Unity through Understanding (McKenzie Jemmett)

About the author: McKenzie Jemmett M.S., CCC-SLP is an individual who stutters and currently works as a Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist in Pocatello, Idaho. Her graduate thesis focused on covert aspects of stuttering and how holistic therapy affects these aspects.  Her interests include autism spectrum disorder, sign language and fluency disorders. She is also an active member of the National Stuttering Association and serves as co-chair of her local chapter. This is her second year helping with the International Stuttering Awareness Day.

Recently, I had an opportunity to have a candid conversation with my friends about stuttering and my preference with how they treat me. Many things were discussed but the bottom line was, what I prefer may not be what someone else prefers. We are all individuals who stutter and therein lies the beauty. Individuality. We are all individuals and the impact of stuttering will be different for each of us. This experience with my friends was the birth of a mind blowing revelation… that I had finally come to understand who I was and I wasn’t afraid of it!

To give this revelation some perspective, let me rewind to 3 years ago. At that time, I was a 1st year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology at Idaho State University, just surviving life. More specifically, I would describe myself as a quiet firecracker hiding in the corner. Quiet because I only spoke when spoken to and firecracker because once a spark struck, I would explode on whoever and whatever I was around. The explosion would come out as forming unhealthy relationships marked by improbable attachment requirements, crying over the smallest things, contemplating suicide, and overall not seeing a purpose in life other than ‘getting by’. I did it all. It was in that year that my journey to understanding myself and my individual stuttering began. It was a long and difficult path but worth it (in hindsight) all the hardships along the way. It all began with awareness of the one thing I had ran from my entire life: stuttering.

This awareness felt like an insult to my intelligence. After all I was a college student studying speech language pathology. I should know what stuttering is. I mean, I had been in therapy for it as a child and had to become a master of my own speech so I should know right?  I remember using slow stretching speech and feeling weird doing it but that I was just something I did when I was young… In my mind it had no relevance to what I was doing now. It wasn’t until that first year of graduate school that someone lit a spark and wasn’t afraid of the blow back for me to really see who and what I was. And to be honest, I didn’t like what I saw. I saw a frail weak individual who had been pushed around her whole life and told what to be and how to act. On top of that, I had no idea how to fix the horrific image in front of me.

Few saw awareness mirror but those who did can testify that I was a mess. I describe it as my stuttering zipper had been pulled down and all the pain, suffering and emotion that I had kept inside for 22 years came rushing out. And the best I could do was to try to zip it back up while getting all sorts of things caught in the picture. This prompted me (more like a best friend pushing me) to find a path to change my vision.  And man oh man was it fun to find that path. After a few broken friendships and restless nights, I found my way to resources that could at least help me see the mirror with different eyes and begin that process of understanding what stuttering is to me.

That happened 3 years ago and today where I sit, I have a better understanding of myself and how stuttering has shaped me. My path of change included many different things but the beautiful part about it is that it was my path. My own individual path. I had a million suggestions coming at me but in the end, it was my decision and my road. If I have learned anything about stuttering, it is that we are all individuals and each one of us has our own stutter that can’t be defined by anyone else other than us. That being said, every day I learn something new or understand a different aspect of myself. Just as I am learning every day, so does the world. They learn as we as individuals who stutter express and share that side of us that we might rather keep hidden. And by extension, when we as individuals of planet earth break down the barriers that keep us from sharing our ‘dark’ side, that is when we become united in our understanding of each other as the amazing wonderful complex individuals that we are.

In that conversation with my friends, I did not expect to come off as an equal but in the end, I realized that just as I share myself with them, they share themselves with me. As a group we come closer as we strive to understand each other and our respective stories. So I urge you, keep sharing! Keep learning! Remember the wonderful person you are and share that light with the world! When we share, others share, and that is the birth of a bright new future.

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Unity through Understanding (McKenzie Jemmett) — 39 Comments

  1. Hi McKenzie – what a wonderful contribution to the ISAD conference. You speak the truth through your story. I am in awe of how honest you are in sharing about the “dark moments” you have had. I’m sure many people can relate to this and will be inspired by your journey. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for your kind words! I love how this conference connects people from across the world under one banner 🙂

  2. Hello McKenzie,
    I am so thankful to have seen your post and just want you to know that you are an inspiration to an online ISU grad student! I absolutely adore Pocatello! I am participating in the ISAD conference, but am doing so to learn more about what my grandfather experienced and what others experience every day of their lives. I have just taken our first midterm in fluency, so I am grounding this knowledge by reading about the human aspects of stuttering from actual people who stutter. My grandfather was a person who had moderately severe stuttering and I just never discussed this with him. I just assumed it was his “dialect”and it was his way of speaking. Interestingly, he did not speak English until the age of 8 years, so I think the chances of him being a child who stuttered in German was pretty big! Additionally, we have just finished our pseudo-stuttering papers and in analyzing myself, I am pretty sure I experience blocks consistently. So I am trying to be mindful because of the family ties, and because of the situations in which I have these blocks. I do see a pattern. But this is who I am if in fact this is an aspect of myself. I love that you say it does not define you! Thanks again for sharing and my best to you in your beautiful future.

    • It is amazing how each one of us have a completely different story and our journey to discovery is so unique. Thank you for sharing! Good luck in grad school!

  3. McKenzie, I’m so glad to have ran across your post and admire your honesty when sharing your experiences. Without individuals having the willingness to share insight to their lives we would lack so much perspective not only as students and professionals, but as human beings in general. I’m sure there are many others reading your story and finding ways in which they can relate it to their own lives, and in turn feel inspired to embrace who they are. Thank you for sharing!!

    • Agreed! Sharing starts the conversation and opens the discussion for more learning by all parties. It can be hard at times to have clients open up about their thoughts as well but when they do, it is amazing what happens 🙂

  4. McKenzie,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey on acceptance of your stuttering. It is so helpful to hear an honest perspective from someone who stutters and I appreciate your willingness to share. I understand that acceptance is a personal journey but as a speech-language pathology graduate student, I was wondering if you had any advice or tips on how to help people accept their stutter. I would love to know your opinion on what I could do to assist clients throughout this process.

    Thanks so much,
    Abby Wheeler

    • I think the bottom line is helping them to see and understand that the fact that they stutter is a part of them, not something that defines their worth. Defusing the impact it has on the emotional side is key. Once its not a big scary monster that they hide from, they can (metaphorically) talk with the monster, understand it, and decide how they want to co-habitat. Does that help? I know the conference is almost over but feel free to contact me at mjemmett@tdts.email for more questions/discussion 😉

  5. Hi McKenzie,

    Thank you for such a raw and honest perspective on how stuttering influences your life. Your perseverance is very admirable and serves as a reminder of how people with stuttering can overcome any obstacle they feel may be in front of them. I know you speak about how there are individual preferences of people who stutter, but have you noticed a trend in some common preferences people with stuttering share?

    • Lauren,
      I assume you mean how they want to be treated? I think any action done in respect is never going to go wrong and is a common theme (we all want respect right?). So that means, maintaining eye contact, giving the person time and space to communicate how and what they need to without interrupting and most important, giving validity to their statement or message. Meaning, comment on what they said, make a connection with it and add to their discourse. And lastly, get to know them! Share your common connection (i.e. I participated in a online stuttering awareness conference and I found it XXX… That may prompt them to share and open more communication lines 😉 )

  6. Hi McKenzie,

    I found your post insightful, especially that you describe stuttering as a journey, one that you have started to embrace. For myself, I have a similar struggle with a nervous system problem. I can definitely relate to what you wrote since it has been a journey for me as well to accept myself as I am.

    Thanks for your openness and honesty!

    • Thanks for sharing Erika! It was amazing to see you develop as a student this past summer and really beautiful how we can all relate to some level with our own ‘monster’.

  7. Hello McKenzie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I admire your courage to post such a sensitive and truthful piece. As a PWS and SLP graduate student as well, I find myself relating to much of your story. The path to individuality is long but worth the wait. I was wondering how much of your story is incorporated into therapy sessions? If so, do client’s find it helpful to know you went through the same journey? Thank you for your time!


    • I would say I use this part of my story with clients that need it and are old enough to understand the implications. I have had little kiddos that express frustrations when producing a certain sound and my experience helps me recognize when they are not wanting to work and when they are truly discouraged. Truly depends on the situation. Good question!

  8. Hi McKenzie!
    Thank you for sharing your journey as a PWS. As a graduate SLP student currently enrolled in a fluency course, I really appreciated reading this from a perspective of such a determined SLP and PWS. I had a question regarding your therapeutic experience as a child, were you exposed to both the fluency shaping and stuttering modification theories of therapy? As an SLP and PWS, what do you believe is the most effective method?

    Thank you!

    – Isabel K.

    • The hard answer is different things work for different people. I used mainly fluency shaping as a child and I found it helpful at some times and not in others. What is hard as an SLP is finding the right mixture of ‘tools’ that will help your client. Best practice is to always let your client choose which tool or technique they want to use. Meaning you need to expose them to all of the techniques we are taught and go from there. Different professionals have different opinions about the techniques but as always, your client is the expert on themselves and they can tell you which one they feel is best and most effective for them 😉

  9. McKenzie,

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story! Your honesty and acceptance of stuttering is remarkable! I am a first year graduate student and we have frequently discussed how the impact of stuttering on an individual will be different and unique for each person. I loved how you touched on this. I believe that this mentality can be applied to many aspects of one’s life. Thanks again!

    • Thank you for reading! It really is an individual experience for everyone which means our therapy is different for every client 🙂

  10. Hi McKenzie,

    Thank you for sharing your experience as a PWS.I loved your play on words! Especially when you said, “I describe it as my stuttering zipper had been pulled down and all the pain, suffering and emotion that I had kept inside for 22 years came rushing out.” I thought that was an interesting way to describe your experience and feelings during that time. As a second year SLP graduate student, I am currently enrolled in a fluency course and am learning about PWS. You said that you “stretched your speech” when you were younger, but I was wondering if you use any different techniques today? Do you pseudostutter (stuttering on purpose-I’m sure you know)at all? Do you feel that your experience as a PWS has allowed you to gain better rapport with your PWS clients?

    Thank you again for your candor and for sharing your experience!

    -Makenzie Richards

    • I do use some ‘stretchy’ speech as well as pullouts. I usually don’t pseudostutter mainly because I don’t find it helpful and adds more work on my already busy brain :). I know that my use of techniques has fluctuated over time in frequency of use as well as which ones I use… Our job as therapists is to set up our clients for success by giving them any and all tools available to them. And in regards to gaining rapport, for sure! When I hear words of discouragement, my experiences helps me get in the trenches with them and together we dig our way out.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story. After reading this I understand more of how a person who stutters feels, and what their perspective is. As noted in your article, everyone is different and has different experiences.

  12. Mckenzie,
    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us! You are honestly an inspiration and I feel that your experiences is a great asset to the work you do as an SLP.
    I am currently a graduate student “just surviving life.” I just started working with a teenager who stutters and I am a little nervous.
    After reading your post, I understand a little better, how important opening up to my client will be for his success. It is a very scary thing to be vulnerable and open, to share our “dark side,” but if I have any hope of helping my client be open and vulnerable than I need to be willing to do the same. I agree that when we become united in our understanding as we seek to understand others. If you have any advice for me as I more forward with my client, please feel free to share!
    Thanks again for being open and sharing, that is how unity will come. You is making the world a better place!

    • Brooke,

      Best of luck with your client! It is a scary thing but pays back so much! As far as advice, keep on keeping on ;). Helping your client understand themselves is going to help them so much in regards to therapy and in general their life. Feel free to contact me if you have other questions! mjemmett@tdts.email

  13. Hi Mckenzie,

    I really appreciate your honesty and openness. As a current speech language pathology graduate student who is often “just surviving life” and as someone who has previously struggled with self-acceptance of various life-long medical conditions, this piece really resonated with me. Your emphasis on how the path to self understanding and acceptance is so individualized is something that I really related to, and is something that I believe needs to be kept in mind when working with clients who stutter as a speech language pathologist. There is no “cookie cutter” method to helping people who stutter; everyone is different. This will definitely be something I will keep in mind in the future as I try to support clients in their personal journeys.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Love what you said about the ‘cookie cutter’ method of therapy. Speech therapy is a science but also an art. We use basic concepts but change and adapt as needed for each client. Best of luck in grad school!

  14. Hello Mckenzie!

    I loved reading through this and the fact that you were so vulnerable in your writing allowed me to try to see the experiences you have had through your eyes. Your focus on individuality within stuttering was such an interesting thing to be reminded of. As someone who has had experience discussing more covert aspects of stuttering with a client who stuttered, I find it so interesting that while experiences differ so widely, there is a common thread of vulnerability that should really be explored within therapy. In my experience as a clinician, being vulnerable right along with my client really built a strong and trusting bond and allowed my client to open up even more and allow me to see their “dark side” and all of the pain that had been locked away for so long.

    Thank you for your vulnerability!
    Paige Newland

    • Preach sister! Love it! Being vulnerable really does open up so many things not only in stuttering but other disorder areas as well!

  15. Hello Mckenzie,

    I am currently a second year SLP graduate student at Idaho State University as well, go Bengals! What a powerful paper, thank you for sharing. I found it interesting that you found acceptance and healing through sharing your story and emotions with others. I also admire that you went into the profession to help people such as yourself, who may have had similar experiences. But as you said, everyone’s experience is different and beautiful in it’s own way. I appreciated your writing style and comparisons, it really helped me see your life through your eyes.

    This may be unrelated, but you really do have a powerful impact on those that you meet. As an undergrad, I helped with a Early Registration program and you were in my group. After speaking with you about how you were studying speech pathology, I was inspired to change my major that week. I can’t remember exactly what you said, but I remembered how I felt. I knew that what you were describing and who you were was something I aspired to be like.

    Thank you for your vulnerability and for sharing your thoughts. Your voice is powerful.

    • Our program at ISU regarding fluency focuses on openness and acceptance, I wonder if learning about stuttering in this fashion helped you in this emotional process during graduate school as well?

      • Oh for sure! If anything, it forced me to have a conversation with myself that I didn’t want to have. The hard part was I had to find a safe place and group of people that I could share these thoughts and feelings with. That is the key to any open conversation is setting the stage for a safe conversation.

  16. Hi Mackenzie,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your journey with us! After all you experienced, what advice would you give to individuals who stutter who want to become speech therapists?

    • Never give up. If you want it, show that through your actions and words. Be open with colleges and your clients. You may have some people that don’t accept it but you can do it if you set your mind to it 🙂

  17. McKenzie,

    Thank you for sharing your story! As a first year SLP graduate student, we have talked quite a bit about how stuttering can affect the PWS in infinitely different ways. Much of what we have to do as clinicians is to look at our client as a whole rather than just simply “treating the stuttering”, and I feel like your situation really captured how stuttering can have a domino effect on everything else a a PWS might experience. I also love that you touched on how important it is to share ourselves with one another, not only within PWS but as we all go through life. Your message was very inspiring!


  18. I can so relate to the “zipper” analogy! After meeting other pws at the age of 27 (!), my life completely changed and my zipper went all the way down, causing a mess at first, but than I could give it a space.

    Thanks so much for sharing this amazing journey!Your journey is going to make you a fantastic SLP.

    Keep talking!

    Anita S. Blom, Sweden

    • Thanks Anita! Love that this conference allows us to connect with others and feel that we are not alone 😉