Age of Shame to Courage

Hello! I am a SLP student at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, United States. After reading Mike Wilson’s “From Shame to Courage,” I was curious about other PWS’ experiences regarding the age of onset/offset of their stuttering anxiety. Thank you for taking the time to help a student!

  • At what age/grade/school level did your stuttering become a problem to you (as opposed to when your parents/teachers noticed it)?
  • What advice would you give to your younger self during that pivotal time?
  • At what age, if ever, did you start have your “bounce back”?
  • What do you wish your teachers had done to help you in school in regards to fluency?

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Age of Shame to Courage — 7 Comments

  1. Hi, thank you for such wonderful insights and for the good questions. I too have read Mike’s paper and my own journey of shame to courage is similar.

    I began to stutter at age 5, as I was told by my mother. But I do not remember the actual stuttering. I remember the reaction to stuttering from others, which was negative and caused me to internalize, even as a child of 5 years old, that how I was speaking was bad, and therefore I was bad. I didn’t know how to not stutter, except when I didn’t talk, I didn’t stutter, so that’s what I did. I hardly ever talked, because I was ashamed of my “defect” and was afraid of how negatively people would react. After all, my own father and my first teacher yelled at me to stop talking like I did, as if I had some control over that, as if it was a choice I could make.

    Those early years of avoidance and fear of stuttering led to a lifetime of covert behavior. I didn’t try to stop hiding my stuttering until 35 years later, when I had a dramatic pivot event happen in my life, and internally I just couldn’t bear the burden of being an imposter, a prisoner of my own doing. That is where courage first peeked it’s head out of the covert closet.

    Advice I would have given myself at the young age I chose to practice avoidance: feel the fear and do it anyway. (By the way, that’s a great book to read if you haven’t read it yet.) I would have advised child Pam to feel the pain, walk right through it, instead of avoiding it, and I would have seen that I came out on the other side of it just fine.

    My “bouncing back” occurred at approximately age 40. That is when I met others who stutter, particularly other women who stutter, and finally felt like I wasn’t the only one who stuttered.

    As for your last question, what could teachers have done to better support me? They could have helped normalize stuttering by addressing it (the elephant in the room) and talking about it like all the other differences kid have and deal with in school. And, if a teacher had made it possible for me to meet another kid who stutters, or brought a successful adult who stuttered in as a guest speaker, those would have made a world of difference.

    Those would be my wishes had I ever found a bottle with a genie.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Pam

  2. Hi! Thank you for your questions.

    – I did not see my stutter as a problem as a child until everyone and everything around me told me it was. I got put in speech therapy and was pulled out of class regularly in middle school, and it became a very shameful thing instead of it being any helpful. I went, not because I wanted to, but because my parents and teachers said I should. I started to get social anxiety when I was 11 or 12, as I became more self-aware and it was clear it had to be a problem.

    – I’d tell her she’s not alone and her voice matters just as much as everyone else’s. That other’s ignorance is not out of spite, but because they don’t know any better.

    – I met others who stuttered when I was about 20, and started to accept my stutter instead of always trying to hide it. That’s a whole process of its own and took a few years.

    – I wish they’d known more about stuttering and helped me talk about it, without labelling it as a “problem” or something we had to keep quiet. It became a bigger deal than it had to be, and it was a heavy weight to carry around for all of those years. I could’ve been taught my voice deserved to be heard like everyone else’s, and it didn’t have to be fluent for it.

    Thanks!

    – Andrea

  3. Hi there,

    Thank you for your awesome questions and participation. I also read Mike’s “ From Shame to Courage” and I agree with Pam that my journey is somewhat similar too. And I resonate with what Pam has shared how years of avoidance would lead to covert stuttering which requires a lifetime recovery.

    I started stuttering maybe where I was 5 or 6 but it didn’t bother me until I was in middle school.

    If I had the chance to talk to my younger self, I would let her know that stuttering is not her fault and it’s OK to stutter.

    I started to face and deal with my stuttering in my early 30s when I came to the U.S from China and met other PWS. Attending the NSA conferences is a paradigm shift for me. It makes me feel that I’m not the only one who is going through this and one can still achieve his/her goals despite the stutter.

    I wish my teachers would get educated on stuttering and other communication disorders and didn’t react to my stuttering negatively and add shame to my way of talking.

    Thank you and hope this helps.

    Jia Bin

  4. Hello, I am happy to help!

    I became worried about my stammer around the age of 13. I believe it was due to the fact that I had entered adolescence and I was increasingly becoming conscious of myself.

    If I had the opportunity to advice young Elias at 13, I would have told him not to stop contributing in class discussions. When I became conscious of my stammer, I took a step back from conversations; I would not answer questions anymore in class. The once very active and vibrant Elias became very quiet in class. I would have advised young Elias to continue leading school assemblies as the school’s prefect. When I became more aware of my stammer, I delegated all my speaking responsibilities to my assistant; he became the poster boy! This really hurt me as I always wanted to be noticed out there. I would have advised young Elias not to live in self-denial but speak openly about his difficulty and never stop talking.

    I started having my “bounce back” at the age of 22 when I had completed the University. I was tired of hiding my stammering with all the negative internalized feelings that accompanied it. It was sucking my energy and I wanted to get over it as quickly as possible. I searched for self-help groups in my country but there was none, now that’s where I was inspired to start the Ghana Stammering Association. With the help of the only SLT in Ghana interested in stammering at the time, my perception about stammering changed and I was charged to be the help for myself and other PWS in Ghana.

    In my case, my teachers did not even get to know I stammered because I was adept at hiding and avoidance. But if I had the opportunity, I would have educated them about stammering and wished that they were more patient and tolerant with children with a stammer.

    Elias.

  5. Thank you for all these interesting questions!
    I will try to answer all of them, as best I can.

    I began stuttering at age 3, when I started putting sentences together for the first time.
    My own memories of stuttering go back to age 4. I remember playing by myself, running up and down up our basement, and blocking as I was talking to myself. I also remember slamming my little palms against the wall, which I discovered helped to release my blocks. Around that time, I often wondered why I found speaking so difficult when most people around me found speaking so easy.
    But I also didn’t think of my difficulty as being really strange. One of my father’s first cousins who I knew well (she was then a teenage girl) also stuttered, so I knew from a very early age that I wasn’t the only one with this difficulty. And knowing that helped me a great deal with self-acceptance.
    My first speech therapy was at age 4. I don’t remember the actual therapy (nor do I remember the therapist), but I do remember a home assignment of often blowing in a glass through a straw. (Probably this was due to a perception that my breathing pattern was affected by my stuttering.)

    It helped that I always knew I wasn’t alone in having a stuttering problem. I mentioned above that I have a cousin who stutters. Also when I entered the first grade I quickly found out that one of my classmates, a girl, also stuttered. We were together in the same elementary school class for six years (at ages 6-12), and we often went to speech therapy together. It very much a source of comfort to me that I wasn’t the only one in the class who stuttered (and it helped me understand that my problem wasn’t a strange one). I’m sure this helped the whole class too, in fully accepting the fact that two of their classmates had the same problem.
    It also helped my self-acceptance that I was among the top students in the class (I had taught myself to read at a very early age), and the other students looked up to me for my intellect – even though I had great difficulty in speaking.

    Of all your questions, the hardest one for me to answer is what advice I would have given to myself in my earliest years of stuttering. But perhaps I as an adult would have told myself something like this, when I was about age 5: “Paul, as you know, speaking is harder for you than it is for most others. But everyone is different, and for everyone in this world, there are some things they do very well, and some things that they don’t do so well. You are really smart – you taught yourself to read, for example – and you are so talented in so many ways. You are even learning how to play piano now! And you’re so excellent in math too. Yes, you have a problem in speaking. But remember that your cousin who is now teaching you piano has the same problem that you have! So it is not a strange problem at all, and you’re not the only one who has it.”

    I had no natural “bouncing back”. My speech worsened throughout my childhood, teenage years, and early adult years. But I did experience many extended periods of fluent speaking (for weeks, and sometimes for months) following fluency therapy programs and fluency refreshers. During these periods, I practiced techniques very intensively every day (an hour or more when alone), and closely monitored all my conversations to make sure I was using my techniques correctly.
    I was enrolled in various fluency therapy programs and practiced fluency techniques on-and-off for about a quarter-century, from my early 20’s to my mid-40’s.
    But all my fluency successes eventually evaporated.
    About 20 years ago (I’m now in my mid-60’s), I decided that I had enough of all this, and stopped trying to transform myself into a fluent speaker. For me, the intensive daily practice and conversational monitoring necessary to maintain fluency were just absolutely draining. It was just too much for me. I decided to simply accept myself as a person who happens to stutter, calmly and peacefully. This made life so much less stressful! For decades, I had falsely presumed that fluency was essential to life happiness. And I finally realized it wasn’t. Life is so much easier for me this way! I no longer have to pretend that I’m someone who I’m not. I recognize that I don’t have the same consistency of fluency that others do – and that’s perfectly all right.

    In thinking back, I have few complaints about my schoolteachers with regard to my stuttering. Nearly all accepted that I had a speech problem, but realized that I had many strengths in other areas. A few teachers were amazed that I could speak fluently in unison with others, and wondered why I could do that and not speak fluently in ordinary speaking. I remember telling the teachers that this was something I could always do (but of course I couldn’t explain why).
    Generally I always gave oral reports when other students gave oral reports, all through public school. Sometimes teachers thoughtfully gave me a choice between written reports and oral reports – but if all the other kids were giving oral reports, I always chose to give oral reports too. Yes, I stuttered severely during those reports, but everyone knew and accepted me as a person who stuttered, so it really didn’t matter.
    I also raised my hand frequently in class, since I frequently knew the answers to the teachers’ questions – and sometimes was the only one who did. Yes, I usually stuttered severely when answering these questions, but it really didn’t matter, to anyone.
    I doubt that my teachers understood much about stuttering, but they knew they had a bright student who had great difficulty speaking, and generally treated me well. And I think they accepted me for who I was, a bright student with a particular disability.

  6. Hi. Thank you for your wonderful questions. So happy to reply.

    I started stuttering quite late, at the age of 9, after we moved from a big city to a small village, with a distinct dialect. I couldn’t speak the dialect and got bullied for that. Than my stutter started. Stuttering wasn’t accepted by my teachers, I was told I shouldn’t study as I wouldn’t go anywhere anyway, was told it was my fault as I should just stop stuttering, was denied to speak in one class, was told I hadn’t done my homework when I couldn’t get the words out, etc. It wasn’t accepted at home either and I was told to get rid of it and keep a low profile on family celebrations. This continued throughout my youth. Please read my paper in this year’s, and previous year’s conferences.

    I would tell my younger self (and have told children and young adults who stutter during 25 years of stutter camps) to love and accept myself no matter what, as I have to live with myself. Trying to be as (I think) others want me to is to loose myself. Stuttering is not my fault, so there should be no shame. And as there is no shame, I shouldn’t have to be forced to be hide or “cure” it. That’s up to me to decide. I’d tell my younger self to make sure what I say is worth repeating. I’d say turn your stutter into your trademark and let people remember you for being a superhero, doing what’s hard, but doing it anyway, every day, all day. That takes guts and determination. And to go for my dreams, no matter what, no matter what others say. As a determined person will get there anyway. And to make sure my personality and knowledge are good enough. Not the best, as who wants to be with someone who’s always the best in everything? If any, to be me best self, without comparing myself to others. if YOU want to work on your speech, find a clinician that fits you, as it takes someone you truts to make therapy work. Be honest and tell her/him what you want help with, as you might have different opinions about that. And if you don’t match, keep looking, as there will be that clinician who is your perfect match with whom you’ll get great results. And don’t let people tell you to go for that quick fix, as if it sounds too good to be true, it is. But most of all, to not feel alone. Find others who stutter. Go to camps and conferences. Chat online and make new friends from all over the world.

    My life changed when I, at the age of 27, found out I was not alone. That made me decide to never be silent anymore and to become the face and voice of a PWS on all levels. I found my voice and used it. On local, national and international level. I spoke to children, teachers, politicians and in all media. And won’t stop. Ever.

    I wish my teachers would have talked to me. Asking me what help I needed to show my knowledge. I wish they would make sure bullying was not accepted. Not in the classroom, not on the court yard. And that knowledge was spread amongst all people at school, from teachers and job advisors, to class mates and their parents. By using the ISAD or have activities on the International Day of the Disabled in Dec 3rd, not just about the deaf, the blind and the wheelchair users, but also including stuttering.

    We’re getting better at stuttering awareness and inclusion, but there’s so much more that can be done. And I hope you’ll help the next generation with that.

    Stay safe and keep educating

    Anita Blom

  7. My stuttering really became a problem at the end of my university course when I realised that I would now have to go out into the big wide world and get a job and live my life. That was a problem for me because I stuttered chronically with strangers, particularly everyone in authority. Lucky for me at that time I found a 3 week intensive stuttering treatment course that changed my life. I have been fighting to keep that fluency all my life as I have still not learned to accept that I am a person who stutters.

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