Stuttering Teaches Resilience (Ian Mahler)

About the author Ian Mahler:  I am a Person Who Stutters who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States.  I have been married to my wife May Lynn for 19 years. We have three girls: Klarissa (16), Savannah (12), and Olivia (11).  I was originally born in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, then moved with my wife to Colorado. We have lived in Salt Lake City for over 14 years.I work at a wholesale club in Salt Lake City, part of a global chain.  I am a Receiving Manager there, having been with the company for over 20 years, including working as a manager for the past 12 years.

I have stuttered all my life, going to therapy most of my childhood.  I have participated in several therapy programs as an adult, including a two-week intensive course and one-on-one sessions.

I have been involved with the NSA (National Stuttering Association) for the past 3 years, and look forward to becoming more involved in this organization, as well as the global stuttering community.

“Having a stutter can be difficult.”

“Having a stutter can be awkward.”

“Having a stutter can bring out the worst in you.”

Although all of these statements can be true at any given time for a PWS (Person Who Stutters) like myself, stuttering can also bring out the best in you and teach you resilience.  Like anything in life, it’s how you react to the storms and “gifts” you are given; you can make diamonds out of the dust or let it turn into a muddy mess.

I have stuttered all my life.  I went through speech therapy throughout most of my childhood, ending it around the age of sixteen.  I was always told by my speech therapist I would stop stuttering around the age of twenty.  That age came and went, and here I am at 41 years of age still stuttering strong.  I had experiences as a child that I’ve heard are typical of PWS: the laughing, the shame and embarrassment in the classroom, the constant anxiety around having to talk in class and the constant torment over what the next day in school would bring. I think the word “trauma” best describes my time in school.  I can’t remember much of my childhood, I feel because I’ve tried to block it out from the frequent negative experiences I had. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in any NSA (National Stuttering Association) or FRIENDS (The National Association of Young People Who Stutter), most of all because I didn’t know about these organizations growing up.

I have now been involved with the NSA for three years, attending a regional conference in Tempe, AZ a couple years back.  I also participate in Stutter Social, a weekly Google Hangout for people who stutter.  I am part of the local NSA chapter where I live in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Being involved in these pro-stuttering activities have taught me, among other things, that it’s ok to stutter.  I don’t have to be fluent.  I’m not letting everyone down when I stutter.  When I stutter, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  It means I have a stutter, and talking can be more difficult for me; I simply communicate a little bit differently.

Stuttering has given me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and my capabilities.  I have learned I can be very resilient.  I have gone through the storm and seen the other side.  I will go through other trials in life, whether it’s due to stuttering or any other road bump that may cause self-reflection, doubt, and anxiety.  When I have a rough stuttering moment, I can step back and regroup, knowing the severity of stuttering doesn’t need to define me, or  my success.  It is simply a part of what I do, another notch in my repertoire; I am also a Christian, husband, father, friend, neighbor, and at work I am a manager.

I have had many stuttering moments in my life that have led to negative self-talk.  There have been times when I have had extended blocks on words that have made it difficult to communicate.  There have been times when I haven’t been able to get through a word and have simply given up. There have been times when I have cried myself to sleep at night, recounting the day’s conversations and how much I thought I messed everything up.  When I would have rough days like this, I would often lurch into a downward spiral; not only did I fail in my speech for the day, but I failed my wife, my three girls, and I thought I failed in my role as provider for my family.  I have learned over the years that there will be times when I fail; it’s how I respond to these setbacks that help define me, not the failures themselves.  I have learned I have a heightened ability to bounce back, to move on from situations that may have caused others to shrink back. I have learned I have many talents: I am intelligent, I have a strong work ethic, I can learn new tasks and procedures quickly, and I am a good leader, to name a few.  None of these skills are hindered or downplayed when I stutter.

Over the years my stuttering has varied; in college my stuttering briefly improved, then I went into a rough patch and have been riding the highs and lows ever since.  As stated previously I have experimented with various speech techniques; some of them I now incorporate naturally in my speech through constant practice, others I find just not to be helpful.  I have recently been maintaining a Mindfulness practice; a meditation technique where you train yourself to be fully aware of your body sensations and surroundings, but to simply acknowledge these feelings and emotions and respond without judgement.

One of the most common ways to practice Mindfulness Meditation is to monitor your breathing and attempt to calmly block out the constant barrage of thoughts your mind is trying to get you to focus on.  I have found this practice particularly helpful, in part because I have realized a lot of my stuttering is swayed by my emotions and thoughts at any given time.  I have been prone to entertaining negative thoughts, mostly involving my stuttering; for example, thinking about what possible ways the person I am speaking with is judging me because of my stuttering, or getting too involved in my own speaking pattern and anticipating stuttering words that may be coming up and how to get past them.  Maintaining a Mindfulness practice helps to move towards preventing these thoughts from taking center stage, and attending to the moment and what you are trying to accomplish.  Like any therapy this is not a perfect solution, and takes continuous practice and willingness to move on despite some setbacks.  I would like to emphasize my main motivation for continuing Mindfulness Meditation is not necessarily to increase fluency, but to gain a better control of my emotions and reduce my negative thinking.  I can say without a doubt the latter has improved significantly, while the former probably hasn’t changed drastically; but I can say I am speaking more freely and without as much anticipation, which is plenty to be thankful for.

Stuttering has in the past brought out the worst in me, but I feel the days of wallowing in self-pity are over.  I have learned how much stuttering has made me a better person, husband, dad, and manager.  I have much more empathy now for other people and their own struggles.  I have learned in this life it’s not about me, it’s about what I can do to help improve the lives of others around me, and help be an example to them of overcoming obstacles.

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Comments

Stuttering Teaches Resilience (Ian Mahler) — 69 Comments

  1. Hey Ian, so nice to see you on here and thank you for your wonderful contribution. I too think people who stutter are very resilient- we deal with challenging speech situations every day and live to face them again the next day. Resilience is an asset. How do you think we can get pws around the world to believe that?

    • Hi Pam, thanks so much for your comments, I appreciate it. I think that we as PWS can help spread the message of resilience as an asset by continuing to be examples of successful people who stutter. Success not defined by the status of our jobs or the amount of money we make, but success defined by showing others that it’s ok to stutter and it doesn’t have to bring us down or make us feel bad when we have rough stuttering days. It isn’t our fault that we stutter, it’s just another part of who we are. Being resilient and moving on after a difficult stuttering moment or period of time helps remind us there’s much more to life than achieving a certain level of fluency, and more important and productive topics to spend our limited time thinking about.

      • Ahhhhhh a topic I am passionate about — stuttering and resilience!

        My favourite parts: “When I stutter, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  It means I have a stutter, and talking can be more difficult for me; I simply communicate a little bit differently.”

        and

        “I have learned in this life it’s not about me, it’s about what I can do to help improve the lives of others around me, and help be an example to them of overcoming obstacles.”

        and now your reply to Pam where you define success as how we show others that stuttering is ok and doesn’t have to bring us down. All this is truly one of the paths to happiness.

        Great post, Ian!

        • Hi Daniele,

          Thanks so much for your comments on my submission, I appreciate it. I am a subscriber to your Stuttering is Cool podcast and an avid user of your Stutter Social hangouts. These tools have been very helpful in my continued journey to acceptance of my stuttering. Thanks for all you do in the Stuttering Community! It means a lot that we share similar takes on stuttering.

  2. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for a wonderful paper! As an SLP, I would like to punch that SLP in the face who told you would stop stuttering when you turned 20–and, I am not a violent person! I have done a lot of work in developing resilience in children who stutter. It is the key factor in their development into adulthood. I loved reading your perspective. I plan to use your paper in my TWST meeting this week. It will be perfect.

    I hope to meet you at an NSA or Friends meeting soon!
    Rita-
    PS I was born and raised at the base of those Wasatch mountains! Say hello to SLC for me!!

    • Hi Rita, thanks for your wonderful comments! I am so glad to hear you plan on using my paper in your TWST meeting. It is heart warming to know that kids and teens who stutter can benefit from my experiences, an opportunity I didn’t have growing up. Thanks for all you do in the stuttering community!

  3. Thank you so much for your contribution! I’m an SLP grad student at Idaho State University, just North of you. Your paper touched on so many themes that we have been learning this semester in my fluency class. My professor, Dr. Hudock, organizes a fluency camp every summer that promotes mindfulness and self-acceptance. You put into words perfectly how vital those two elements are for a PWS. I admire you!

    • Thanks for your feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to read my paper and I’m glad you took some benefit from it. You probably know my friend Shane, I believe he attended a seminar with Dan Hudock last summer. Nice to meet you!

  4. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings and practices about your life experiences with stuttering. I am a student working on my Masters in order to become an SLP. Reading your story was very motivating and emotional for me. It has helped me to understand the trials and tribulations you have been through as well as the positive and strong mind set that one needs in order to make it through this crazy world. Your strength and perseverance are admirable.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment! I’m glad I was able to broaden your understanding of what a PWS goes through.Best wishes and good luck in your studies!

  5. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for opening up and sharing about your own life experiences with stuttering. I am currently in graduate school working on earning my Master’s degree in order to become a speech-language pathologist. It is always so motivating and inspiring to read about a PWS who now views their stuttering as an asset, and not a setback. Thank you for talking about the trials you’ve been through and the techniques you’ve learned to implement into your daily life. What would you say to someone who doesn’t stutter but hopes to one day work with people who do, in terms of how to best support a PWS?

    • Hi Abigail, thanks for your feedback and question! I would say a good way to work with a PWS as a non-stutterer would be to acknowledge every PWS is different, in all aspects.
      Some PWS want to learn specific techniques and use them as a tool to achieve fluency, others perhaps are more geared towards focusing on acceptance and all that it entails. Others may want something completely different. I’ve learned we are all unique, come from all backgrounds and life experiences, and each have deeply personal views on how we perceive and relate to our stuttering.
      As you know stuttering is much more than just the physical act of difficulty speaking, and can vary based on a large number of factors.
      I feel empathy and patience would be key traits for an SLP to possess.
      Hope this helps, good luck in your studies!

  6. Hi Ian,

    I truly enjoyed reading your paper! It is wonderful to see that you are capitalizing on an aspect of your life that once caused you anguish. To be resilient and find the beauty in something when it may not be so apparent at first is something we can all strive to do.

    I wanted to ask, do you think if you had organizations, associations, and social media when you were younger that connected you to other people who stutter, do you think that would have changed your outlook on stuttering much earlier in life?

    • Hi Nicolette,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. I appreciate your feedback!

      I do strongly feel that if I had access as a child to organizations and groups of others who stuttered it would be have been monumental for altering my perspective towards my stuttering.

      I do not recall much of my childhood, only bits and pieces. I am confident that a major reason for that is the continuous trauma that I went through as a child on a daily basis. Much of that trauma came from a constant fear of what was to come; whether it was during school, at home at night anticipating the next school day, or any social or group situations.

      I know that if I had the opportunity to socialize with other kids who stuttered like myself, I could see that there was light at the end of the tunnel, that it was okay and still worthwhile to live a life with a stutter, and to know, as most of us have all heard, that “we are not alone.”

      Growing up with a stutter, a lot of the day was spent in sheer terror. Being able to meet and swap stories with other kids who stuttered would have helped to humanize what I was going through, bringing to light the idea that stuttering was a part of me, but that it didn’t have to define who I was. It would have helped me put a friendly face to stuttering, the face of one of the many PWS I know and am friends with today. I think of these friends often when I’m going through a difficult speaking situation, because I know they have gone through it as well.

  7. Hi Ian,

    You mentioned not having the opportunity to participate in any programs like NSA or FRIENDS growing up. What advice would you give to a PWS who may be apprehensive to join a local chapter, especially if the individual had negative experiences in speech therapy.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hi Addie,

      Thanks for reading my paper, I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to answering your question.

      My response to a PWS who is apprehensive about joining a local NSA or FRIENDS chapter, would be to ask them if they feel they would be better off by doing nothing about their stuttering.

      As I stated in my paper I had negative experiences with speech therapy in childhood. I felt I was making progress in my later years in college, as I was becoming more fluent and more relaxed and confident in my speech. But that was short-lived; when I experienced a period of stress, my stutter became more pronounced again and it went downhill from there.

      Being around others who were going through similar experiences like myself would have helped to decrease my stress level tremendously, as I wouldn’t have felt as isolated as I did, or as helpless as I did.

      In my opinion the NSA and FRIENDS groups do not exist to promote fluency, rather to spread awareness of stuttering and improve the outlook of a PWS to help them get to a point where they can view stuttering as simply a part of who they are, not the controlling feature of their life.

      Regardless of their experiences in therapy, they can still come to a group session feeling free to share whatever experiences they may have, as well as get the opportunity to listen to other PWS share their experiences from a different perspective.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, I really enjoyed reading about your perspective on stuttering. I am pursuing my master’s degree in speech-language pathology and I thought this paper really helped me to understand other viewpoints on stuttering. I liked when you mentioned that stuttering doesn’t make you a failure and that you just communicate a little bit differently. It seems as though many people who stutter experience the negative self-talk that you mentioned, and I think it would help so many people to adapt the kind of mindset you have through Mindfulness Meditation. I am interested in using that technique with future clients. Thanks again for your contribution!

    • Hi Emily, thanks for taking the time to read my paper, I appreciate it. Mindfulness has really helped the negative self-talk and anticipation of blocks, as well as helping to go through difficult situations a little smoother. Although these stuttering “iceberg” characteristics have lessened, they’re all still there and at times more pronounced than I’d like. Resilience has helped me get through the difficult times; no matter what happens I know I can pick myself up and use my skills and talents to continue letting my light shine. Good luck on your masters!

  9. Hello Ian!
    I’m a graduate student studying Speech Language Pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (Knoxville) andI wanted to thank you for sharing your inspiring perspective on stuttering and the way you live your resilient life. I also think it’s amazing how you incorporate mindfulness techniques into your language production. Mindfulness is also something that I try to use in my every day life. The studies I have read on mindfulness show that is has a very positive impact on the brain and it’s function, and of course, language is a function of the brain! It’s so interesting to see how mindfulness can apply to such a broad spectrum of areas.
    Good luck on your mindfulness journey!
    Logan Suder

    • Hi Logan, thanks so much for reading my paper. I practice mindfulness daily, with designated 10 min sitting periods twice a day; but I try to incorporate it as much as possible into every situation. I have found it has helped a great deal with my patience, as I don’t have any (as my wife reminds me daily). Funny how when I stutter I expect people to wait but I can’t wait for a task or project to get done. I also use mindfulness in attempting to improve my focus and concentration; for example when someone is talking I’m doing my best to picture what they’re saying, rather than how I should respond or what they’re thinking of me or my stutter. Good luck on your masters!

  10. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for sharing your story and emotions about stuttering. As a graduate student studying to become an SLP this was very insightful and helpful in beginning to understand what it is like to be a Person Who Stutters. If you could go back and talk to the SLPs that worked with you as a child, what advice would give them that you think may have helped you when you were growing up to have a more positive experience as a PWS?

    -Marie

    • Hi Marie, thanks for taking the time to read my paper. I would have told my SLP to not emphasize fluency as the barometer of success, that the point of therapy was not that one day I would become fluent or grow out of my stutter. I would tell him the point of therapy would be to become more confident and comfortable with my stutter, and work on being brave enough to willingly put myself in difficult situations and stutter openly. Good luck in your studies!

  11. Hi Ian,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, thank you so much for sharing! It is so neat to read about how your stutter has made you so resilient and that you have learned so much about yourself. I also enjoyed reading about the meditation technique you are currently using. You mentioned that you have used different speech techniques and that you do incorporate them in your speech. As an SLP graduate student I am curious to know which speech techniques you find to be the most helpful?

    Thank you,
    Carly

    • Hi Carly, thanks for reading my submission. One of the most helpful techniques I use is taking a full breath before each utterance; this is the goal each time but it is one of my biggest opportunities when speaking. I do find myself often running out of breath in difficult speaking situations, taking too shallow a breath. Mindfulness has helped me become more aware of my breathing issues; in the past in difficult speaking situations my sole focus would be on breaking down each word and how best to say it. I still find myself doing this, but I’m also much more aware of my breathing and working to improve on regulating it while speaking.

      I also monitor my rate at times when I feel I’m losing control, but I try to just do it enough to get back to a good baseline. I’m unable to maintain any technique for extended periods, a fact I’ve accepted and have continued to adapt to by using other tools which aren’t as difficult cognitively, like mindfulness.

  12. Thank you for your contribution. I particularly enjoyed reading your integration of mindfulness meditation practices. Almost every Friday night attend East Bay Meditation Center to help my meditation practice.

    Kindly,
    Michael

    • Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to read my post. Thank you for all you do in the stuttering community. Your support and comments mean a great deal to me.

  13. I loved this paper! I am a speech-language pathology graduate student. This semester I am taking a fluency class which focuses on stuttering. I have learned that negative emotions are commonly displayed by people who stutter. It was interesting to read how you felt during your childhood years. I loved learning that as you grew older you developed methods to suppress the negative thoughts. Meditation treatment seems like a terrific way to reduce negative self-talk. I also appreciated how you described stuttering as a characteristic that helps people achieve resilience. Emphasizing that stuttering can help a person gain positive characteristics rather than limit a person is important to help diminish negative self-talk. Thank you for writing such an informative paper regarding stuttering!

    • Thanks for reading my submission, I appreciate it. I’m continuing to progress but not being as concerned with what people think has helped a great deal with being able to focus more on what I want to say, not how I’m going to say it. Mindfulness has helped me to narrow my thought process to stay present and get the message across. There’s plenty of room to improve, but I feel more empowered now to get myself through a difficult speaking situation without giving in as much to fear.

  14. Hello Ian!

    Thank you for discussing your experiences throughout your life! I’m currently in graduate school for speech-language pathology, and am learning about fluency. I loved your discussion about importance of mindfulness as an individual. This summer I took a counseling class and one of the components was learning about mindfulness. Every class we would begin with meditation and focus on our breathing. I’ve found that it’s actually pretty difficult to center your energy on your breathing, and simply acknowledge the thoughts and “send” them away. I specifically appreciate that you said, “I would like to emphasize my main motivation for continuing Mindfulness Meditation is not necessarily to increase fluency, but to gain a better control of my emotions and reduce my negative thinking,”. I think that’s an especially important aspect of mindfulness, because I think a lot of the times our emotions and negative thoughts get in the way of communication. I find myself struggling to push away all of the overwhelming thoughts from the day, whether it’s everything I haven’t completed or how tired I am, etc. Do you have any tips for practicing mindfulness?


    In addition to your discussion on mindfulness, I really appreciated your comments on resilience. We recently had an SLP speak to our Fluency Class and she spoke about resilience and making every situation a “stutterable” situation. She discussed the importance being able to stutter in every situation. She discussed that sometimes, she would get so worked up over certain situations she would speak fluently, but after it was over she’d be extremely disfluent for some time. What’s your take on this belief? Do you think that it’s important to make every situation “stutterable”? Thanks again for your perspective!

    • Hi Kylie,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post, I appreciate it.

      My daily mindfulness routine typically consists of two ten minute sitting periods of breathing focus, as well as other periods throughout the day of concerted efforts on mindfulness; for example I spend 20 minutes every morning before work making my lunch, and use that time as well to focus on my breathing. Making a lunch doesn’t take much thought, and it’s a good opportunity in the morning when typically the anxiety of the day’s events can sink in, to work on relaxation techniques. I also try to incorporate mindfulness into as many tasks as possible throughout the day, especially when I feel I’m losing patience or getting frustrated. I have found that impatience and frustration are factors that can increase my stuttering and bring on a loss of control. Mindfulness has helped lessen these negative emotions and remind me they really are ” all in my head”, that I can make a choice to not let my emotions control me. I am to simply acknowledge them and move on. Of course this is easier said then done.

      I agree with the SLP’s comments on the difficulties in trying to maintain fluency. It takes a lot of energy and focused emotion to maintain stutter-free speech. Often for me, it is counter-productive and leads to either more stuttering or leads to secondaries in order to avoid a stutter. I personally would rather stutter than have a secondary; I view stuttering as a natural thing I do, secondaries exacerbate the issue and can bring on negative emotions as well.

      I also agree we should make every situation “stutterable.” I think we all get caught up in trying to come off as fluent in certain situations. Real progress is made when we can catch ourselves in these situations, beat back the need to be perfect and let our natural imperfections play out, in this case stuttering freely and openly.

      Good luck on your masters!

  15. Hi Ian

    Thanks for your superb paper. I am thrilled that many SLPs and SLP students are connecting with your philosophies. Those same philosophies have helped me, too. Your paper is changing the world, and is, I am quite certain, helping towards A World that Understands Stuttering. Thanks a lot.

    Hanan

    • Hi Hanan,

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. It means a lot that well-respected PWS like yourself are reading my submission and feel it’s making an impact. Hopefully I’ll see you soon again on Stutter Social!

  16. Hi Ian!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story of resilience. It is inspiring to read how you have turned your past sorrow into strength. Two of my classmates and I read your paper and saw many parallels to what we have been learning in our Stuttering Evaluation and Treatment class at the University of South Carolina. We have studied the importance of instilling confidence in our clients who stutter and encouraging them to be open and authentic with others about their stutter. What I am realizing more and more is that it is tough to give that advice to a client if I am not living that way myself. It is motivating for me to read how you have made your stutter, something so many view as a weakness, into an asset. This encourages me to live more authentically, embrace what makes me uniquely me, and have the confidence that the struggles of life are actually building character and strength. Stuttering has clearly given you the skills to deal with many of the struggles that life inevitably brings. This is an insightful perspective from which many people, not just people who stutter, can benefit. My classmates and I hope to spread the idea of resilience to our current and future clients, hopefully living our own authentic, resilient lives while we do it.

    On a more clinical note, we are also very interested in the Mindfulness Meditation you wrote about. Where can we find more information about this technique? And do you think it would be appropriate/useful to use in speech therapy?

    Thank you for your perspective,
    Sarah Williamson, Elizabeth Winn, and Maggie Wright

    • Hello,

      Thanks for reading my submission, and your thorough analysis and questions. I’m glad you were able to see my perspective on stuttering and how it’s led you to challenge yourself to be more authentic as well. I have found that people react to my stutter similar to how I react; i.e. if I’m anxious and embarrassed about my stutter, then so will the listener. If I openly stutter and say what I want to say, speaking with less tension and anticipation, the listener will respond in a similar manner.

      I agree with your take on life’s struggles, and how they can definitely make you stronger, depending on your response. If you give up or react as a victim, it will be more difficult to overcome your obstacles. If you take what is happening around you as independent of your character and not related at all to who you are as a person, you can adapt and improve your reaction to your circumstances. It can help you to become more resilient.

      Besides resilience, a Mindfulness Meditation practice has helped immensely to improve my ability to cope with stuttering and lessen my anxiety. It has also helped to focus my mind on more helpful thoughts, and lessen the negative ideas coming in; i.e. what the listener is thinking, anticipating upcoming blocks, etc. I received most of my training in Mindfulness by reading the book “Mindfulness and Stuttering” by Ellen-Marie Silverman*.

      I think any technique in therapy that can help lessen anxiety would be helpful in speech therapy. As a child I would go home after therapy and practice reading sentences with my Mom. Somehow taking 20 minutes a day practicing techniques was supposed to carry over in all the other real-life situations, where I would be so nervous and fearful I wouldn’t know what to say, let alone work on saying it with easy onset and slow speech.

      Mindfulness has been in the news more and more*, with schools also using it in their classrooms to work on improving students’ behavior and lowering anxiety.

      Good luck in your studies!

      *Mindfulness & Stuttering: Using Eastern Strategies to Speak with Greater Ease.
      Ellen-Marie Silverman, 2011

      *The Mindful Classroom. Time.com,September 22, 2016

  17. Hi Ian,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I found your paper to be very personal and thoughtful. I am an SLP graduate student and I’m currently in a fluency disorders course. We talk a lot about the emotional toll that stuttering often takes on people who stutter. It’s so great that you are now able to see how stuttering has actually helped you become stronger and more resilient. I think if this insight would be very inspiring for young people who stutter, too.

    I was wondering, what type of therapy did your childhood SLP use with you? Did he/she try to eliminate your stuttered speech altogether? Was there any focus on your feelings and attitudes about stuttering? If not, do you think you would have benefitted from therapy that addressed your feelings and attitudes at a younger age?

    Thank you,
    Alyssa Coan

    • Hi Alyssa,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my submission. I appreciate your thoughtful response and comments.

      My childhood SLP mainly focused on using slow speech and some fluency-shaping techniques, such as easy onset. There was some conversation about feelings, but it was usually towards the end of the session and not the main focus. I feel it was harmful to tell me by the age of 20 I wouldn’t stutter anymore.

      Yes I feel more talk of attitudes and feelings would have helped immensely, perhaps if I was encouraged more I could share that I dreaded going to school and talking on the phone. We could have talked about ways to cope with the fear through acceptance and desensitization, among other things.

      Good luck in your studies!

  18. Hi Ian,

    I enjoyed your paper and appreciate how stuttering has made you a better person. It’s beautiful that your challenges have become excellences for you. Your statement, “I have learned over the years that there will be times when I fail; it’s how I respond to these setbacks that help define me, not the failures themselves” was very powerful. What advice would you give to someone who is having a difficult time coping with their stuttering and has persistent negative thoughts?

    • Hi,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      For those having questions about coping with stuttering and the negativity, I would first let them know they’re not alone. I would let them know about the NSA and FRIENDS, and help them find a local chapter. Engaging with other PWS in a group setting can at first be fearful, but over time can also be very therapeutic and comforting to know that others are going through the same thing.

      Some helpful therapy approaches for me have been working on acceptance, doing desensitization exercises, stuttering on purpose (some call it pseudostuttering), and mindfulness. But of course everyone is different. Patience and having resilience can be very beneficial through this journey.

      Thanks!

  19. Hi Ian,
    Thank you for sharing your story! Like you said, stuttering can bring out the best and teach resilience, OR turn life into a muddy mess (if you allow it). As a future SLP, what can I do for the clients coming to therapy who are not naturally developing or showing resilience, but rather letting stuttering take over their lives and get them down?

    I love that mindfulness is increasing its presence throughout the SLP world. One of my professors from undergrad researches mindfulness meditation pertaining to attention and aphasia, and I am happy to see this as part of the world of stuttering as well.

    Juliana

    • Hi,

      Thanks for reading my submission.

      My first comment would be to address if the client is not “naturally developing.” What is the goal of therapy? To be fluent? To work on reducing negative thinking and anxiety? To be more comfortable and confident in stuttering openly?

      Everyone progresses differently, depending on their situation and what they’re going through, not to mention having a good support system. An understanding and patient therapist can go a long way in helping lead to progress, whatever that may be.

      Finding out what matters most to the PWS and helping to get them to achieve a certain confidence level and acceptance of their stuttering, regardless of fluency,can be a good starting point.

      Good luck in your studies!

  20. Ian:

    I loved reading your post; thank you for sharing your experience with us as a PWS. It’s truly amazing how you were able to build resiliency in yourself as a result of all of the trauma that you experienced growing up. I’m sure that your family has learned a lot from you about resiliency and overcoming personal battles. If you could go back to the most difficult points of your life and give your younger-self advice, what would you say?

    • Hi Laureen,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post, I appreciate it.

      First let me say wow, what a great question! Pondering the possibilities and benefits of what that conversation would be like with my younger self can lead to deep reflection on the changes I’ve made since then, as well as the ups and downs along the way.

      I would let him know to not get down during the difficult times, and to reach out to other PWS through FRIENDS and the NSA. Having a support group as a child and young adult would have been huge in giving me some reassurance there was light at the end of the tunnel, that I had the ability to cope with my stuttering and succeed in spite of it. That millions of others were going through the same thing and I could see it first-hand, not just reading it on one of the posters in my therapist’s office.

      I would suggest focusing on the positive aspects of stuttering, that it’s made me more empathetic, resilient, and given me the tools to cope with other difficulties in life, such as helping my wife through her myriad of medical issues.

      I would suggest not spending as much time on the word-for-word fluency, but rather take a step back and work on the cognitive side and breathing, among other things.

      Thanks!

  21. Hi Ian,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! I am currently in graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist and I am taking a class that focuses on voice and fluency. Your story encompasses a lot of what we have been learning in class.

    I have a few questions for you:
    1. How does your family feel about stuttering? What is their view on stuttering?
    2. Did you find the two-week intensive therapy course helpful? Did you see improvements?
    3. Why do you think your stuttering briefly improved in college?
    4. Could you briefly list specific speech and breathing techniques that you use?

    Thank you for your time!

    -Lindsey Lail

    • Hi Lindsey,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission.

      I have an open relationship with my mom and dad about stuttering, in fact my mom stutters as well, but she does not stutter as much as she did when she was younger. I talked to my mom about stuttering when I was a younger kid, but I feel as the years progressed and I went into high school and college I did not share my fears and concerns with her as much. I still feel open to talk to her now about stuttering if I find it necessary, but mostly I talk to my wife about it and my other fellow PWS on Stutter Social.

      I have one older brother, who I do not have the best relationship with. In fact I feel our rocky relationship was part of the reason that my stuttering progressed into adulthood. He would at times bully me about my stuttering, and we never really talked that much as kids. Currently we only talk maybe once a year, if that, and text each other on birthdays.

      I did see improvement after the two-week intensive course, but it only lasted for a few weeks before I went back into old habits. I did pick up some techniques during the course that I still use at times today, such as breaking up my speech into individual syllables to help slow down my rate. I don’t do it very much, but it is helpful to focus on the syllables during difficult situations.

      I feel my stuttering briefly improved in college due to a change in demeanor and increase in confidence. As I continued on in life, got a job, married and had kids, the stress continued to increase to the point where there was a period when every single word seemed to be a struggle. It was at this time that I took the two-week intensive course.

      Besides breaking up my syllables to help slow my rate, at times I use prolongation and easy onset as well. Having a mindfulness practice has really helped me become more aware of my breathing. Ensuring as much as possible I take a full breath and try to pause to breathe between utterances has helped, too.

      One of the other things that has helped is trying to not pay as much attention to micromanaging every word I say, trying to accept the fact that speech should be spontaneous and should not require me to think of every word in my head before I say it. When I speak, I try as much as possible to think of the idea of what I want to say, as opposed to the specific word-for-word message. This has helped a little with reducing the anticipation factor of upcoming blocks.

      Good luck on your masters!

  22. Hi Ian,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I am currently a graduate student studying speech-language pathology at Appalachian State University. Your struggle and triumph with stuttering was truly inspiring to read about. I wish more people could find the inner-strength and resilience that you did.

    As someone who did not have the most positive experience with speech therapy, what might have been your course of action if one of your children had developed a stutter (what would be most important, how would you go about helping them, etc.)?

    Thank you!
    Marissa

    • Hi Marissa,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission.

      If I had a child who stuttered, I would not really draw much attention to it, especially when they were very young. If the stutter progressed or became worse over time, I would ensure they knew they could still do anything anyone else could do and they were just as capable, if not more so, to do whatever they wanted in life.

      I would also monitor their environment: concerning their family, social and school upbringing. I would ensure they had healthy relationships with myself and my wife, their siblings, friends, classmates, and teachers. Of course I could not monitor all this all the time,and I definitely would not want to be overbearing or intrusive. I would want them to feel free to express who they are. But I would want to know that they would be raised in an environment that would encourage them to be courageous and confident, being able to stutter openly with minimal fear and hesitation.

      As far as treatment goes, I would only consider this if the stutter became more severe. I suppose I would first try to suggest some techniques to them myself, and be honest and open about my own experiences. I would let them know being a PWS can be a challenge, but it can also be rewarding; besides being able to participate in groups such FRIENDS and the NSA, you develop stronger feelings of empathy and inner strength. By making a decision to accept stuttering and advertise your stutter to the world, you are also proving to yourself that you can overcome virtually any obstacle.

      Good luck in your studies!

  23. Ian,
    What a truly inspiring post. I genuinely enjoyed reading through this. I thought it was interesting that your SLP told you that you would stop stuttering by age 20. As an SLP masters student currently taking a fluency course, we are taught to never make assurances like that to a client who stutters. I wonder if it’s a sign of the times? I also thought that you shed light (whether you realized it or not) on a good point; exposing CWS (children who stutter) to groups and organizations such as NSA. I think that this would be incredibly beneficial. In addition, I wanted to point out that I love how you reframed your thinking on stuttering and took those feelings of failure and turned them into success!

    Keep on keeping on,
    Blaire Mertz

    • Hi Blaire,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission. I really appreciate your insight and supportive comments.

      I do feel strongly that if I had the opportunity as a kid to participate in FRIENDS or the NSA, it would have been truly life-changing. I did actually know someone else in school who stuttered, but we didn’t really talk about it a lot. I think if anything we kept our distance from each other because we didn’t know how to relate, or talk about what we were going through.

      These days I try to go on Stutter Social every week, and that has definitely helped me to be more open about my stuttering in general.

      Thanks!

  24. Hi Ian,

    Wow what a great story you have to share. I am second year graduate student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth taking an advanced fluency course and it is so interesting to hear someone’s personal story on how stuttering has affected them. I was wondering if you have any family history of stuttering? Also did/do your children stutter?

    Thank you!
    Jacqui Miller

    • Hi Jacqui,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my submission.

      Yes my mom stutters, she was pretty severe growing up but has become more fluent overtime. She still stutters but it is more in the form of short pauses where if you didn’t know she stutters, you wouldn’t notice.

      None of my kids stutter, and I thank God for that. Although I am confident they could get past it, I would not wish my kids or anyone else to go through what I went through as a kid. If my kids were to stutter, I feel getting them involved with FRIENDS and the NSA would have gone a long way to prevent the constant fear, embarrassment and isolation I felt as a child.

      I have definitely gotten past most of the negative experiences of my youth, but I have accepted they will always be a part of me. They have led me to have more empathy in general, and to try and make light of any difficult situation, whether it’s related to stuttering or not.

      Good luck with your studies!

  25. Ian,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story! As a current graduate student in speech and language pathology, reading your paper sparked so much emotion and passion towards this field. Your resilience is admirable and I aspire to encourage/teach that to my future clients. After reading your paper, I now have a new favorite quote: “Like anything in life, it’s how you react to the storms and “gifts” you are given; you can make diamonds out of the dust or let it turn into a muddy mess.”

    Thank you again,
    Katie

    • Hi Katie,

      Thanks for reading my submission.

      I’m so glad that you can take some of my words and use it to help your future clients!

      Being resilient and looking at the positive side of stuttering can definitely help young PWS, although I’m sure it will involve a lot of patience and guidance on your part.

      Good luck in your studies!

  26. Ian,
    I really appreciate you sharing your feelings to help others relate or understand. I love you have found something that helps you! I wanted to ask a question; As you were climbing up the ranks and becoming a manager, how did your stutter effect your mindset towards the responsibilities of that position?

    Thanks,
    Kate

    • Hi Kate,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission.

      I have definitely gone through trials as a manager with my stuttering. It can be difficult holding a leadership role as a PWS and giving someone direction. You are sharing your vulnerability with stuttering to your insubordinates, while at the same time asking them to respect your position and perform the tasks assigned to them.

      I have found that being vulnerable with my employees concerning stuttering is made easier if I can be vulnerable in other areas with them; for example admitting when I made a mistake, letting them know I don’t know everything by asking their advice or suggestions on something, and making difficult decions that are in my department’s best interests.

      I also reference stuttering in my work email signature. Under my name it says
      ” A person who stutters ”
      # LetMeFinish

      This communicates my desire to let me finish speaking, and advertises to everyone that I’m ok with being a PWS.

      Thanks!

  27. Hi Ian,
    Thank you so much for talking about your experiences with stuttering. I enjoyed reading the article, and I realized that the information resonates with my experiences.Currently, I am speech-language pathology student at University of Minnesota, Duluth in an Advanced Fluency Disorders class. I have a question for you, please. What is the most important thing that future Speech-Language Pathologists should consider when they work with stutters? Thanks

    • Hi Mohammed,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission.

      I feel an SLP should take time to determine what the client wants to achieve from therapy. From improved fluency, acceptance, positive self-talk, lowering anxiety, and desensitization to name a few, it’s important to know what the client is looking to get out of therapy.

      Raising their comfort level with their stuttering can go a long way to improve in all these areas. In my view, any therapy that leads to the PWS being more comfortable and open about their stuttering is a success.

      Good luck in your studies!

  28. Ian,

    WOW, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences with us! I love the positivity and hope that flows from your writing! I am currently a graduate student studying to be a speech-language pathologist and just started working with a young man who stutters. I want, more than anything, for him to continue in life with your same mind-set, that his stutter is simply an obstacle that can make him a better, stronger person, that can provide him with more empathy for other people and their personal struggles.
      You are right in saying that this life is not about us. but more about what we can do to improve the lives of those around us. All we can hope is to be examples and supports for those in need and I feel your experiences have helped you to fulfill this purpose in the lives of many people!!! (Including mine). I hope my experiences can do the same for me.

    Also, I love When you said: “I don’t have to be fluent.  I’m not letting everyone down when I stutter.  When I stutter, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure.  It means I have a stutter, and talking can be more difficult for me; I simply communicate a little bit differently.” I hope it’s okay to quote you on this, because it is a powerful statement. I want all of my future clients to know, regardless of their communication difficulties, that simply because they communicate a little bit different does not mean that they are worth any less or failing in anyway.

    Thanks again for sharing, you are making the world a better place!!

    • Hi Brooke,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my submission.

      I’m glad I was able to help give you some more ideas on how to work with your client. It is very heart-warming to know I can play a role in showing this young man he can accomplish anything he desires, and that his stutter doesn’t have to hold him back.

      It took me a long time to achieve significant growth in how I approach my stuttering. Being able to participate in the NSA and Stutter Social have shown me that I’m not alone, and that it’s ok to stutter because there are millions of others out there just like me.

      Good luck in your studies!

  29. Hi Ian! I really enjoyed reading about your journey and how you identified the perspectives and practices (i.e. mindfulness, identifying that you are resilient) that help you to address not only life as a PWS, but as a human living the human experience.

    I am a graduate student writing a thesis exploring the concept/importance of acceptance in those who stutter. While my research pertains more so to how SLPs might address the concept of acceptance with their clients, I love to ask about everyone’s perspective on such an often complicated concept. What does acceptance mean to you, both in terms of your journey as a PWS and in life as a whole?

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Hi, thanks so much for reading my submission.

      I appreciate you asking what acceptance means to me in life as a whole, in addition to just simply stuttering. My wife has a myriad of medical issues that have led me to really self-examine what life is about and what the important things are. The decision was made a long time ago to accept what is going on in my life as an opportunity to improve and adapt, and to count my blessings. This of course pertains to both stuttering and the other issues going on with my wife.

      Acceptance in all things is a lifelong pursuit. I find it best not to try to anticipate what is going to happen and worry about it, but to give everything to God; again in both life and stuttering.

      I have daily tasks I do to help me in this process: prayer, a mindfulness practice, reading the Bible out loud, and singing church songs out loud in the car on the way to work. These are all simple things I can do to help improve my relationship with God and help with my speech.

      Good luck in your journey!

  30. Hi Ian,
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey! Your resilience and outlook on life is inspiring. I love that you view your experiences as opportunities. This paper holds some great advice for everyone, not just those who stutter. I am very interested in the Mindfulness Meditation as well, so I have a few questions for you.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to introduce Mindfulness strategies to younger children?
    Are there any other Mindfulness techniques you could share?
    Do you feel that Mindfulness Meditation has also had an impact in decreasing the other stressors you mentioned in comments?
    Thank you so much again for sharing,
    Chelsea

    • Hi Chelsea,

      Thanks so much for reading my submission and taking the time to comment.

      Mindfulness for kids has been introduced in the classroom over the last few years. The students take time throughout the day to sit quietly and focus on their breathing. The technique has been introduced to help improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and well being of young people.

      The mindfulness techniques I use are taking time throughout the day to sit quietly and focus on my breathing. I try to do this in two 10 minute periods, in the morning and afternoon.

      However I also try to incorporate it into my regular tasks as well. I revert to my breathing when I feel any negativity coming on. It has truly helped with the other stressors I am dealing with. It has gone a long way to improve my patience and help work through frustrating moments. Mindfulness helps remind me that I don’t need to give in to my situation, that I can navigate through it successfully just like any other task.

      Thanks!

  31. Thank you so much for your strong and hopeful message! I am speech-language pathology graduate student and currently taking a fluency disorders course. We have learned about the importance of telling clients fluency is not the main goal or objective; perfection is not our end goal. We want to help individuals who stutter manage their speech, but ultimately to feel like themselves, comfortable in their own skin. I appreciate you discussing your story of resilience, knowing you can make it through the obstacles without giving up. I think your paper will bring others an outlet of support and a message of hope.

    Rebeccah

    • Hi Rebeccah,

      Thanks so much for reading my submission and taking the time to comment.

      It is good to hear that SLP training involves other factors to help PWS besides fluency. I do feel that being comfortable in your own skin should be one of the more important, if not the most important, goals of therapy.

      Good luck in your studies!

  32. Ian,

    To say I am impressed with your positivity is an understatement- you are truly inspiring! At the start of your post you made the following comment, “you can make diamonds out of the dust or let it turn into a muddy mess.” I love this. Your viewpoint can apply to so many different trials we all face throughout life. I am sure it was not easy to get to the place where you viewed your stuttering as motivation, but I admire your strength to do so. Thank you so much for sharing your insight!

    Best,
    Taylor

    • Hi Taylor,

      Thanks so much for reading my submission and taking the time to comment.

      I’m glad you were able to benefit from my story of how I deal with my stuttering. I do feel that my approach to stuttering has also helped me manage the other trials in my life. Using prayer and mindfulness techniques can help overcome a great deal of obstacles.

      Thanks!

  33. Love your paper, as I can relate to well. Stuttering, teaching, StutterSocial, feeling the fear and doing it anyway, etc. I’m sure you’re a fantastic, fun and inspirational teacher, THANKS to your stutter!

    Keep talking!

    Anita S. Blom, Sweden

    • Hi Anita,

      Thanks so much for your insight and comments on my submission. I would like to thank you for all the hard work you have put into ISAD and all you do for the International Stuttering Community!

      Thanks!