|About the Authors: My name is Jasper Syswerda. I am a 25-year-old recent graduate from Wageningen University, The Netherlands, where I studied to become a meteorologist. Right now I am looking to get a job in that field. I have been stuttering since I was 12 years old. I enjoy playing the French Horn, playing in an orchestra and reading.
For a long time, I’ve strived to speak fluently. I thought that if only I would speak fluently, my life would be perfect. I would have lots of friends, say anything and everything I wanted and be the most popular person in town.
Does any of this sound familiar?
My guess is that it does. But stop and think about that assertion for a while. In fact, that would imply that our friends who don’t stutter all lead perfect lives. But we know that that is not the case. They too, strive for all kinds of things they don’t have. A degree, a job, a promotion, a husband, a wife, a house. In some respects, reaching for fluency is a lot like reaching for perfection. I will come back to this point later. But first, let me introduce myself.
My name is Jasper Syswerda, I am Dutch, and I graduated recently from university. I stuttered since I was 11 years old. Now I am 25. Since I stutter two questions related to stuttering have been on my mind. Firstly, how can I overcome it, and secondly: why is it the case that I can speak perfectly well in situation A and yet totally lock up in situation B?
The first question is one many people who stutter have asked themselves. How can I stop stuttering? Is there a cure? Sadly, there isn’t one quick fix. There is no red pill we can take that makes the whole thing go away. Possibly someday, an overall cure will be found, but that day hasn’t come yet.
The second question I have asked myself endlessly is: why does fluency fluctuate so much? Why is it so that I can speak perfectly fluent one day and struggle so hard to get a word out the next? This is a question, I feel is not asked often enough. And that, in my opinion, is unfortunate, because asking this particular question leads to all kinds of interesting discoveries, and that has induced me to speak my mind in this ISAD paper today.
For one thing, if we’re able to speak fluently in certain instances, that clarifies that stuttering is not a permanent part of us. It seems, ironically, that the harder we try to not stutter, the worse it gets. If, on the other hand, we’re not particularly thinking of stuttering – if we’re just having a good time and aren’t focused on our speech that much, the words flow more easily.
It dawned on me that for example every time I was ordering something in a restaurant, I would be very focused on saying the words. Breathe well, form my words carefully, speak at the right volume. All the while the waiter would be looking down at me, sometimes a little impatient, and I would be struggling to get my order out. What if, I asked myself one day, I did it in another way? Henry Ford the founder of the Ford Motor Company, has said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So instead of giving my order, and feeling pressured to do it quickly, I asked: “What do you recommend I take?”, or some similar question. Then the waiter responded to me, and we would have a conversation. When I did that, something funny happened. In some sense psychologically, the waiter stopped being a waiter. Instead he became a fellow human being. Someone you can just have a conservation with.
I feel that we people who stutter, have conceived the idea that speaking is a very difficult undertaking. That it takes effort to get words out. That we have to speak as fluently as possible and that we, therefore, have to speak perfectly. Striving for perfection is a very human trait, as I said in the second paragraph. But aiming for perfection in speech seems to, ironically, cause stuttered speech. The only thing we, in contrast to people who do not stutter, have taught ourselves is that speaking asks for an effortful approach. In mildly stressful situations, we try to say every word, because every word in a potential threat. Also, we have established a forward-looking radar, which scans all the words we want to say. That radar puts red flags on potential stutterwords. A lot of the time, those potential stutterwords are the most important ones in our story, the ones we really HAVE to say, in order for our story to make sense.
My point is, that in situations I stutter more, I subconsciously or unconsciously try to speak with more effort. I try harder. But in situations in which I am having fun, I feel less the need to try hard to speak. In those situations, I speak in the same way as people who don’t stutter. In an effortless way, without the need to try hard to get words out. But then, when I am made aware of my stutter again, the need to try to speak kicks in again.
Since I have been made aware of this, speaking has become much more fun. I don’t speak fluently, but that is not my ultimate goal, no more than doing everything perfect all the time is my ultimate goal. While speaking I am focussing on the thoughts I want to convey, and I am focussing on the message I want to get across, and not so much on the words that the thoughts consist of.
I got all these insights from a number of books I have read over the last year, written by amongst others John Harrison, Bob Bodenhamer, Barbara Dahm and Ruth Mead. I also like to thank the Broca Brothers, two Dutch guys who paved the way for me.
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