How I Started to See Stuttering as a Gift – Sybren Bouwsma

About the Author:

Sybren Bouwsma – 41 years old from the Netherlands. I have been stuttering all my life and I am a board member of the Dutch Stuttering Association Demosthenes and a member of the board of the International Stuttering Association (ISA). I attended and organized several international meetings for (young) people who stutter. I have a background in Public Administration, Ethics and Social Research and graduated as Outdoor Life Coach. I am now working as Nature Coach and Online Coach and facilitate workshops in international projects focussing and building up self-esteem and confidence. See orangeraven.org for more information.

The theme for this year is bouncing back and becoming more resilient. In my life my feeling towards my stuttering has changed from an obstacle and limitation in my personal life to a driving force in my personal development, in my social skills and in my career as a coach and facilitator. In a way stuttering has helped me to really ‘be’ myself and at moments I can see it as a gift. For me what follows is a story of my way to resilience. 

I am quite a happy and positive person, but throughout my life my stuttering has given me a feeling of being different and feeling not good enough. For a big part of my life I have dealt with a low self-esteem. 

Particularly in my youth stuttering and some other conditions have set me apart from other people of my own age. I was often by myself, it was hard to make friends and I also was bullied. Because of my stuttering I had trouble defending myself verbally and it was hard to feel at ease with myself. I really hated the fact that I had a stutter. I had dreams of becoming a social worker but felt I could not realize this dream because with my stuttering I would not be able to do it. 

After growing older and after many speech therapy sessions, I slowly learned to accept myself and started to see that stuttering is just a small (but important) part of me. I also realized that because of my stuttering I actually had developed other qualities: my ability to listen, to be non-judgmental towards others and to have empathy. These important social skills helped me in making contacts as people easily felt at ease with me and I grew in self-confidence.

Even more important is that in my early 20’s I became active in a self-help group with people who stutter and then later I became a member of the board of the National Stuttering Association in the Netherlands. For the first time in my life, I met a lot of other people with a stutter. I felt an immediate connection. With stuttering as sometimes being the only thing in common, I learned to deal with a wide range of people, and this helped me in my communication skills and in my personal development.

Shortly after becoming active in the stuttering association, I also found out there was a lot going on at the international level with people who stutter. I attended a more than week-long European youth meeting with people who stutter and made friends for life. At the global level, I became inspired by the activities at the World Stuttering Conferences in Croatia, Argentina and the Netherlands. Although my stuttering still impeded me in several aspects of my life, I also started to see how it brought me in closer contact with other people and with myself. And that I could better use my stuttering to help  achieve my dreams instead of just hating it. 

My stuttering recently became a driving force in my personal development and in my career. A few years ago I lost my job in social policy research due to a reorganization. Of course I was disappointed about it, but at the same time I felt this was an opportunity. I had a desire to help other people and to work in a natural setting. After some research I found a training in Outdoor Life Coaching which I participated in so I could learn how to become a life coach in nature. But as a life coach and working directly with people I felt my stuttering could be an obstacle. However, I decided to follow my heart, take the plunge and see how I could find my way in that.

After my training in Life Coaching, I came in contact with an organisation in Italy that wanted to organize European youth meetings in nature. With my international contacts in stuttering I realized this would be an ideal setting to organize activities for young people who stutter. With my own youth meetings in mind, I know this would be a great way for young people to connect, to learn from each other’s experiences and culture and to grow in self-esteem.

To date I have organised four European meetings with young people who stutter (unfortunately, the meeting for 2020 was cancelled because of COVID-19) and several others with young people with other disabilities. I also became involved in an international project to write a manual about stuttering for social workers and so from a side path, I am connected again to my earlier dream of social work. Recently, I have decided to focus on public speaking and storytelling, among others by giving  workshops at the World Conference in Iceland last year about ‘Another way to look at bullying’ and ‘The positive side of stuttering.’

Of course there are days that I really would like to speak fluent and to not feel different. But in a growing number of my activities I can see that my stuttering is a gift and that it is the only way I can truly be myself. I really hope that with my activities I also can inspire other people who stutter to start to see their stuttering as a gift. 

 446 total views,  2 views today

Comments

How I Started to See Stuttering as a Gift – Sybren Bouwsma — 32 Comments

  1. I love this quote: “I also realized that because of my stuttering I actually had developed other qualities: my ability to listen, to be non-judgmental towards others and to have empathy”.

    We take for granted everything that stuttering gives us and how different of people we would be because of our disability. The parts about us that people love have been developed as a result of our stutters and that is why I would never trade this for the world.

    • Thank you Kunal! Some of our qualities have indeed been developed in us not despite we stutter, but because our stutter. Of course stuttering does not make life easier usually, but it can be of help in some aspects of your life.

      Sybren

  2. I find it very inspiring that you continued to follow your path and not let your stutter define you. How you learned that your stutter gave you other qualities is amazing!

    • Thank you Baylee! I think it is very important to see your path in life separate from your stutter, and not to think: I cannot do these things I really want to do because I have a stutter.
      The stutter is there, you can’t deny it or put it aside. Stuttering is not always a blessing in life choices, but there are sometimes ways to use it in what you want to realize.

      Sybren

  3. Hi Sybren,

    Thank you so much for your contribution to this year’s conference. I love how you’ve been able to know and illustrate how much your life has changed for the better because of your stuttering.

    I bet you never thought you’d be at this juncture in life where you use the words “stuttering and gift” in the same sentence.

    Have you ever received negative reactions from others when you talk about stuttering being a gift? if there was a magic pill that would suddenly “cure” stuttering, would you take it?

    Pam

    • Hello Pamela,

      Good question! If at a young age (like before my 20s) I would have definately taken the pill to cure my stuttering… life was really hard sometimes and I blamed my stuttering for that.
      That I started to see stuttering as a gift is really something from my adult life, and I really got inspired by other people who stutter who not only just did what they wanted to do but also used their stuttering in a positive way in their life path. Now I feel the same in myself. And sure, no one has to agree with me. I sometimes get reactions like: should you really do that? (you have a stutter…) Sometimes I get a reaction, that could be explained negative, but often says a lot of the feelings of the person who gives this reaction (and this feeling is very genuine, but is the feeling of the other, and is probably not meant really negative). But more often I get the reaction how courageous I am that I ‘just do’ these things, or how inspiring my life choices are for others.

      And really, I don’t see my stuttering always as a gift and very often it still is a burden. But to see it as a gift helps me to put it in a more neutral perspective again, and helps me to make my choices in life.

      Sybren

  4. Thank you so much for sharing you story. It is extremely moving to hear how your confidence grew. I love that you see the best of stuttering and the strengths that can stem from it. What you are doing for others as a life coach and at the workshops at the World Conference has so much power behind it and I am sure it is changing the life of so many people!

  5. Hello Sybren!
    Thank you very much for this story. I was wondering what was the moment in your life that you realized that stuttering is simply apart of you, it does not encompass your entire being? I loved the part of your story where you started to organize meetings for the youth that stutter. Did you attend such meetings when you were younger or are you making these meetings places that you wish you had?

    • Hello Kendalle,

      Thank you for your question!! I guess I gradually started to see stuttering as just a part of me, so it was not a specific life changing moment. But what has really helped were a few times in my life when I lived abroad or travelled for a longer time (I lived for 6 months in Germany when I was 22 and I worked and travelled around Southern America when I was 29), in these moments I learned to trust myself in building up a social network, learned a new language, and actually learned to see myself in a new way just by doing things in a different country where no one knew me before. In this way I realized that stuttering is there, but it is just one part of me.

      And yes, in my youth I attended youth meetings from ELSA. These meetings are also an answer to your first question, because my attending this meetings for the first time in my life I didn’t feel alone with my stuttering. And because we all had the same, the stuttering was not important any more, and had so much fun. For me that was life-changing. Because what it has meant for me, I really want to inspire others to get the same experience!

      But regarding to your last remark about meetings I wish I had: I just became member of the board of the Dutch stuttering association again, and we now also want to organise meetings/camp for teenagers. I wish I would have had that opportunity at that age (because now I had to wait till I was 23 for my first stutter meeting…).

      Sybren

  6. It is inspiring to hear about how you’ve grown and developed as a person in result of your stuttering, and turned your stutter into one of your greatest strengths. Was there an exact moment when you decided that you were going to turn your stutter into one of your strengths and define it as a part of you? Or did this gradually happen over time?

    • Hello Maddy!

      Good questions again! For me it would be about the same answer as I gave to Kendallesteer above. If I look back I see it is a gradual process, but with my longer times abroad and travelling, and my meeting with people who stutter as very important elements. Furthermore I have had stutter therapy for a big part of my life, and the focus slowly moved from more fluent speech, to just accepting myself and self-confidence. And in my training to become a life coach I really had to dive deep into myself, and to confront myself with my deepest beliefs about myself and my deepest fears, that in the end really showed me what my strenghts are….

      Do you also have a stutter? And if so, how do you regard your stutter?

      Sybren

      • I do not have a stutter, however I am learning about it in my Intro to Disorders of Communications class at the University of Akron. I hope to become a speech pathologist one day. Thank you for responding to my question, it is really interesting to learn about the process of stuttering and it is inspiring to hear about other people’s experiences!

  7. Hello Sybren! Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences with us. As an outsider, I am not fully aware on the mental and emotional toll that people who stutter experience, but I loved how much light you shed on the positive things that came from your stutter. Not many would find the positives to be so plentiful, but you brought up amazing points! It allowed you to be more in tune with your listen capabilities, to be non-judgmental, and to have empathy. In a world where there is so much hate and negativity, you found lit in the dark! I thoroughly enjoyed your piece.

    • Thank you Chelsea! Great that you have enjoyed my piece, your words touch me! You can always contact me if you want to learn more about my experiences!

      Sybren

  8. Hi Sybren,
    Thank you for sharing your story and personal experiences! Your article is both inspiring and educational. I am a graduate student studying to become a speech-language pathologist, and it is incredibly helpful to gain more insight into the emotional challenges faced by people who stutter, as well as what kinds of supports have been the most beneficial/helpful. Your experiences and perspectives are so important for us as SLPs to gain more understanding so that when we work with people who stutter, we can know how best to support them. Your passion for helping and connecting with others truly is a gift, and it is wonderful that you have found and shared the positive ways in which stuttering has impacted you. More and more I am learning how incredibly important and helpful it is to have support from and be part of the community of people who stutter, and this is something I will take with me. Thank you again for sharing!

    • Hello Rose,

      Thank you! From my personal experience indeed it has been of major influence to become part of a community of people who stutter. Good luck with your student, and I hope you can inspire a lot of people who stutter to seek contact with other people who stutter 🙂

      Sybren

  9. Hi Sybren! My friend and I are Speech Pathology graduate students and we really enjoyed hearing your story. It sounds like you’ve had some interesting experiences as a person who stutters and you are inspiring young people through your work. We wanted to ask, what advice do you have for children who stutter on managing their stutter and building their self-confidence? Thank you for your time!

    • Hello Aderry,

      I think I would start with the self-confidence part and then probably the managing of the stutter. Think it is very important to be open about your stutter and also to not feel alone with it. And I think also in this case contacts with other children who stutter can help!

      Sybren

  10. Hello Sybren,

    Thank you for sharing your story and experiences. I not only appreciate your courage but your ability to turn stuttering into an international gift. Unfortunately, some may if not most deem stuttering as a burden. However, you were able to turn your stuttering into a gift. This gift has allowed others to share their experiences and network with other who are similar to them. Several opportunities and positive experiences are taking place because of your gift alone.

  11. Hello Sybren,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your story to seeing your stutter as a gift. Currently, I am a graduate student in a speech-language pathology program taking a course about stuttering. The more I learn about the field of SLP and stuttering specifically the more I realize there are skills that people need when working in helping professions that can’t necessarily be taught. In your paper you said, “I also realized that because of my stuttering I actually had developed other qualities: my ability to listen, to be non-judgmental towards others and to have empathy.” I love that you are able to realize these gifts that your stutter has given you, and I hope you continue to use them to help and inspire others with these skills that most people wish they had. In a world that seems to be so much on the go and full of selfishness, these gifts you have are exceedingly valuable. Thank you for being open about your experiences with all of us!

    • Thank you Masobroo for your words! I also hope I can inspire others to listen to others in a non-judgmental way!

      Sybren

  12. Hello Sybren,

    I really enjoyed your quote, “Although my stuttering still impeded me in several aspects of my life, I also started to see how it brought me in closer contact with other people and with myself.”

    It can be very hard to see things that are challenges in our lives as something that is positive as well. I am currently a graduate student in a speech-language pathology program and hearing your story has helped me to remember that sometimes we all need reminders about getting through whatever challenges we are facing. Thank you again for sharing your story with us!

  13. Hello Sybren,
    I thought this message was amazing and so uplifting. Many times individuals only talk about the negative and often neglect to mention that all individuals feel constant negativity toward their stuttering.

    • Yes, I think it is very beneficial to bring this feeling in balance by also looking at the positive possible aspects.

      Sybren

  14. Yes, I think it is very beneficial to bring this feeling in balance by also looking at the positive possible aspects.

    Sybren

  15. Hi Sybren!

    Thank you for sharing your story! I really enjoyed reading your post and the part where you mentioned that “stuttering is just a small (but important) part of me”. That really speaks to who you are and I love that you consider your stutter as part of who you are without letting it define who you are. I think that having that mindset is important because it allows you to acknowledge that it’s there but not to let it prevent you from pursuing your dreams and accomplishing your goals, just as you’ve done. I also liked that you mentioned that you consider your stutter to be a gift and the only way to truly be yourself. I am a speech-language pathology graduate student, and I love to see that you are able to view your stutter in a more positive light. I think a lot of times, it’s difficult for people to think about PWS and wonder why they wouldn’t want to speak more slowly to be more fluent, or practice other techniques to speak more fluently. However, we’ve watched the “When I Stutter” documentary and spoke with PWS and they explained how using the techniques can take away the naturalness of your voice and don’t allow you to be your authentic self. I feel like it would be exhausting to try to avoid your stutter and let your natural voice flow, so I am glad you choose to embrace that and not let it take away from who you are. Lastly, I love the qualities you’ve developed due to your stutter. I think our world would be a much better place if there were more people who had those qualities and used them, so I am glad you are fortunate in that way! I would like to ask, for young adults, how would you encourage them to see their stutter as a gift rather than an obstacle and limitation in their own lives? I think your story is encouraging and goes to show that you can do whatever you put your mind to, you just have to embrace who you are. I truly want to thank you for sharing and I appreciate you for embracing who you are and for being an inspiration to others out there!

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I was extremely moved to see how you chose to take a seemingly negative situation and grow from it. It gave me a whole new perspective on how simply changing your attitude and can change your whole life and what you gain from it. A quote that specifically stuck out to me was, “I really hope that with my activities I also can inspire other people who stutter to start to see their stuttering as a gift”. I feel that this speaks volumes to your character. It is clear that you want to share your gifts and positive qualities with other people in order to benefit them. I would like to ask, what could be a productive first step for a child struggling with their self confidence due to stuttering or other reasons? Thank you so much again for sharing your inspirational story!

  17. Hoi Sybren

    I’m in awe over your journey and your resilience. Your own company, organising European Youth Events, board member in national and international level, and loads of projects to make other people feel better. So proud to be your friend. <3

    Stay safe and keep being a role model to me and so many others

    Anita