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 — 121 Comments

  1. I loved reading about your life. and all the things you stand for. I was wondering if stuttering was a shock to you since you started at the age of 9. or did you have triggers or signs of it before and maybe you just didn’t pay them any attention.

    • Thanks for your comment. As I didn’t know what it was I was doing, and nobody talked about it, I don’t know if there were any signs before that. I do know that, at the age of 9, we moved from the big city to a rural area with a very specific dialect. I tried very hard to learn it, but than the stuttering, and the bullying, got a grip on me. I guess however, that it was already in my genes and that my struggle to speak in a new way triggered the actual onset.

      Happy ISAD and keep talking.

      Anita

      http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  2. Anita,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I knew as soon as I read the title of your paper that I needed and wanted to hear what you had to say. Your attitude and pride is extremely admirable and your perspective needs to be heard- it could help so many people! Not even those with a stutter or a communication disorder, but every single person. Do you remember when you first started feeling more confident about your stutter and stopped believing (or at least started questioning) the negative comments made by people? How did this change ignite? I can only imagine how empowered and liberated you felt. Again, thank you for using your voice. I am glad you DIDN’T leave this world. You’re a superhero!

    -Lexi

    • Wow, thanks for you beautiful comment. Made my day, and it’s only morning here. 🙂

      When I was young, I wanted to be mute, because I thought people would understand, respect and accept muteness, while stuttering was considered wrong. So I tried to be mute and even tried to silence my voice once and for all because of the compact bullying and because both family, teachers, boys and possible employers told me I was a hopeless case (I was called fish, because I opened my mouth without being able to speak, wasn’t allowed to come to one teacher’s class, was forced to do homework check in front of the class being the only one who had to, I was told not to study as i wouldn’t get anywhere anyway, was told noone would love me, etc).

      The change was… people. In my youth I was “wrong”. What I did was “wrong”. I should be cured, and if I didn’t try hard enough and became fluent, it was my fault I still stuttered. And being told this, for many, many years, by parents, teachers, students, and career advisors, you start to believe they are right and become smaller, untill you want to dissapear.

      But around the same time I tried to end it all, I met other people. People who believed in me. F ex my boss, who turned my summerjob into a steady one. I got a boyfriend who say me standing alone and wanted to get to know me, and he saw beyond my stutter. And, at the age of 27, the stuttering community. They told me I was ok, I was not alone, and that what I say is worth repeating. So I started to talk. About me, about stuttering, to family, friends, teachers, students, politicians, and to world congress attendees. (Once we start talking, we won’t shut up. 🙂 )

      I realized that people accepted and respected me if I accepted and respected me. Refocussing from myself to other people and see we’re all different and all have flaws, made me realize we all have fears, flaws, insecurities, but also strengths, characters, and personalities. So I learned public speaking techniques, I learned to feel ok the way I am, and to take place in society. And was backed up by my stuttering friends from all over the world. Also getting older and no longer give a hoot has been very helpful. 🙂 So now I try to pass it forward to the next generation. Because we’re good enough. We just don’t know it yet. 😉

      Happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

      PS. You might also like my keynote speech http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  3. Hi Anita,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hate the mindset of staying silent because having a stutter is abnormal. I hope to be a speech therapist one day and to know that there was a therapist who said it was your fault that her treatment wasn’t working both baffles and saddens me. Many of my professors stress how as therapists we aren’t meant to fix anyone, but help them gain the confidence to speak. How do you try and show people the benefits of stuttering pride, especially if they’re so convinced that their stuttering is abnormal and something they should be ashamed of?

    • Thanks Katie for your reply. You sure have wise professors! 🙂

      I used to visit schools. In class I tell my story from how I became sad and quiet, to me travelling the world BECAUSE I stutter. From the ISAD where I get presents, to the children camps where we pet sharks (all true 🙂 ) . And I can see the CWS litterally straighten its back. I ask the class, and the teacher, if there’s something they are good at, and hands are up directly. I tell them I play the saxophone. Wow. Than I ask them if there’s something they are not so good at. After some hesitation hands are up. Cleaning my room. Helping my mom. And I am less good at speaking fast without stumbling on my words. But isn’t that great to hear we all are good at something and all are less good at something, as that means we can help each other? And are perfect people boring? 😉 It always ends with me giving the CWS a gift and children raising hands saying “I also want to stutter”, giving me hugs and asking me for an autograph. So, from being the child who stutters, with lots of open questions, the class now knows what stuttering is, what they can do to help, what it feels to stutter (and I always try to get the CWS to tell the class him/herself), and the CWS is the cool kid and also has received the tools to now explain it to others.

      I’m also in the media a lot, because I thought I was alone for so many years, and I don’t want that to happen to other children. And I talk to teachers who think stuttering is not a problem. And to politicians who still put “fluent speech” as a demand for a higher grade. And to the EU parliament to get the ISAD official. And to SLPs who go by the book and not see the person behind it. And to researchers who see us as a syllible count. And at stuttering congresses all over the world. But also to the people in my village, when politicians wanted to close down the music school, and I spoke about music being my voice. And to custom officers who ask me where I’m going. And I wear my funny Franky Banky buttons every day (see stutteringiscool.com). And was in a photo shoot where PWS were photographed in a stuttering block, and my (and 9 others) frozen body and face are now in full size at an exhibition. And replying to comments here, to make people understand that what we do is freakin’ amazing, as we do hard and scary things, every day, and still do it!

      I’m simply out there. Telling my story. Raising awareness to help children who stutter, as hopefully the next generation will have a better understanding. And to make people listen, you need to talk. And that’s what the ISAD is for. 🙂

      Happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

      PS. Do check out my keynote speech for the world congress http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  4. I love the positivity that you have. It is so encouraging for those who have a stutter, especially children who may have to grow up with it. I would like to ask, how do you continue to have courage and positivity? My brother used to get so frustrated with himself that he would sometimes refuse to finish his thought if his stuttering became especially bad.

    • Yes, you’re right, it is frustrating to stutter. Both for me, as I litterally get a migrain and even hickups when I stutter a lot, but also because of people’s reactions. That’s why it’s important to disassemble the specific hurdles. I learned relaxation techniques to make be breath lower in my bowel, go to QiGong and have a massage when I’m too tense. I learned Mindfulness and NLP to deal with my emotions. I learned to talk about my stutter and stand up for myself to deal with people’s opinions. And I pay it forward. I’ve been doing children and youth camps for over 20 years and to see how my positivity is contagious, makes me happy beyond belief!

      Yes, I have my moments. When people interrupt, finish my sentence, stop listening and walk away or end the phone call. When people laugh at my stutter. When I stutter so much I can’t say one fluent word, while I want to tell something. Stuttering is frustrating. But… I can talk. I can breath. I did study, although my teachers told me not to. I travelled the world thanks to my stutter. I met the greatest people. I’m married with children. I became a (stuttering) teacher and was headhunted for another highly outgoing job. I was asked to give speeches for national day. And yet, I stutter. 🙂

      So by taking these things apart, that stuttering and people’s reactions are tough, but that life is absolutely amazing, helped me to stay positive and proud. Proud that I survived, proud that I speak up no matter what, proud that I’m good at so many things just like all other people, and that I’m human with things I’m not so happy about just like all other people.

      I don’t know how old your brother is, but help him to put things into perspective. Help him to find out what particular things he wants help with and help him find those. Help him to get in touch with others, as meeting people who GET it, is the best support EVER. Help him to see that stuttering is something he does, but that stuttering is not who he is, so help him to see the great guy he is and the great things he accomplishes. And tell him he deserves a gold medal, just like all the other warriors at the paralympics, who need to fight harder but who get there anyway. 🙂

      You’re an amazing sister. <3

      Happy ISAD and keep (him) talking

      Anita

  5. Hi Anita,

    This is a lovely and thought-provoking essay. Success for people who stutter should not end with achieving any level of fluency, and I think your essay is demonstrative of the fact that achieving fluency will not necessarily equate a future life that will have successes outside of communication. These are points that I’m not sure would strike the average person who does not stutter. Your positive attitude and your own successes highlight these points with warmth and fervor, and I’m wondering what struggles with having a stutter, whether as an adult or child, has led you to this outlook! I am glad to have read this and hope you see this before the conference ends.

    Thanks,
    Kate

    • Thanks Kate, for your kind words and your understanding.

      Fluency is no garantee for success and stuttering is not doomed to a life in misery. It’s how you deal with it. And aren’t perfect people boring?? Isn’t it great to meet people who are better at things, so that you can learn, but who also are not as good at things, so that you can teach? Insights like these helped me to accept me as I am, to really see the things I’m good at, and accept the things I’m not as good at. And to not let them define me. Instead, they make me human. My differences make me equal.

      I’ve had struggles I’m not even addressing here, but getting help from people who get it, and who were there for me, and those who saw the person behind the stutter, is why I am alive today. And the reason I’ve grown into the person I am, now paying it forward to the next generation. They helped me to find myself, to step out of my comfort zone and do things I’d never think were possible, and to let go of my heavy luggage from the past. That’s why I’m so passionate to make others find the stuttering community, and to find strength simply by others giving them a true mirror and the backup when things are rough. And paying oit forward and see others bloom, is the greatest reward. 🙂

      Happy ISAD and keep (them) talking

      Anita

      PS. You might like my latest keynote speech as well http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  6. Hi Anita, I am a Speech Language student at The University of Akron. Your story has given me a completely new perspective on stuttering. This is not something that needs to be seen as needing a “Cure.” Stuttering is not a disease and does not change how intelligent you are. I especially loved your comment, “But is fluency a promise to have a happy, successful life?” So many people look down on other’s who stutter as if they are living a perfect life. In reality they could be extremely unhappy and wishing for a whole new life. Meanwhile, someone who stutters could be so content with their life and love the person they are. Stuttering should be more accepted, and parents especially should be teaching their child that it is okay. I think many people judge it because they know nothing about it or have never been around it. I have only met a handful of people in my life who stutter so I was never really educated on it. I just thought, “well that sucks.” It was not until I had a professor who stutters to show me just how normal of a thing it is and how it does not mean your quality of life is automatically less. Thank you for your story and changing my perspective even more.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments. Yes, stuttering does suck, especially when you can’t get a word out (I was called fish because my mouth would open but nothing came out), I get a migraine and even hickups when I stutter a lot, and I hate it when people cut me off, fill in my words, or treat me as if I were stupid or nervous.

      But I learned to seperate my stutter from myself. I’m proud of who I am, what I do and my journey to get where I am today. Despite my stutter, but even thanks to my stutter. It has put up hurdles, but I managed to kick them down. I still have scars, but use them to educate. Some people might not like me, but that’s because of me, and not my stutter, as I learned people are far too busy with themselves to get stuck on my stutter the same way I was. After noticing, they move on. So why can’t I? I also have loads of flaws that other people might find “not normal”, and exactly that is what makes me normal, as we all have flaws. And who wants to be with a perfect know-it-all? 🙂

      I’m not better than anyone else, or worse. And my stutter doesn’t make me not-normal, or normal. It just is. So let’s It’s something I happen to do, not who I am. What if all flowers were grey? And why do we all search for that odd stamp that’s worth a million? And all fashion starts with one person creating something out of the ordinary. Let’s stop judging and start learning. I once said in a keynote speech “Let’s make stuttering sexy” with sexy being something people discover and say “Hey, so you stutter, tell me more”. 😉 But people won’t know until we raise our voices and create the butterfly effect.

      So happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

      PS. I’d love to give a presentation to SLP students as in my keynote speech for the ISA world congress. http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  7. Thank you for sharing your story! What you went through and how people around you told you to be ashamed of your stutter is heartbreaking. We should be lifting people up and showing them their worth, not tearing them down. You made many fascinating points while discussing the stigma around stuttering. One that stood out the most was, “but is fluency a promise to have a happy, successful life?” To me, this was very powerful. Fluency is not something that promises happiness but our society unconsciously assumes it as such. Reading about how many people with stutters are told to hide it by even loved ones around them really hurt. It reminded me of a book I read about a girl who was deaf and all her loved ones tried everything to get her to talk normally so that she could be accepted in society. My professor told us that as Speech-Language Pathologists, we don’t fix people. He told us that we are there to guide and support them. Your story reminded me of that, and both have truly impacted me. Thank you again for your amazing life story!

    Renee

    • Thanks so much for your insightful comments.

      I’m not better than anyone else, nor worse. And my stutter doesn’t make me not-normal, or normal. It just is. It’s something I happen to do, not who I am. What if all flowers were grey? And why do we all search for that odd stamp that’s worth a million? And all fashion starts with one person creating something out of the ordinary. Let’s stop judging and start learning. I once said in a keynote speech “Let’s make stuttering sexy” with sexy being something people discover and say “Hey, so you stutter, tell me more”. 😉 But people won’t know until we raise our voices and create the butterfly effect.

      Your professor is wise and I addressed just that in my keynote speech for the ISA world congress. http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/ Do have a listen, as you might find it worth your time. If I can address students, face to face, or through the internet, let me know. 🙂

      Happy ISAD and keep them talking

      Anita

  8. Thank you so much for your writing! I’ve had a stutter since I was little and often struggle with speaking with confidence because of it. You’re story was very inspirational and it was so thoughtful! I was just wondering how you stopped letting your stutter effect your confidence when speaking? As I said that’s something that I still struggle with and often effects me when I’m talking to new people or talking in general. Thank you so much again for your story!!

    • Thanks for your great question!

      I learned to deattach my stutter from who I am.

      Stuttering sometimes sucks, especially when I can’t get a word out (I was called fish because my mouth would open but nothing came out), I get a migraine and even hiccups when I stutter a lot, and I hate it when people cut me off, laugh, fill in my words, or treat me as if I were stupid or nervous. But… I can talk. I can breath. I did study, although my teachers told me not to. I travelled the world thanks to my stutter. I met the greatest people. I’m married with children. I became a (stuttering) teacher and was headhunted for another highly outgoing job. I was asked to give speeches for national day. And yet, I stutter. 🙂

      And I have something to say. F ex at a parent meeting when my daughter was bullied at school. When they wanted to close down the music school and I addressed the politicians after a protest march. When I said my wedding vows. When I spoke to the EU parliament. When I read bedtime stories. When I tell people how much I care. When I want to get to know a person and when I want people to get to know me. People already know I stutter, so who am I actually trying to hide it for?

      I love the phrase “what I say is worth repeating”, as it shows that, just because I stutter, doesn’t mean what I say should not be heard. But also choose your battles. In a room with loud people, I know stuttering is not helpful, so you might like to dance or try to get people outside (one of the stupid reasons I started to smoke… luckily I stopped as well). Just make sure when you want to talk, to do so, with stuttering and all.

      I also learned public speaking skills. Speaking Circles, body language, public speaking techniques and even mental exercises to get rid of my fear of speaking. The only problem now is that I talk too much. 😉

      happy ISAD and keep talking!

      Anita

      http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

  9. Thanks to all who commented and asked questions. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of reactions! I’d love to talk more about this very important subject, so please contact me offline to discuss more. You might also be interested to check out my keynote for the latest World Congress, as that too has much food for thought, especially for clinicians and students.
    http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/

    Hope to see you here again next year! 🙂

    And remember, keep (them) talking. 😉

    Anita (aka Scatsis)