Sure I stutter. What are you good at? – Anita Blom

About the Author: Anita S. Blom, born and raised in the Netherlands, is living in Sweden. She worked as an operation manager for the Workers’ Educational Association. She was chairperson of the local stuttering chapter, board member, international contact and former chairperson of the Swedish stuttering association, vice chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations, and member of the advisory board for the International Stuttering Association. She was a national and international keynote speaker on stuttering and had her own stuttering consultant company. She was also a leader of national and international children and youth camps. She has stuttered since she was 9 and had a troublesome youth, now inspiring people who stutter of all ages, they can make a difference.” Her device is “S-s-sure I s-s-stutter. What are you good at?”

When I was young, stuttering was oh so wrong. I was told it was my fault. I should get rid of it. Hide it. Cure it. People, classmates as well as family members, literally turned their back and walked away. I even had a therapist who told me it was my fault that I wasn’t fluent despite her treatment.

Today, 40+ years later. More and more people understand, or at least try to. More and more therapists are interested to learn more about stuttering and see the whole picture, or at least try to. More and more people who stutter (PWS) are no longer hiding their stutter. And yet…

Parts of society are still seeing stuttering as something abnormal and don’t know how to react. The negative reactions are getting less, but many people still think it should go away, and come with, well-meant, advice. Magazines and newspapers are getting more interested to write about a PWS’s life, but many still focus on fluency being the success story.

Still so many adults who stutter post in the many Facebook groups that their lives are doomed because they stutter. No job, no partner. But is fluency a promise to have a happy, successful life?

Young people who stutter still tell me stories about their parents, teachers, friends, and even therapists, that are so focused on fluency being the only way forward, they hide their stutter, their emotions, their fears and even their victories.

Parents (and other family members) to children who stutter are still devastated that their child stutters and want the stutter to go away. Of course. You want your child to be happy and healthy. But is there no happiness when you stutter? Are fluent people always happy?

I recently heard of the Time-Out therapy, where you get, or give yourself a time-out every time you stutter. The therapy is aimed at adolescents and adults, but the therapy is now also used for children. Now I don’t want to get into details how much this upsets me, and makes me both angry and sad to the bone, as I remember my own childhood, where I was taught that stuttering was an unwanted behaviour and that my stutter caused such strong reactions with other people, that I instead started to hide my stutter. I became mute. Literally. As I thought that muteness would be accepted, but stuttering would not. And even wanted to leave this world…

I was also recently contacted by a representative of another therapy that claims to cure stuttering in five days, and children in ten days. After being active in the stuttering world for 25 years, I know of people who stutter who are completely crushed after not meeting the promises, thinking (and hearing…) it’s their fault they don’t succeed or when stuttering returns.

Last year I was contacted by a student who had an oral test. She asked for one single adjustment: to be judged by her knowledge and not her stutter. She was told she could get practical adjustments, such as more time, less people, etc, but as the rules say “speaking fluently”, they “could not bend the rules”.

So, 40+ years after my childhood trauma of not being accepted as I am, through years of great therapists understanding there is so much more than (forced) fluency, stuttering groups who support each other to expended comfort zones, the ISAD where people from all over the world share experiences and treatments, (award winning) movies, blogs, vlogs, books etc., are we again moving backwards??

Why are there still young people who stutter who are silent, devastated, and ashamed of their stutter? Why are parents to children who stutter still blaming themselves, apologizing to other people both for themselves and their children? Why are we still paying tons of money to get rid of stuttering by going for a quick fix, while deep inside knowing stuttering treatment is a long term process? And for who are we doing that? So that we/our children feel better, or for others to feel better? And will fluency make sure the PWS has the perfect life?

And what are we trying to “cure”? Stuttering or the negative feelings around it? Whose feelings? Are we trying to make people stutter less by telling them they need to stop? Are less stuttered syllables a proof of a successful treatment, or do we stutter less because the stuttering iceberg (where the top is what people see and hear, while the part under the surface is what’s going on inside, including the emotional part) is getting below the surface? Can an iceberg even melt underneath the surface?

Why not trying to get the whole iceberg above the surface and try to make it melt? Or just admire it as it is? Is stuttering so wrong it should not exist, or at least not be heard? (Or, as a teacher once said “I thought stuttering was extinguished”…) What if society would have no problem with stuttering, kids could get the adjustments they need, PWS get the jobs they are qualified for, nothing about us without us, or, as in the International Stuttering Association vision “A world that understands stuttering”, would we still feel the need to “extinguish”, cure and hide stuttering? Would we ourselves instead strive towards a way of talking that simply is less of a struggle?

I know the previous ISAD theme ‘Stuttering Pride’ is for some people very controversial. How can you feel pride over something that’s “not normal”. Well, firstly, let’s make it normal. We can speak. We can breath. We just do it in a different way. And it’s not feeling pride over stuttering, just like not feeling pride over a wearing glasses or a broken leg. It just IS. But we can sure be proud over dealing with it. About making that phone call. Speaking up at a parent meeting. Applying for that job. We’re doing the Special Olympics every day! Now THAT’S something we should be darn proud of!

I meet children coming to camps hiding behind their parents. And at the end of the camp they realize they are superheroes. I meet young people who stutter who don’t want to speak when they come to a youth meeting. After the camp they join (and win) Toastmasters, apply for leadership courses or become the city mayor. I meet adults who, after intensive speech training, where focus is not on fluency but on public speaking, leave their safe job and go for their dream job. Do we want quiet children, who are being told to stop talking when they stutter, or do we want children who play a role in the school theatre, stuttering and all? Do we want young people who stutter who show their fantastic English skills, stuttering and all? Do we want adults who are more eloquent and inspirational speakers than fluent politicians? Do we really think people who stutter grow through have a less stuttering syllable count by adding shame and guilt, or would making them talk help making them grow, as human being? And you know what, maybe that on itself can reduce stuttering.

So to all people who stutter or all ages, family and friends, clinicians, teachers and employees, thank you for making us grow. Through speaking. Because we have a voice.

Keep talking.

Anita S. Blom

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Comments

Sure I stutter. What are you good at? – Anita Blom — 28 Comments

  1. You sure do have a voice.
    A strong and wise one.

    I appreciate the opportunity to hear (and read) your insights, reflections… and challenges.

    I especially loved this line:

    “We’re doing the Special Olympics every day! Now THAT’S something we should be darn proud of!”

    Anita,
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Uri. Yes, I do have a voice and have something to say. We all do. No matter if it’s roaring, whispering, singing, stuttering, or even silent. And I hope we raise our voices together, tenors, altos and children, hand in hand, especially on the ISAD, and make a huge, wonderful choir. 🙂

      Happy ISAD and keep making children talk!

      Warmly, Anita

  2. A lot of people should read this. I love the special olympics part, just like another comment mentioned. We can be so proud of ourselves for every word we say.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Willemijn. Yes, we do something that’s hard, and do that everyday. So we’re even better than the Special Olympics, we’re Super Heroes! 😉 And we shouldn’t just be proud of every word we say. You yourself not only advertise to the people around you by your words, but also by your videos and comics and I cannot express how proud and thankful I am of you, as you’re opening doors, not just for yourself, but for so many others!

      Happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

    • Thank you Katarzyna for your uplifting words. I wish we could all stand up and speak up, wear that seagreen ribbon, and stutter without shame. Just like the King-to-be in the movie The King’s Speech, saying the words that still give me goose bumps: Because we have a voice! 🙂 We can do it. Together.

      Happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

  3. Anita, I loved reading your article and have gained better insight into the emotions and struggles that a PWS has to deal with and learn to handle every day.
    As a future SLP, I would love to better understand how a practicing clinician can help a PWS reveal their whole iceberg and accept who they are? In your opinion, what traits do great therapists have when working with PWS and how can one best develop those? Also, how can one best advocate to the world so that stuttering is better understood in the mainstream?

    • Thanks for your kind comments and sorry for the late respons, but I hope my long respons will make up for that. I’d like therapy to be a cooperation, a dialogue between the therapist and the client. Each and every client is different, and it’s not just about the speech mechanism, but also about the extras, all from tics and tricks to emotional baggage, cultural differences, life situations, etc. So to me a good SLP would be someone who listens just as much as s/he advices. Be creative. Combine therapies. Bring family and friends into the therapy room, so that they can understand and help with exercises. Create a smorgasbord and let the client choose, as the more involvement, the more engagement. And don’t make fluency the only goal, as if the goal is to speak freely and to get the tools to f ex get out of a block, a more fluent speech can be the result, but now without the fear of “failing” and instead feeling pride of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. In my case, the more i talked, the more I left my fear and shame behind, the more I could focus on speaking, I could focus on the speech techniques that fit me (a mix), but also be ok with who I am, stuttering and all. And all that together my fluency increased. I still stutter, but can deal with that, feel proud of being who I am, and use techniques if I want or need to. It’s now my choice. Not the choice (or the demand…) of anyone else.

      For people to understand stuttering, the ISAD is a great way. I wish more schools would use the ISAD, or the International Day for People With Disabilities on 3 Dec, to educate students and teachers, and especially on disabilities that are not so well known, and invite PWS to come and talk. I also wish more pws could meet other pws, and for parents to meet other parents. To realize you’re not alone is magic and can be life changing. And as long as stuttering is something that people think need to be treated, need to go away, being a defect, stuttering will continue to be misunderstood. Instead we should get motivated to talk about stuttering, for stuttering to be seen as something we do and not something we are and that fluency is great, but non-fluency is ok as well. So, let’s make pws of all ages talk for themselves. 🙂

      Happy ISAD and keep (them) talking!

      Anita

      • I enjoyed your paper more than you would have imagined. I am a freshmen at the University of Akron studying to be a SLP. Growing up in a world where negativity has seemed to have taken over, my favorite thing you said was “But is there no happiness when you stutter?” People assume that anyone that has a speech impediment or any type of ailment that it is impossible to find happiness. I was once told “You dictate your happiness,” I can not stress that enough to people. We need more people in this world like you! What a great story.

  4. What an inspiring paper there Anita. I believe very much on self help or meetingsfor people who stutter as they play an important role in my life and that of many other people who stutter. As you said in your paper..’I meet children coming to camps hiding behind their parents. And at the end of the camp they realize they are superheroes. I meet young people who stutter who don’t want to speak when they come to a youth meeting. After the camp they join (and win) Toastmasters, apply for leadership courses or become the city mayor……

    • Hi Joe! So nice to meet you here and thanks for your reply.

      Yes, meeting others who “get it” is so encouraging. Together you can find the friendship and the strength to not only feel ok the way you are, but also to show who you are to others and adjust your life to your character and your skills, instead of how others think we should be. You yourself know the journey pws can make and I’m so happy you are where you are today.

      Happy ISAD and keep talking

      Anita

  5. Anita once again you are so inspiring when ever I hear or read anything you say I am encouraged to keep going .I agree with what you say and totally agree with your idea about people who are fluent may not be happy. .Is this because when they achieve a goal maybe it doesn’t mean as much. I have learnt you can feel pride because every time you stand up and speak or write something it didn’t need to be fluent said it is just the doing of and as you say chipping away at the iceberg.
    Thanks again you always give me new things to think about and aspire too.

    • Thank you dear Phyllis. So many of us chase fluency, as if that would solve all our problems. Well, I might be a pain in the butt if I were fluent, talking people’s heads off. 😉 Would I have my lovely husband, would I have my dreamjob as I have now, would I have a better health if I didn’t stutter? I also blamed a lot on my stutter, while I don’t like all people, so why should all people like me? And do you understand all fluent people? I guess PWS talk less bullsh*t because we stutter. 😉 Let’s instead make sure what we say it worth repeating. 😉

      Happy ISAD and keep talking

      Anita

  6. This piece really spoke to me. It seems like in todays society that anyone considered not “normal” has to change who they are. But why? So the “normal” people feel more comfortable? Like you said, I think that we should normalize being different and embrace who we are as individuals. I don’t like hearing that PWS feel like they should be ashamed or have to hide their stutter. I wished we lived in a society that would instead empower PWS.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story Anita. Everyone has unhappy moments in their life, fluent or not. You give inspiration to kids/young people who may feel like they cannot speak up. Nobody wants to live in silence. Using your voice, you have already helped so many. From your experience, how did you learn to get out of your comfort zone when speaking?
    -Angelena

  8. Thank you for sharing this article of empowerment Anita! This paper is very inspiring to anyone who has a stutter. I think it is very important to bring awareness to the fact that people who stutter are not broken, and are just as important as the rest of the world and have just as much to share.

  9. Thank you for your inspirational story. As a future speech pathologist I found the information of what some speech therapists would do to “stop” stuttering to be horrible. I also really appreciated your analogy to the iceberg. Do you have any advice on the most effective way for children to feel comfortable with their voice, even when they do have a stutter?

    Thank you,
    Kristen

  10. Thank you for sharing! Your article really changed my perspective on people who stutter and what they go through. I never thought about how children probably feel like they need to be “fixed” until I read this. And it is heartbreaking hearing how people put the blame on you for your stutter. What did your treatment look like when you were a child?

    Thanks!
    Erika

  11. Anita, Thank you so much for sharing this. You give valuable insight into changes that need to be made in our society and culture. One way to bring change is through education, and especially the education of children. In your opinion, how could we help other children be more accepting of a child who stutters? And for adults, what would you tell a parent that is set on “fixing” their child’s stutter?

    Thanks!
    Alexa

  12. Anita,
    As an SLP graduate student, I’m learning about stuttering and how to help those who stutter. In our program of study regarding fluency, there is a strong emphasis on the iceberg below the surface, and on the client’s message being more important than the delivery.
    I really appreciate your words, “…strive towards a way of talking that simply is less of a struggle.” This is, I believe, an important goal. As clinicians, we need to always remember how much effort is going into communication for someone who stutters, and how exhausting that must be. I hope to help my clients find their voice and find it in a way that feels comfortable, or as you say, at least less hard.
    Thank you.
    Regards,
    Tabitha Syme

  13. Hello Anita,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I found your paper to be very insightful. I was especially drawn to the following statements in your paper, “We can speak. We can breath. We just do it in a different way.” To me, these statements highlight the importance of a mental shift when thinking and discussing stuttering. The mentality portrayed through this statement speaks to the humanity of the person who stutters, acknowledges a difference, but does not seek to use the difference as a means of diminishing the person’s inherent dignity. Further, this made me think that differences should not be evaluated as good or bad, just different. I think this kind of mentality would be highly beneficial to present when working with clients who stutter regardless of age. As a current SLP graduate student, your post reiterated to me the importance of treating the covert aspects of stuttering and that fluency does not equate to successful therapy.

    Thank you!

    Annika

  14. Hello Anita,

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I know it takes a lot to be such a strong woman that you are and share your hardships with the world. I appreciate your paper and it gave me some great insight that I never knew before, as a person that does not stutter. It makes me sad knowing people would rather have children and adults be silent instead of stutter. This saddens and upsets me. I hope that as a future Speech Language Pathologists, I can help change these negative stereotypes. I have not studied studying very much. I was curious if you don’t mind sharing, you said you developed a stutter at age 9. Is it common to develop a stutter around that age, or do the majority of people develop one when they first begin to talk? Thanks again for sharing. You’re a true inspiration to stand strong to your true self and not what the world wants you to be.

    Thank you,
    Casey

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your story! One thing that really stuck out to me was peoples reaction to stuttering. I am a little ashamed to admit this but when something occurs that I don’t expect it definitely throws me off and is probably very noticeable to this around me. I think in some cases this is why people react to stuttering in a negative way. The more education we give to people, the better and more positive the reactions may become. The part where you finished your statements with “at least try to” also stood out to me. I think the more we educate people the less people have excuses of reacting in negative ways and in turn the very least they can do is try while having resources and opportunities to do much more than that.

  16. Hello Anita,
    I enjoyed reading about your personal experience and how it not only affected you as a little girl, but how you have taken this disorder and turned it into an inspiring story. I am studying to become an SLP and I find it heartbreaking to hear that therapist often see/saw it as a curable disorder. Also making patients feel as if they are needed to be fixed or treated, as I have learned in my SLP classes that we are not there to cure or fix a person, we are there to HELP a person. So, I am grateful to hear your story and be impacted by your experience. It makes me realize how true it when I hear, “Don’t fix them, Help them”.

    I have a few questions if you dint mind answering them: When you developed stuttering at the age of 9 was it a time progressive change or in a sense an over night change? Also, when did you begin to feel comfortable with your stuttering and understanding that it is OKAY to stutter? Was there any major factors that helped you feel more confident and accepting that you stutter? Finally, you mentioned that at one point you went mute, how did you over come that and what made you speak again?
    Once again thank you so much for sharing your story and I can not wait to hear back from you. I am grateful to have read your article and receive a stronger insight about stuttering.

    Thank you,
    Rhiannon

  17. Thank you for writing in. Something that stood out from your post was your reference to the Time-Out therapy in which you get, or give yourself a time-out every time you stutter. Asking an individual to achieve perfect fluency is setting him/herself up for failure. When one “fails” to maintain perfect fluency and breaks the “facade”, the PWS will develop negative emotions/behaviors (i.e., the mutism you mentioned).Your post facilitates the understanding that ineffective and unknowledgeable clinicians can produce negative results behaviorally and psychologically such as shame, inadequacy, frustration or hopelessness.

  18. Anita,
    This article was incredibly well written and I felt like I took a step into your shoes. I felt like I gained a greater and deeper understanding of the thoughts that go through the head of someone who stutters. I do not stutter, but I am a 2nd year SLP graduate student.

    I really appreciated the analogy of melting the iceberg. I believe there are two ways to discuss this: Melting the iceberg from the top down, and melting the iceberg as a whole. Discussing the first interpretation, I believe this is how many people look at their iceberg which then results in covert behaviors. If you melt the iceberg from the top down that doesn’t always mean that the bottom half of the iceberg is really being taken care of.

    As far as the second interpretation goes of melting the whole iceberg, how would you approach that? Have you already approached the point of having a small iceberg? Thank you for taking the time to read my post and answer my questions. I will definitely be referring back to this article because it was incredibly insightful and impactful.

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