|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.
Anita S. Blom
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