers and figure out if what they are going to say next will be fluent. When people who stutter finally do become a part of an inclusive work environment where they feel free to be themselves, how will they find a way to translate this sense of peace into other communicational situations that seem rushed (such as a drive-thru, at grocery stores, at the bank, and in other instances in which this person begins to speak with new communication partners)? Thank you for your time!

    • Hi Savannah – thanks for the feedback. Good question. I think when a person who stutters finds that it’s OK to stutter openly in the workplace and that he/she is accepted for who they are, it becomes easier to also be open in other situations. Personally, I have a very inclusive workplace and I feel free to stutter openly and no one bats an eyelash. Because of that, and because I’m not spending precious energy on hiding my stuttering, it also makes it easier to communicate freely in those time pressure situations you mention.

      • I’m so happy to hear that you refuse to spend your time and energy focusing on hiding your stuttering. I wish this experience for so many other men, women, and children who stutter. I know that there are a vast amount of perspectives that differ greatly about stuttering from the personal experiences of people who stutter (whether it be openly advocating for themselves and others or straying away from situations that they feel are more difficult to take part in because of disfluency). It is my hope that the world will continue to become more inclusive for people who stutter and that stuttering awareness will continue to increase.

  13. I liked your 5 tenets–Maybe a year now on the wall by my desk printed “I stutter. And Proud.” Everyone knows that I stutter. In fact a client stuttered. And Nurse Practitioner referred the (patient) person that stuttered to me and told the person I stuttered.
    I felt comfortable-however, the client waited for me to stutter. To confirm I stuttered too.
    Another time will share with you The professional and client relationship that developed.

    always
    Michael

    • Hi Michael – thanks for reading and leaving good feedback. I have stuttering related stuff on my desk at work, but I don’t have anything that says I stutter and I’m Proud. Maybe I’ll work on that as my next goal. 🙂

  14. As a first year Masters of Speech Language Pathology student at the University of Tennessee, this article provided crucial insight into various situations in which clients with a stutter may feel anxious that those on the outside may have not considered. This article provides interventionists with valuable intuition into a way someone with a stutter may view certain social activities and how to target these in therapy to create maximum benefit for the patient. I love the idea of making stuttering and “unseen diabilities” a focal point of awareness in a school setting. Growing up, I know that I was never educated on stuttering and truly did not understand the cause or what it feels like for someone who stutters until I entered the field of speech pathology in college. Stuttering is definitely something that everyone should have a greater familiarity with, both in the school and work settings, so that they can sympathize with that person and realize that their rate of speech should not set them apart or limit their abilities and opportunities.

    • Hi Annelise – I agree with everything you said, except where you suggest that people who don’t stutter should sympathize with people who do stutter. I think a better word would be “empathize.” I don’t want anyone sympathizing for me or feeling pity that my speech is different. I just want it known very matter of fact that I speak different and that it’s OK. Stuttering is just another way of talking and when people can understand that, I think we can move forward with reducing stigma and discrimination.

  15. Hi Pamela!

    I really enjoyed your article. I think you have some really good, easy ways to help people understand stuttering better. I am currently in graduate school myself, hoping to become an SLP. I agree that one class on fluency is not sufficient to learn everything there is to know about stuttering. I feel as this is a challenge for most topics related to communication disorders-we could spend a year on each one individually and still not know everything! Given the time constraint, I was wondering if you had any other ideas to help future clinicians learn more about stuttering (and then hopefully go out and educate the world on it)? In my fluency class, we have people who stutter as guest speakers that come in to talk, like you mentioned, and we get to attend a stuttering support group meeting. Do you have any other suggestions or ideas that will give students even more insight into the world of stuttering?

    Thanks so much!
    Amanda

    • Hi Amanda – great to hear that in your program you have people who stutter come and talk to the class, and that you attend support group meetings. Another suggestion I have is listening to podcasts featuring people who stutter, so you can hear people’s different stories. You could start with my podcast, “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” at http://www.stutterrockstar.com

      Maybe another thought is the professor could assign the class to interview a person who stutters and find out what some of the different challenges are that face people who stutter.

  16. Hi Pamela!

    You have definitely shined some light on what life is like for someone who stutters. It sounds very anxiety provoking to have to debate if/when to disclose a stutter to a potential employer. Looking back on my experiences, it does seem that people who stutter are under represented in the work force!
    I also found it interesting how you brought up the lack of training in fluency for future SLPs. I am a first year SLP student in the masters program at the University of TN and certainly still have a lot to learn on the subject. I would love it if you or another person suffering from stuttering would share their experience with my class.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article!

    Maggie Meares

    • Hi Maggie – I would love to be invited to speak with your class. I have spoken with a number of classes via Skype and it works well. Feel free to let your professor know if he/she is interested. I can be reached at Pamela.mertz@gmail.com

      Also, I would encourage you to not use the word “suffering” when referring to someone who stutters. Not everyone who stutters believes they suffer from anything. Many of us think stuttering is just another way of talking and that it’s certainly OK to stutter. Just a thought! 🙂

  17. Hi Pamela,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. Your suggestions are so appropriate and on target. They show that each and every individual has the ability to help PWS in some sort of way. As an SLP graduate student, I find these articles from the ISAD conferences to be so informative and eye opening and I thank you for enhancing my understanding of the struggles that PWS go through so that I can truly make a difference.
    Liana

    • Hi Liana – thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Good luck on your journey with becoming a SLP. We need people who are committed to understanding stuttering to make an impact in the field.

  18. This article was very informative! I agree with all of the points made in this article. Personally, I do not have a stutter, and I cannot even begin to imagine the feelings that people develop as a result of having a stuttering disorder. This article points out that all people can be involved in helping people who stutter. I think that the suggestion pertaining to the media stuck out to me the most. Children especially take what they see on television very seriously. If a child who stutters sees stuttering portrayed as funny or negative, it will cause them to have negative feelings about their own stutter. I have seen The King’s Speech and I think that it does an excellent job of displaying stuttering characteristics and how people who stutter feel about them as well as breaking down stereotypes generally associated with stuttering. While I do think that people who stutter need to see more celebrities that also stutter, I think that celebrities that used to stutter can provide PWS with an example of someone who overcame (or learned to modify) their stutter which shows them that they do the same!

    • Hello Gabrielle – thanks for your thoughts. I think it’s interesting that you think that celebrities that used to stutter can be a good example of overcoming their stutter and that people who stutter can do the same. I gently disagree with you. Most people who stutter are going to stutter lifelong and it’s discouraging to be faced with a celebrity who claims they stuttered and overcame it, because that’s just not the case with the majority of people who stutter. It seems to imply that if only we worked harder we’d be able to be fluent. Not achieving fluency equates to failure for many people so real role models are those that are not afraid to show their stutter publicly. In my humble opinion, it’s not a good idea to hold recovered celebrity stutterers up to kids and teens who stutter, so that they don’t feel that sense of failure when asking why can’t they achieve fluency too? It’s a slippery slope when we’re talking about recovering or overcoming stuttering. I like to look at it from a fear lens – that we’ve overcome the fear of stuttering, which is what causes so much pain and anxiety for most people who stutter.

  19. Hello Pamela,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas towards stuttering. I found it very informative in regards to what can be done to spread awareness and ultimately decrease the negative connotation that can be associated with stuttering for those who do not understand it. I agree without about your ideas for a change in the media. Currently, we rely heavily on the media for news, entertainment, and even education. If a new show or movie were to be created which shows both the overt and covert characteristics of stuttering in an accurate way using PWS as the actors, perhaps more people would be able to understand what it could possibly be like to be a PWS. You have definitely helped give some insight as to what it is like to be a PWS and the feelings that come along with it. It is terrible that a child, with any kind of difference, still gets picked on in school or that a qualified individual can miss out on an employment opportunity because of their stutter. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It most definitely helps others to understand the difficulties PWS still face and ways to help bring about change.

  20. Hi Pamela,

    Reading your paper was eye-opening and I wish that every teacher, professor and parent could read this to see that stuttering is not what most people who are unaware think.

    I never thought about people who stutter as not being good listeners due to their need of “rehearsing” what they will say next instead of truly listening to the other person. Do you find that you personally have this issue with conversation? Unfortunately, this most likely gives people who are unaware ideas that people who stutter are less intelligent.

    I also think your presentations in middle schools on bullying and awareness is profound. I think that these presentations are just as beneficial to teachers as well as the students. I have read about other peoples stories that state that their teachers have treated them different than other students and I think that if teachers were more aware of stuttering and how to address it then there might be less bullying and negative feelings towards people who stutter.

    Since I am a student, I really appreciated seeing your post about people who stutter being willing to talk to graduate students. Later in the semester, my professor has a few of his clients who stutter coming to talk with us about their experiences which I am very much looking forward to.

    In your paper you discuss ways in which everyone should see stuttering and be aware of these components for a better world for people who stutter. I am curious, what are your personal feelings on your own stutter? I hope that one day I can present to teach awareness of stuttering and how it can impact one’s daily life.

    Thank you for posting this paper,
    Alyssa McCarthy

    • Hi Alyssa – great feedback and great questions.

      You asked if I ever deal with struggling with having a conversation because I am lost in rehearsing what I might say next, and attempting to say it without stuttering. That’s used to be me all the time. I would worry about not sounding intelligent if I stuttered so I was always trying to predict what the person would ask so I could create and answer and choose words that I wouldn’t stutter on. Thankfully, I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve learned to not care as much what the other person may think, and therefore have been able to be much more present when in conversation with someone.

      Your other question is what are my personal feelings towards my own stutter. My feelings about my stutter have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. I used to be extremely covert out of fear and shame. I hated my stuttering and thought about it all the time. I used a great deal of energy to hide, avoid, switch words, and deny stuttering. It had such a grip on my life, it was like trying to sew while wearing oven mitts. It often felt impossible to actually co-exist with stuttering and that’s why I most often chose silence and avoidance. These days I am much more comfortable with stuttering and talk about it all the time and stutter openly at work and in social situations. It’s just something I happen to do, not who I am. Once I accepted that realization, life became much easier for me.

      • Thank you for your response! I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for you to worry about seeming unintelligent and constantly exert so much energy to avoid and deny your stutter. While I am so sorry to hear your struggle when you were younger, I am so happy to hear you have accepted that your stutter and that you are comfortable now.
        Thank you again for posting this paper. It gave me a huge insight on ways to help everyone understand stuttering as a future speech-language pathologist.
        Alyssa McCarthy

  21. Excellent article as always Pam.

    Your 5 suggestions to improve the understanding of stuttering are practical useful and tell us what we as a community can do! I particularly like the idea of working with fluent allies. I think it is something our community does not do enough of. We need to spread the word further.
    Thanks again
    Christine

    • Hi Christine – nice to see you here. Thanks for reading and for the lovely comments. I hope we all can continue to spread awareness and work with those who don’t stutter so they can indeed become our allies.

  22. Pamela,
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    I am an SLP graduate student learning about disorders of fluency and my goal is to get a better understanding of the stuttering disorder and gain insight in terms of how to help individuals who stutter cope with any negative feelings. What do you believe is the best way to counsel an individual who stutters and has coexisting feelings of fear and shame?

    • Hi Jennifer – good question. I think fear and shame come with stuttering, and definitely need to be addressed in therapy, especially if the individual is covert and has been hiding stuttering for any amount of time.
      Counseling is key to success with someone who is feeing fear and shame. What worked for me was desensitization exercises – voluntary stuttering, advertising and disclosure. I think if you counsel people who stutter to embrace what they are afraid of, with continuous support, that will be very helpful. It often takes a very long time to peel away the layers of shame, so it’s definitely not an overnight process. Writing also helped me a great deal. I wrote letters to my stuttering and shared them with my therapist and that really helped curb the shame for me.

  23. Pam –

    As a student, I feel you brought to light a very important consequence of covert charactersitics: decreased self-confidence in social situations. This subject hasn’t traditionally been addressed in speech-language therapy but perhaps it is time that SLPs broach this subject with PWS.

    I find the advice you shared is invaluable and great resource on how to educate the general public and begin to change the negative attitudes and misconceptions surrounding stuttering.

    I wholeheartedly agree with incorporating awareness activities in school settings. I am aware of only a handful of programs that address more than just physical disabilities. I definitely see the potential in creating programs like this on a broader scale.

    Also, I’ve just downloaded your podcasts and can’t wait to take a listen!

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed the piece. And I’m thrilled you downloaded the podcasts and will take a listen. I’d love to know what you think.

  24. Hi, Pamela-

    I found your writing inspiring and powerful. I am studying to be a speech-language pathologist and am currently enrolled in my school’s graduate level stuttering course. I was drawn to your post based on the title, being a future educator, and was very glad I did. Your suggestions for moving towards a world that understands stuttering are appropriate and definitely “do-able” in our every day lives. I knew I had a responsibility to be an advocate for those who stuttered, but your 5 ways have drawn out the “how” and “why” I should be an ally to those who stutter.

    I liked your thoughts on inclusiveness and awareness of stuttering in schools and in the workplace. I used to substitute teach in the elementary schools, and found a unit on Autism to be very positive in a first grade classroom who had a student with ASD. My question now, and my question then is, how come we only expose children in schools to these differences when they are present in the classroom? I think if children were taught was stuttering was early on in their education, there would be less of a stigma growing up, which would avoid some of the problems PWS see in the workforce in their adult lives. We do anti-bullying campaigns, why can’t we make stuttering awareness campaigns mainstream in the schools? I know that if I work in a school setting post-graduation, I will talk to the administration about implementing a program like this. You said it best– it would be a “win-win” situation.

    The other point you made which I really connected with was talking about stuttering in the media. I can only think of a handful of people who are famous and stutter or used to stutter, which we can use in therapy with children to help them understand that stuttering is okay. My problem is that many of these figures do not stutter in their roles on tv or in movies, as those cuts are likely edited out. How can children look up to people who also stutter, if they watch tv and can’t make that clear connection with them, as their speech sounds fluent? I LOVE the idea you have of using PWS as actors, in order to be that positive role model. I hope our world moves towards this way of thinking.

    Lastly, I am happy to report that I have one of the “good professors” out there in the world of communication sciences and disorders. Our professor brings in PWS to tell their stories to us, which is where I learn the most applicable information moving towards my future career. I am so thankful to have opportunities like that, as well as reading your post and commenting, in order to help me grow as a future speech-language pathologist. One question I do have for you, Pamela, is what advice would you give to me as I am beginning my career as a SLP? What is something you liked/didn’t like that a SLP did in therapy with you (if applicable) when you were a child?

    Thank you so much for your time and for your contributions to International Stuttering Awareness Day! It was an honor reading your thoughts.

    Sarah Sadler

    • Sarah – thank you so much for the insightful comments and questions. You seem to be really dedicated to learning as much as you can about stuttering in order to be the best SLP you can be. I love your attitude and willingness to be open and learn about stuttering, which is so complex.

      You asked what advice I might give you as your starting out on your career as a SLP. A paper I wrote for the 2009 ISAD conference offers advice to SLPs based on my therapy experiences. I think the advice still holds true today. Please see paper here: http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/mertz122.html
      I really think both SLP and client have to mutually agree on therapy goals and the therapeutic approach used. For instance, the best therapy I had was when fluency shaping WAS NOT the goal, even though that was the primary focus of the particular college clinic I was attending. The therapist I worked with recognized that fluency shaping wasn’t what I needed and instead we focused on counseling and acceptance. It worked!

      The other question you asked was about childhood therapy. I only had therapy for about 6 months when I was in 3rd grade. I don’t really remember anything positive or significant from that experience, sadly. I did not have therapy again until adulthood, when I was in my early 40’s.

      And I’m so glad that you have one of the “good” professors who invites people who stutter in to talk to your class. I have spoken to a number of college classes via Skype and I’ve always enjoyed it.

      Best of luck to you, Sarah!

  25. Hello Ms. Mertz,
    Thank you for you taking the lead on your recommendation and helping create better awareness of how stuttering impacts people. As current SLP students, we really appreciate your insights into what our clients may need. We agree strongly with your stance on including stuttering awareness and factual education as a part of company/employee training. We would like to know if you have any models for company/employee training that you can recommend? Furthermore, you mention advocacy agents assisting with this education. Do you have any recommendations how we as future SLPs can be involved in that advocacy process?

    Thank you again for taking the time to help raise education about how everyone can and should be involved in changing the environment around stuttering.

    • Hi Hannah – over the summer I was involved in a program at Goldman Sachs in NYC where employees volunteered to participate in mock interviews with people who stutter from the community. Over 30 Goldman Sachs (GS) employees were involved, with 22 people who stutter who had signed up for the interviews. We started out the day giving the GS employees – including HR managers and other department heads – an overview of stuttering, workplace matters, stuttering and the ADA and reasonable accommodations. The training was very well received. It was done by myself, another PWS who works at GS and a SLP that stutters. We talked and took questions for 90 minutes. Then the interviews were held in the afternoon. Each PWS got the chance to have two 30 minute interviews, then time was available for feedback. Several individuals were considered for hire by GS. This was a great example of how stuttering advocacy can be accomplished in the workplace and we hope to do something similar in other workplaces. It was a great success.

      SLPs can be involved in advocacy by also considering doing workshops or presentations to employer groups or organizations. Ideally with someone who stutters if the SLP doesn’t. You could work with the NSA and get involved with the Employment Advocacy committee, which I head up. I’d love to have a SLP onboard with us to brainstorm ideas about advocacy and help with outreach.

  26. Hello Ms. Mertz,

    Thank you very much for your wonderful insights! We are second year speech-language pathology graduate students at the University of South Carolina. As current SLP students, we really appreciate your commitment to being involved in our education and helping us be the best clinicians we can be for future clients who stutter. We were wondering if there are any current attitudes or approaches among SLPs that you would like to see change?

    • Hi Addison – it would be hard for me to comment on attitudes or approaches I’d like to see changed in SLPs because I haven’t seen a SLP for therapy in close to 10 years. My only context comes from comments and questions I hear when I address SLPs at workshops or in a SLP classroom, as a guest speaker. In April of this year, I gave a talk on covert stuttering and how I’ve journeyed from covert to overt and what that has been like. Toward the end, an older SLP asked me why I didn’t want to be fluent. I was floored – she further commented that therapy would help me achieve fluency. She totally missed the point of my 2 hour interactive talk, and left me with the impression that fluency is her main objective when working with clients who stutter. That approach needs to change if it exists with SLPs, as fluency is often the farthest thing from someone’s mind when they enter into therapy. Sometimes, acceptance is by far the greater goal, which needs to be embraced by both pws and SLP. I hope that helps.

  27. Hi Pamela,

    I am currently a graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology, and I find your five ways to better understand stuttering very interesting. I particularly liked the point about how more people who stutter need to be willing to speak to future SLPs while they are in school and learning about it. I think this would be a great way for us future SLPs to learn more about stuttering and receive real life experiences. This can help us gain a better understanding of what stuttering really is and show us how all cases are different. I also think this could help increase success when working with people who stutter, because it would help bridge the gap between client and clinician and build positive relationships.

    Thank you for your insight,
    Emma Steines

    • Hi Emma – I liked how you referred to bridging the gap between client and clinician, because I agree that there is one. I think many people who stutter have had failed experiences with therapy when younger – either as kids in elementary school when therapy wasn’t a choice or older as young adults. I think it’s so important that SLPs understand that stuttering is holistic, involving the whole person and not just fluency. SLPs need to have good counseling skills to help individuals who stutter manage the complex feelings that surround stuttering and realize that in some instances, fluency is not the number one goal.

  28. Hey Pam!

    I am a SLP graduate student and currently taking a fluency course. We have been discussing multiple things that you discuss throughout this paper. In our graduate program, we are lucky enough to have a professor who also stutters. This has been very beneficial to us because we can hear his experiences and what he perceives as important not only as a person who stutters but also as a practicing SLP. I am interested in working with children and wanted to ask you a question about number 4 when you discussed how more people who stutter need to be willing to talk to SLPs. What did you mean by this, did you mean that some people who stutter are more anxious when speaking to SLPs? If so, what are some tips when counseling an individual with stuttering so that they feel more comfortable.

    Thanks,
    Emma

    • Hi Emma – thanks for the comments and question. It’s great to hear that your fluency class is taught by a SLP who stutters. That gives you a rich perspective that not all SLP students get. What I meant by more people who stutter being willing to talk with SLPs is formally. I think we as people who stutter need to find time to speak with SLP classes about our experiences, journeys, stories, triumphs and struggles. SLPs can’t learn enough from just text books and one fluency class. When SLP’s get to hear from pws themselves, it greatly enhances the learning experience. Plus, it is very rewarding for the pws as well. It builds confidence in public speaking and boosts self esteem. I regularly speak to SLP classes, most often via Skype, so the class can anywhere in the country. SLP students always ask great questions and it becomes a win-win situation for both students and me.

  29. Hi Pam,

    Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking paper! One point that you brought up was the portrayal of stuttering in media. I am currently a graduate student studying speech language pathology; right now I’m taking a class on autism. We have talked about the recent “trend” in portraying autism in the media. Though I see the pros and cons of it, I am for this depiction in media because it exposes people to different aspects of autism, people that otherwise may not have taken the time to learn – this is true for stuttering as well! To me, the portrayal of stuttering in the media should be done by having a true person who stutters or something similar to what you mentioned with ‘Atypical’, but I am a person that truly believes that media is an outlet that reaches the average person so the more exposure they have to stuttering the more they can learn.

    Overall, I appreciate all 5 discussions on how to make the world a more understanding place; I enjoyed the varied perspectives you gave as well as your examples. Thanks for sharing!

    Arianna

    • Thank you Arianna – I’m glad you’re interested in autism and can see some of the parallels to stuttering and it’s portrayal in the media.

  30. Hi Pam,

    Thank you for sharing your story as a PWS and for giving these 5 great examples how how to make the world better understand stuttering. I am a second year graduate student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth taking an advanced fluency course. I was wondering if there are any environments that you are more fluent in and what strategies do you use most to be more fluent?

    Thank you for your time!
    Jacqui Miller

    • Hi Jacqui – I don’t aim for fluency. I strive to be the most effective communicator I can be and for me that includes stuttering. I don’t use any strategies to become more fluent. For years, I was covert and dealt with tremendous shame about my stuttering. When I went into therapy, I wasn’t looking for fluency, I was looking for acceptance and support. I felt that the fluency strategies that I was taught just made me more covert again, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my authenticity anymore. These days, I stutter openly and consider myself to be an outstanding communicator. In fact, I have earned the highest distinction one can in Toastmasters. I am a DTM, Distinguished Toastmaster.

      You will find that not all people who stutter set goals for fluency. That’s why it will be important for you to be sure the client sets his or her own goals and that you support them, whatever they may be.

  31. Hi Pam,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper and I thought the five tips you provided were thought-provoking. I have not encountered many PWS and I have not been explicitly educated on stuttering until now. I am currently taking a fluency class as a first year SLP student, and I agree with your statement about bringing in speakers who stutter. I think it would be beneficial for school-age children, but also super helpful for future SLP’s. That being said, what is one piece of advice you would give to future SLP’s, so they can be successful working with individuals who stutter?

    Thanks,

    Julia

    • Hi Julia – one piece of advice I’d offer to future SLPs who want to be successful working with people who stutter is go where the stutterers are. Go to NSA conferences, chapters and other places where people who stutter hang out. Talk with people who stutter and find out what matters most to us about stuttering. Consider joining a virtual hangout where people who stutter get together to share ideas and experiences. Visit http://www.stuttersocial.com to find a schedule of hangouts that meet during the week. Learn from us. You won’t learn what you need to from a text book or just one fluency class.

  32. I thought this was a great paper and you’ve provided five excellent ideas for how the world can better understand stuttering. I am an SLP graduate student and I’m taking a course on fluency disorders this semester. I am grateful that my university offers this course but I wish we were given more time to fully grasp the complexities involved with stuttering and other fluency disorders. I think that knowledge and education helps erase many misconceptions that individuals may have about those who stutter. Your five ideas can help to erase those fears and misconceptions that may surround stuttering. Thank you for sharing these ideas!

  33. Hello Pamela,
    I greatly enjoyed reading your paper. As a big fan of female-led podcasts and as as a SLP graduate student, your podcast marries my two greatest interests. I can’t wait to give it a listen.
    I never thought of the opportunity to educate youngsters about stuttering starting in the schools. This is such an effective idea, and I am excited to find out if anyone in the school district I work for has ever attempted this before.

  34. Ms. Mertz –

    Thanks for sharing your 5 step model to understanding stuttering. I am currently a graduate student and aspiring speech language pathologist and am truly inspired by the stories people share of their personal struggles with stuttering or any speech disfluencies. My goal in responding to your post is not only to thank you for sharing, but to encourage more PWS to consider suggestion #4 in your paper: speaking to future SLPs. I think this is especially important to help us (future SLPs) understand stuttering so that one day we may be able to make a difference in a client’s life. Thanks again for sharing!

    Rachel

  35. Pamela,

    It is very disheartening to think that both children and adults are still being bullied, teased, and made fun of because of stuttering, even though it is 2017! In addition, it is sad that there is workplace discrimination against people who are qualified for the position, but not chosen because they stutter. I loved your 5 ways that can help the world better understand stuttering. In my opinion, I think numbers 1 and 2 are some of the most important. I am currently a first-year graduate student, and it is the first time in my life that I’ve really given much thought to stuttering. Through my life I have known what stuttering was, but had no idea the factors that go into it, and the huge impact it has on peoples’ lives. I think requiring education about stuttering in school and in the workplace will allow for a better understanding and acceptance of stuttering. People fear the unknown, and for most people, stuttering is the unknown. They see it as different and they don’t feel comfortable being around it, causing discrimination in many contexts. I would like to thank you for your insight and writing this paper.

    Thank you,
    Taran

  36. Pamela,
    It’s incredibly heartbreaking to hear all the negative stereotypes that continue to surround individuals who stutter. I am a first year graduate student practicing to become a speech-language pathologist and am currently taking my first class on fluency. One of the lines that I found extremely striking, from your article, was when you mentioned how some individuals focused so much on reducing their stuttering that they never learned how to make small talk or join in on conversations. I have not had a fluency class prior to this semester, and although I have been learning a lot, I know I still have so much more to learn (which makes me very excited). For example, I never realized all the internal emotions people may feel when stuttering. For me, it’s very sad that some people live in such fear because of other people’s actions. Thank you for sharing tips on how to help other people look past common stereotypes and make them more aware. I enjoyed reading your article.
    Thank you,
    Kristin Johnson

  37. Hi Pamela,

    I really appreciate that your paper focuses on actions that can be taken, rather than focusing and dissecting the problem itself! I am a second-year grad student, and I had felt like pursuing my education that included a fluency course was doing “my part” in advocating for PWS in the world. However, I realized that I can be doing more! I loved your idea to include stuttering in diversity and acceptance efforts that the school does. I’m an SLPA right now, and I believe next week is our bullying assembly. I’ll happily be talking to the principal to include speech disorders in that assembly.

    Regarding your suggestion to have PWS talk to students about the overall stuttering experience, I feel fortunate to have a PWS as a professor. He has a very client- and therapy-centered approach to our education that has opened my eyes to a more holistic view of stuttering.

    Thank you for your efforts to improve the world in the way you do!

  38. Hello, Pam! Thank you so much for such a wonderful piece. I am currently a graduate student in Speech Language Pathology, so I had found these five ways to be incredibly beneficial to read about in order to use this information in future situations throughout my career. I did have a question however, what would you suggest for students or graduate students in Speech Language Pathology to do to further the understanding of this information? In your fourth way, you mentioned that future SLPs should have an opportunity to meet with people who stutter, so is there anything we could be further doing before going into the field to gain a better understanding?
    Thank you so much for your writing!
    Abbey M.

    • Hey Abbey – if you’re not already doing this, I’d encourage student SLPs to visit a NSA chapter attended by people that stutter. Sit in, observe, participate and get to know people who stutter and what’s important to us. We love to have SLPs visit chapter meetings.

  39. Hello Pamela,
    I am a first year graduate student who has experience with high school and elementary school education. I really like your suggestion of including specific training and education about stuttering. Students can be insensitive to what they do not understand, and thus, helping them to understand the issue would help eliminate negative behaviors towards those who stutter. In addition, educating children early on would probably lead to more understanding adults in the workplace. The short-term and long-term effects of more education could prove to be positive major changes for people who stutter. Thank you for writing such a practical paper! It really made me consider how I, as a future clinician, can be a support to my clients both inside and outside of therapy. I am curious about your thoughts on how a clinician (not in the school system) could go about helping to provide these changes within schools? I know you mentioned that you had done presentations, but is there anything else clinicians can do?

    • Hello – I think that clinicians not based in the school system could still help spread awareness about stuttering in the schools. Maybe you could encourage a client who stutters and yourself to visit a middle school and give a stuttering awareness presentation. You could also spread awareness by volunteering to give an in-service training at a conference of SLPs or be really bold and ask to do something similar to employees in a workplace, for their diversity and inclusion training.

  40. Hello Pamela,

    Your insight into the world of stuttering is very thought provoking. I agree that there needs to be greater education on stuttering for kids in school, such that, as you mentioned, physical disabilities and stuttering both come to be accepted as areas of diversity in today’s society. Through more inclusive practices and greater access to tools (such as speakers or information about stuttering) individuals in today’s society could gather a better understanding of how diverse and wonderful our world is. As a first year graduate student in SLP, I also agree that more education and insight available to me as a student would help me become an even better clinician in the end. One in fluency does not seem like enough information on the topic of stuttering, and I believe there should be increased opportunities to interact with people who stutter outside of clinical settings. I appreciate your insight and the thought-provoking points you made.
    Thanks again,
    Hannah Z.

  41. Pamela,

    Thank you for posting this, I am a future SLP student. I agree with you in having people who stutter come to our fluency classes. Fortunately, we did have this happen in my class at Idaho State University (and our professor has a stutter too). Plus, I like to hear your insights since you have had the experience of stuttering. This is beneficial to learn from a client’s perspective rather than only learning from textbooks or articles, for example. Thanks again! 🙂

  42. Hello Pamela,

    I really enjoyed reading your five easy ways to help the world better understand stuttering. I am a second-year graduate student at the University of Minnesota Duluth and am currently enrolled in an advanced fluency disorders course. We have covered numerous topics in this course, but one that is of particular interest to me happens to be the topic of your writing here. It is so important to educate the public on the topic of stuttering, especially since it is so poorly represented in our cultural media. There are many misconceptions surrounding stuttering and false beliefs that people still hold. You talked about the importance of individuals who stutter talking to future speech-language pathologists to help educate them on the realities of stuttering. I was wondering if there are any current attitudes of SLPs you would like to see change? Furthermore, as someone who is hopefully soon to be working in the field, what was the one quality you respected most in the SLPs you may have worked with in the past? Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah Curren

    • Hi Sarah – thanks for the kind words and good questions. I guess regarding attitudes of SLPs, I’d like to see SLPs focus more on attitude and acceptance rather than fluency. Not everyone who stutters is interested in attaining fluency. Sometimes we just want to stutter more comfortably, with less tension and work on acceptance, which was a huge thing for me.

      To your other question, the one quality I most respected with SLPs I worked with was a willingness and openness to mutually set goals. Therapy cannot be solely driven by the therapist – the client needs to have an idea what he or she wants and needs and should help set the goals that will drive sessions. To me, that openness is key. The SLP cannot have a “know-it-all” attitude, because they don’t. Each PWS is an expert on their own stuttering.

  43. Thanks so much for adding your wisdom to the ISAD online conference, to the NSA, to Stutter Social and of course through your blog. This year’s paper is so amazing ) and I truly hope it will be shared, (and I’ve seen it shared internationally :-)) not just during October 2017, but on and on again.

    You have come so far and I’m so happy you keep on shining a light for PWS, SLPs, teachers and others who want and need to understand more about stuttering.

    Many thanks, big hugs and keep talking!

    Anita

    • Anita – thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I am definitely immersed in the stuttering community, aren’t I? Not just the NSA and Stutter Social, but remember the ISA too. And my blog and podcast keep going after 7+ years. Wow, amazing! You have been one of my inspirations, thank you for all that you do.