There Are No Failures, Just Life Lessons – 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, had her own stuttering consultant company and  was a project leader of several stuttering projects. She was also a leader of national and international children and youth camps for over 20 years. 

Anita, aka Scatsis, has stuttered since she was 9 and had a troublesome youth because of her stuttering. She went from being silent, to giving stuttering a voice, from pre-school children to the European Parliament, now inspiring people who stutter of all ages, they can make a difference. Do check out her previous papers to the ISAD online conferences.

Due to health issues she now has to take it slow, but is still an inspiration to many, acknowledged by Voice Unearthed on the Wall Of Inspiration, and many others. Her device, that’s now been used all over the world is “Sure I stutter. What are you good at?”

A while ago I saw a drone video of the village where I lived in my teens. And suddenly I choked. I thought I was over the traumatic memories from my youth, but just in a flash it all came back. 

The bullying. It wasn’t the physical stuff, through physical actions and emptying my bag in the toilet, that hurt me the most. Not even them calling me “fish”, as I opened my mouth but couldn’t get the words out. It was the being ignored that put scars in my soul. My peers walking away, turning their backs on me. No one showing up at my graduation party. My teachers telling me I didn’t do my homework simply because I couldn’t speak in front of the class, telling me that I was a hopeless case and should stop studying, and even denying me to sing on stage, as there was “no space”, and instead placing me behind the stage background to sing. 

The non-acceptance. From my parents to whom stuttering was something wrong, attention seeking, and meant to be cured or hidden. From my teachers who told me to “just stop stuttering, seeking attention and being a nuisance in class, taking up so much time stuttering” and I would have friends and better grades. 

The betrayal. From my first SLP who physically abused me and the second one who mentally abused me. The quacks who promised a 3-day “cure”, and then blaming the client for being the reason why it didn’t work. 

I tried to commit suicide, but (luckily) failed, and tried to keep my head above water through playing the saxophone. I was in five different bands, as they never judged me, my music was fluent, and I was missed when I was not there. They were my lifebuoy. One band even made me a goodbye video when I moved abroad. 🙂 Another lifebuoy was theatre and singing. One of the bands used to have a boring annual meeting. Until I asked some mates if they would join me and do some theatre sketches, which became the annual highlight. Yes. Me on stage. I was not only the actress and singer, but also the presenter. As on stage, I didn’t stutter. But again, that very band from my village turned their back on me when I told them I was moving abroad, and they went from being my friends to completely ignoring me my last months, now making fun of my speech. 

Today, years later, I know I can. I finished school despite a very serious viral illness that kept me away from school for months, speak several languages and moved abroad. I’ve travelled the world as a speaker, THANKS TO my stutter. I’ve addressed PWS and SLPs, pupils and teachers, politicians and even the European Parliament and even had a job as a translator during a meeting about a subject I knew nothing about. I went back to school as an adult, not for the sake of learning, but to simply face my demons, stayed for two years, and got straight A’s in ten subjects, all from languages, math, psychology and leadership. They asked me to stay for a position as a teacher, without even having a teaching degree. And even raised the bar by letting me teach IT to all teachers in my village, and teach English to a class of dropouts! Me. Who feared and hated school! Who was told not to aim for higher studies because I was a hopeless case. And at the age of 40 I wrote a poem to my parents and they finally accepted me for who I am. I now have my own family and have friends all over the world. 

So what made me bounce back? That first guy approaching me at the swimming pool, asking me why I was sitting alone, as obviously the group next to me were my schoolmates. He and I were a couple for several years. My first boss telling me I was a great asset, changing my summer job into a steady one. My other boss not employing me for the job I applied for, but for a better one, as I had the language skills he needed. My next bosses saw my teaching skills, which I didn’t even know I had. Meeting others through stuttering support groups, knowing I was not alone and I was good enough, and within a few years I was on the local, national and international board. Going back to school as an adult, simply to face my demons and this time having great classmates and supportive teachers. Meeting absolutely amazing SLPs and other therapists who give their knowledge, heart and soul to give me and others the support we need to rise and shine.

All these experiences and people taught me that my future was in MY hands. I still stuttered, from hardly any words to severely, but I had made it this far. Facing my demons, doing the things I was terrified of, no longer blaming every setback on my stutter and having realistic expectations. No, I wouldn’t work as a saleswoman. Not because of my stutter, but because I hate selling things to people who don’t want to buy. No, not everybody likes me, just as I don’t like everyone. My stutter can sound both funny and hard to listen to, so I might as well be the first one to accept it, wear funny buttons and learn public speaking, Speaking Circles, body language, etc. And putting myself out there, talking about stuttering, both in my village and in local, national and international media. I had learned to become resilient and bounce back like that toy clown with the round bottom. 

So, what was it in that video that suddenly threw me back into my horrifying childhood? Was it the local dialect they spoke in the video, being very different from the common Dutch? The word “fish”, pronounced as “vusj” being mentioned? It couldn’t be the sites, as the nature there is stunning. Yet… When I drove through that country a few years ago, I absolutely loved the Northern parts, stopped to see the sites, sang for hours, but my voice went silent the more I drove South. On the radio the group Madness sang “Embarrassment” and again I felt it was about me. I remembered another kid in school that was bullied, but I was afraid to interfere, as I was “happy” to finally get a break. And when I came to my village, my smile was gone. 

People broke me, but people mended me. They gave me words that lifted me up, pulled me through, made me stronger, and now I was paying it forward. My husband taught me I was worth loving. At work they told me I was a great co-worker. My friends taught me to no longer strive for perfection (who wants to be with a perfect person anyway?), but to simply be good enough. My new teachers taught me I could do anything I set my mind to. My new classmates taught me they were afraid of speaking in public even more than me. Mindfulness taught me SOAL, to Stop, Observe, Act or Accept, and to Let go. NLP taught me to exchange bad memories with good ones. John Harrison taught me speaking skills and to love speaking in public. Fluent people taught me their fear of speaking is way bigger than mine. And oh those kids who asked for my autograph, who fought over me sitting next to them and told me “I want to be your friend” and “How can I stutter” when I came to their school to talk about stuttering and bullying. They helped me to open up my own Pandora box with memories I’ve been desperately trying to forget (kids ask the darnedest questions), to face and explain, and to finally bounce back.

So, after being frozen watching the video from my village, I shook it off. I’m no longer living there. A few years ago I went to a school reunion to be able to close the door to my past. I told the bullying teachers the impact they had, told the new headmaster to make sure the school (including that dreadful cellar…) is a safe place for all, and found myself, literally, in the center of the attention with my former classmates when we all shared about our lives, and the wow’s and sorry’s were many. And I could finally move on.

Today the memories from my youth are like a puppet theatre. I replay them to others. They are education material. About how it shouldn’t be, and about how it can be. Because my story is not standing on its own. During my many years of being a camp leader for children and young people who stutter, I kept on hearing stories similar to mine, but still happening today. Too many children are still being bullied. Too many teachers still don’t see the skills behind the stutter. Too many parents and clinicians focus so much on fluency, they forget about the pride and joy of speaking on itself. We focus on those who stutter. Those who come to the therapy room. Those who come to stuttering support groups. But they are the survivors. We need to focus even more on those who stopped talking. 

Do we want a world where fluent speech is rewarded through friendship, grades, recognition, jobs and stuttering means failure? Or do we accept people as they are, celebrate the ISAD and acknowledge those who are “feeling the fear and doing it anyway”, just as we cheer for the warriors at the Paralympics, and combine acceptance and pride with support, f ex through support groups, and speech training based on the wants and needs of the client? And remember, speech training and acceptance are not two antagonists, but go together like a smorgasbord as in my keynote speech, with many different dishes to choose from. 

Let’s make our children resilient by giving them the skills to get out of a block but without silencing them by praising only fluency, to love themselves just the way they are no matter their speech, to help them see the many things they are good at and to empower them to go for their goals and don’t let stuttering define them. Help them to find the words and ways to face their bullies, and the pride of having this one day, 22 October, dedicated to them because they are superheroes to whom everyday life is a challenge. And most of all, bring them to camps and online stutter events to show they are not alone. 

Lately a lot of VIPs who stutter have been in the media, showing you can be whatever you want to be, and many of them found skills to master their stutter. But to me the real VIP role models are 13-year-old Brayden who addressed the USA. The 16-year-old Hugo who sang for the Swedish Idol jury, telling them he wants to be a role model for kids who stutter. The young singer and rapper making the Sweden’s Got Talent jury stand up and swing. The youngsters who put themselves out there by showing their stutter, comics, poems and stories online. The teens and adult PWS who speak in schools to stop the bullying and make teachers understand. The PWS who go for their dreams, no matter their speech. They are the personified versions of the words resilience and bouncing back. And if you think you yourself can’t make your voice heard, have you ever had one single tiny mosquito in your bedroom? 😉

The hurt, the memories, the triggers, they will always be there. But they turned me into the person I am today. And, as I told a parent who was devastated when she met me, an adult who stutters, suddenly realizing her child might not stop stuttering: “I seem to have turned out alright, don’t you think?” 😉 So let’s all join hands and create a world where PWS proudly joins in on my quote that’s gone viral “Sure I stutter. What are you good at?” 🙂 

Keep talking and happy ISAD!

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Comments

There Are No Failures, Just Life Lessons – Anita Blom — 41 Comments

  1. Hi all and welcome to my paper. Please ask me any questions you like. 🙂 If you want to read more, check out my papers in previous ISAD online conferences. Looking forward to chat with you! 🙂

    Stay safe!

    Anita

  2. Hi Anita, lovely story! I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end! You are a woman who inspires!

    I am happy to see you linked the video of your poem 🙂

    XO from Peru!

    • Thank you so much, Cynthia. Of course I linked the video, as your slideshow made it so much richer. <3 I hope my paper makes people think, both PWS and SLPs, about how we think of stuttering, and what is needed, not just to just help a person to stutter to speak in an easier way, but also to help a person to find pride, just the way we are. 🙂

      Stay safe and keep doing the great work you do, as SLPs who get it are life savers. <3

      XO Anita

  3. Hi Anita,

    Thanks for sharing your lovely story. One thing that really stands out for me as a speech-language pathologist is the idea that “speech training and acceptance are not two antagonists, but go together like a smorgasbord, with many different dishes to choose from.” Terrific metaphor! This reminds me that there is no “one way.” There are many paths toward evolving communicative freedom, and no single path is right for everyone. I am also reminded, to paraphrase Dr. Hugo Gregory and Kristin Chmela, that speech modification and acceptance are two sides of a coin. Here’s to finding our “way.” Best to you,

    Rob Dellinger

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Rob. In my keynote speech for the ISA World Congress http://stutteringiscool.com/podcast/therapy-smorgasbord/ I spoke about just that. As PWS are such a huge variation of people, all with a different stutter, a different background, with different experiences AND with different wants and needs, there is no one therapy for all. One might want fluency, another might want confidence, the third might want public speaking skills, the fourth might simply want relaxation. A multi-disciplinary approach, with not just clinicians, but also using yoga, song, mindfulness and massage might do the trick. Just like going to the gym is not for all. Sometimes the tools aren’t right, sometimes the clinician/trainer, sometimes the time isn’t right. So by listening to the client and, together with the client, find a smorgasbord of activities to pick from, and maybe invite a friend to the therapy room to help your client with the challenges and exercises outside the therapy room might be the key. (Just as it’s more fun to do tough things together with a friend.) So, give the client a smorgasbord, explain the different “dishes” and let the client pick and choose and give it a try. It’s the combination of “flavors” that can make the perfect “dish”. 🙂 Being in this “kitchen” together, client and clinician, makes a team and can maybe create new “dishes”, instead of a teacher-student situation where one simply does what he is told, leaving the room with a sigh of relief. And what is more rewarding than for a client to feel proud and wanting to keep on expending comfort zones and new speaking levels, and for the clinician to watch and cheer the client, you’ve been coaching, reaching new levels. 🙂 The books need to be rewritten, from counting stuttered syllables, risking to silence the client, to counting life successes, as that’s what really matters.

      Stay safe and keep flipping coins. 😉

      Anita

      • Anita, your reply to my comment is as wonderful as your paper. Keep flipping coins – I love it! Will do. I could not agree more about the potential downside of an excessive focus on percentage of stuttered syllables. Of course, counting %SS is a part of an initial comprehensive, differential assessment to diagnose stuttering (and identity contributing factors and adverse effects). However, as I often advise clinicians in my school district, %SS is often the least important thing to measure going forward. After all, the easiest, most effective way to get %SS down to zero is not to talk! And discouraging communication – driving communication further underground – is the last thing in the world we’d want to do. While I’d never “force” anyone to be fluent, when they can’t always be, I do think everyone can make the choice to evolve their overall communication skills in a variety of ways, if they wish to. Bringing more ease and forward motion to communication is something that many clients may want, and can learn to cultivate. At the same, it is important to prioritize the individual client’s wants and needs, and communication over “fluency,” per se. Best to you,
        Rob

        • So happy about your reply, Rob. I understand stuttering must be measured to know it’s stuttering, and the progress of the client. But, as you say, a client being 100% fluent might mean s/he has become covert. And the amount of stuttered words is not equivalent to the severity of the stutter and the need for treatment.

          I too learned fluency skills. For me it was a mix of different things, all from slow speech, pausing, articulating, to public speaking, with use of voice, pausing, body language, etc. Some days I hardly stutter, other days I stutter a lot. That doesn’t mean therapy doesn’t work, nor that I’m “worse”. It can simply mean that it’s cold outside, or that I’m too tired, or too uninterested to use my techniques that day. And that’s why I refer to the smörgåsbord. Present dishes, maybe create new ones together, and accept that some days you’re simply not hungry. 😉

          Or, as I wrote to another person below: you could compare stuttering with a mountain. For some climbing to the top and watch the view is the ultimate goal, for others it’s just to enjoy the landscape from a comfy chair and some good friends by your side. Whatever makes you happy. 🙂

          That’s what I mean with counting syllables, when used as the only measurement for “success” or “failure”. A covert PWS who starts talking, and stuttering overtely, can be a way bigger success than an overt PWS who starts avoiding.

          Your last sentence shows what a wonderful SLP you are. 🙂

  4. Anita thank you for sharing this incredibly powerful piece. This part resonated with me the most: “All these experiences and people taught me that my future was in MY hands”.

    That is so critical that we control our own destiny and have the ability to influence what our life will look like.

    I want to know what would you tell that young person who has suicidal thoughts like you did when you were in that state of mind? What advice would you give them in order to transform from where your mindset was to where you are at now?

    Appreciate you sharing as it is incredible how much we can achieve and turn the corner with time and effort to work on ourselves through the support of others.

    • Thanks for your kind comments and important question, Kunal.

      Yes, realizing that I can make a difference for me was such an eye opener. Mindfulness and NLP have been fantastic tools for me, and ACT has the same ideas. I can’t change how people think of me, but what I can do is to be me. I can’t change the way people think about stuttering, but I can educate them. I can’t make people stop mocking PWS, but I can tell them how they make me feel. I can’t stop employers from judging me by what they think stuttering is, but I can tell them what a useful employee I am if they hire me. I blamed everything to my stutter. From my grades to my lack of friends. Yes, I got low grades at oral exams from teachers who told me I hadn’t done my homework, while I simply couldn’t tell them I knew the answers. But I also had low grades for a subject I chose because others wanted me to study that. Yes, I was bullied because of my stutter, but there were some people that liked me, but who I didn’t like, so we never became friends. To ask yourself “What is MY role in all this” can be a slap in the face, but also an eye opener, as it shows that YOU can alter YOUR role. That’s what I have been telling children and young adults who stutter during all the years of leading stutter camps. People won’t know until we tell them. And don’t wait for others to build a road for you to walk on. If there isn’t a road that fits you, start treading a new one that’s perfect for you.

      And that’s also a message to those who feel they don’t fit in. I tried everything to make friends. I tried to be the best in school, the nicest person, but they didn’t let me in. I then tried to be the tough one, smoking, drinking, trying to be cool, but they still didn’t let me in. I was all the time listening to people who told me I was not one of them, and I should fit in or stay out. So I no longer knew who I was, and didn’t like the personalities I was trying to fake.

      It wasn’t until I met the right people with whom I could let my guard down, and I got to recover who I was, what I liked, what I was good at. With the right people I could shake off the layers that weren’t me, the layers that were literally choking me. I went to stuttering events, joined chats with peers who have been there done that. I no longer forced myself to be like other people and instead opened my eyes and ears to what other people who cared said about me.

      I tried to face my fears. I went back to school. I am an extrovert person and love to be in the center, but I was forced into being introvert. So I did a public speaking course and found out that my fear of speaking was shared by fluent people as well. I started focusing on what features I like about people that I like to be surrounded with, and found out I had those features myself, but was afraid to show, as that meant I needed to talk. But I realized that, if I showed those features, others couldn’t care less about my speech. So, instead of comparing me with the “perfect” people and wanting to be like them (who on earth want to be with perfect people!), I found that the people I want to surround myself with are the WYSIWYG people. I even married one. 😉 And there’s no person more blunt than my daughter. 😉

      So stop comparing yourself with others. Just because they are fluent doesn’t mean they are happy. And just because you stutter doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person. Yes, stuttering might suck, but life doesn’t. Find what makes you happy and proud. Surround yourself with people who take your hand when you loose balance. Who don’t feel sorry for you, who challenge you for the right reasons, and who make you laugh through your tears. Stuttering is not your fault, so don’t apologize. Compare yourself with you and try to be a better, stronger and happier you, just the way you want you to be. If you want people to understand what’s going on inside of you, tell them. You might be surprised. 😉 And by doing all of this, you might become someone else’s rolemodel and save others lives. <3 We're many and reaching out for you, so join us. I've seen young people come to a youth meeting after, or just before they tried to take their lives. One week later they are on stage, standing proud, being cheered and huged by their peers. You're the only one who can take that step, but we're here to catch you. <3

      Stay safe and keep sharing

      Anita

  5. Anita, thank you for sharing your inspiring story and for speaking so eloquently about how we can support children who stutter and that the real VIP superheroes are the people who stutter who go for their dreams regardless of their speech. These ‘superheroes’ are a powerful reminder of what resilience looks like and what we can all aspire to become. Thank you, be safe, and keep talking.

    • Thank you so much, Lisa. We all have that Superpower. It’s just that sometimes we loose track of who and what we are. It can be words, actions, events, and we fall back into that muddy ground. But if we look up there might be someone throwing us a pair of boots and a firm hand. We just need to take that help, as when we get up again, we can take care of our bruises. Mountains are beautiful. For some climbing to the top and watch the view, for others just to enjoy the landscape from a comfy chair and some good friends by your side. Whatever makes you happy. 🙂

      Stay safe and keep bouncing back

      Anita

  6. Oh Anita, I just love this. Your writing is so powerful, and I was actually able to read it in your voice in my head as I read. Thank you for sharing with the world. Thank you for your volunteerism throughout the years and making such an impact in the world for people who stutter. I particularly really love how you stand up for the children who stutter. This caught my eye because as an SLP I feel like often times it’s the parents who want the therapist to push fluency in the clinic, when I actually teach my graduate students to have almost an educational/mediation session with the child who stutters and the parent/guardian to discuss the child’s goals versus the parent’s goals/wishes and meeting in the middle together as a team. This is powerful, and can allow the child to feel some sense of control, but also be a safe space for the child to feel heard but also have an advocate in the SLP on their side….. so many parents/guardians want to “fix” still and our job as SLP’s is to teach them otherwise 😉 on the same hand, so many SLP’s also still want to JUST “fluent”…. although, it’s getting better….LOVED this writing, Anita.

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Steff. Children are the core of society. If they feel good about themselves, they will share that with the community. But also vice versa. So we need to be there for them. To be able to have been a organiser and leader of children and youth camps for 20+ years, and seeing these kids enter the room, full of fear, and leave, full of confidence, is simply amazing! Also to enter a class and talk about stuttering, and making stuttering so cool that children want your autograph, want to be my friend, and want to learn how to stutter, and best of all, to watch the student who stutters grow during my presentation and finally telling the clas what s/he feels and what s/he wants the class to help with, is making my heart sing. It’s not always stuttering that needs to be fixed. Often it’s the people around us.

      Thanks for being our voice in the clinical world, dear Steff. You make such a difference. <3

      Stay safe and keep making them talk

      your friend, Anita

  7. Great paper Anita!

    I loved the phrase: “People broke me, but people mended me.” I tell the kids and teens, who I work with in therapy or participate in my support groups, that part of growing up stuttering is finding the people who support/understand you and letting go of the people who don’t. That is a hard message for teens, who long to belong to a popular group (when that group is destructive to their growth)or the children who are excluded on the playground, but still wanting to join.

    Bullying comes in many forms and many children don’t want to reveal that they have been bullied because they are worried what a parent may do (go to school and humiliate the child further)or what a teacher may do (call them a tattle tale.) Acknowledging the possibility of teasing and bullying while giving children skills to deal with that is crucial.

    So many gems in this paper. I will be sharing it with everyone! Thanks!!

    • Thanks Rita.

      Yes, teens, and even adults, have a need for belonging. First I was physically bullied, but being the youngest of seven, that was not a problem to me. 😉 But than the mental bullying started: I was not allowed in the group. They walked away, didn’t let me come to parties, and noone came to mine. That is a tough one, as you cannot fight back. So I started to do everything to be likes, and lost myself. It wasn’t until I was acknowledged for the person I was, I was able to let go of the need to be accepted by everyone. I don’t like everyone, so why do I expect everyone to like me? I moved on with those who stood by me, and let go of the others, no matter how popular they were. I let go of my negative feels about them too. They just weren’t for me.

      I am in a new stage of life where my ilness (ME) prevents me from keeping up the same pace in life and I lost friends, but found new ones that share my interests and life style. Tell the kids not to strive for being in the popular group, but to strive for being in a group that shares your values and life style. Because they are the ones who stay and support you.

      It’s also important that we keep on telling school staff to not just walk the yard, and seperate the fighters, but to observe those who are alone. And to include anti-bullying campaigns. And to, on Dec 3rd, the international disability awareness day, give kids assignments, such as to interview a person with a disability, to “try” different disabilities and to read books about children with disabilities. And not just about the dead, the blind and the wheelchair users, as that is still the norm. But to try a DAF (I use this when I speak in schools, as the students freak out and start to stutter 🙂 ), to put marbles in you mouth (well not during corona), to ask someone for the time while stuttering, or to talk while someone is constantely interrupting. Kids get it, if we explain it right.

      When addressing really young children, I ask them what they are good at. Lots of hands. Good at football, good at helping with the baby. I tell them I’m good at playing the saxophone. I also ask the teacher. Than I ask them what they are less good at. Less hands. Cleaning my room. Helping mommy. I tell them I’m less good as speaking fluently. Teacher adds too. I tell them it’s great we all are good at something, and all less good at something. Which is fun, as we can help each other. You can see in their eyes they get that.

      I once spoke in a class with teens and had a real stutter day. The kids started to laugh out loud, and the teacher was ashamed but did nothing. I was devestated! But than I told them that stuttering may sound funny, but when they were done laughing, I would tell them how funny stuttering is. And I told them my darkest stories. After that they apologized. (They did, not the teacher.) It’s hard to precent bullying (and some schools still think shaking hands makes it go away…), but the more we know, the less we bully. So use PWS to come and talk to your clients, to schools.

      My goal in schools is to make stuttering cool! I tell them about my travels, the children and youth camps, and about my getting presents and cake for the ISAD. 😉 I also tell them about bullying and how they can help me to speak more easily. Those who stutter get a FrankyBanky button. At the end there are always children who raise their hands, telling me they want to be my friend, want my autograph, and ask me how they can learn how to stutter. 🙂 If I can get that kids that stutters (as that’s why teachers and SLPs call me to come) to light up and find the courage to tell the class what s/he wants help with, it’s a 100%.

      And yes, giving children the tools to deal with bullying. As you say, they might not always call for help. That’s why I made my quote “Sure I stutter. What are you good at”. If someone imitates, tell them “I’m much better at stuttering than you”. Or when someone says “you can’t speak” reply with “but what I say is worth repeating”. And to wear those buttons, t-shirts and other things that advertise. Beat them to it. When they see you don’t care (or even pretend not to), they will move on.

      So much left to do. 😉

      Stay safe and keep educating

      Anita

      • Hello amazing lady when I was reading this I just kept thinking again you are so inspirational .Thank you for all you do. xx

  8. Dear Anita

    Thank you for sharing your story, and for being an amazing teacher.

    Hanan

    • Thanks Hanan. It’s funny you’re saying that, as if you would have told me that when I was younger, I would have thought you were joking. (Which I hope you’re not. 😉 ) I never knew I loved teaching so much, until both teachers and students told me to go for it. Another proof we should never believe people telling us we can’t.

      Stay safe, my friend, and keep talking

      Anita

  9. Anita, Thank you for your inspiring story! As a student who struggled with bullying I can relate to some of the feeling you had. The bullies chose to see our differences as weakness rather than appreciating them for making us who we are. The difference between us, however, is that I do not stutter, so I really have no idea the struggle you faced. After reading your story I have been granted an insight on issues I hopefully can address as a future SLP. I hope to help children and adults accept themselves like you have.
    Thanks again for your testimony.
    Chloe

    • Thanks for your comments, Chloe. It’s hard for others to understand what it’s like to be called “fish”, because you mouth opens, but nothing comes out. Or when they start laughing as soon as you try to say Hhhhhhi och A——–nita. Or even worse, when teachers tell you you’re not gonna get anywhere anyway because you’re hopeless. Unfortunately bullying is something that many of us face. However for PWS it’s more common and more compact. And how do you argue back or explain, when the words don’t come? But what YOU can do is to hand them tools. You can direct your clients to the stuttering society. You can practice how to handle different situations, practice words, posture and other body language. You can help them with coping skills, to face situations with pride, to not let stuttering define them, to see they are so much more than their stutter, and that they can bloom within their skills, and to educate parents, teachers and classes what stuttering is all about. For the more we understand, the less we bully. You are important!

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  10. Ah, thank you so much Anita. I cannot imagine a world that better understands stuttering without you in it. You have done so much to pave the way for the future generations of young people who stutter, who will have such an easier time because of the wonderful foundation you have built.

    I love that you are “no longer blaming every setback on my stutter.” As people who stutter, we definitely have a tendency to blame our stuttering for everything, when it probably is just that we didn’t have the background or experience that was/is required. Being able to see life and life’s prospects through a clear lens, not one clouded by false assumptions about our stuttering, is what really opens the world to us.

    And as someone else noted in an earlier comment, I just love this line: “People broke me, but people mended me.” What a beautiful insight to have and share with others. We cannot allow ourselves to be seen only through one lens. Rather, we must delight in all we have to offer, so that other people can delight in us too.

    Pam

    • It takes one to know one, Pam. 😉 You know first hand what I’m talking about. And that is our strength. To use what we’ve been through, and the things we learned (and here age is a definite plus 😉 ) to educate others and to help others to start talking. Because the more we talk, the more people will understand, and the more people will find the stuttering society, where people GET it.

      And thanks to my stuttering journey, it’s easier to cope with my journey with my illness, again meeting people who don’t understand, who don’t know how to deal with it, doing and saying the wring things, etc. But this time without shame, without guilt and using knowledge and experience to raise awareness.

      Stuttering makes us stronger, especially when hands are joined, arms are open and voices are loud. <3

      Stay safe, my dear friend, and keep speaking up, around the world!

      Anita

  11. Anita, thanks for sharing this amazing story. I want to say it sure is moving and amazing that you took the time to write this and let others know what you are going through! I have a couple questions, first of all did you have anyone close to you that kept you going during this time? And, what is one thing you could tell a speech therapist that would be beneficial? Thank you again for this story!

    • Thanks for your comments and intersting questions. You might already find some useful tips that I wrote to other SLPs above, and in the Ask The PWS section.

      The people from my different bands meant the world to me. To have a feeling of belonging, to be missed when you’re not there. To literally create harmony together. From that time I have one friend still today. A musician who had an accident and has faced his own struggles. I have another friend from school (who is now an amazing teacher herself 🙂 ), who saw me and still does. With these two I still stay on touch. I also had some other school mates, but they were in the middle of life, while I turned more and more silent, so they moved on. There were also a few who found me on FB, but they are too much connected with my bullies, so I rather not open those doors. And you know what: that’s fine. I went back for a school reunion, they heard I moved to Sweden and suddenly I was in the middle of the attention, literally. 🙂 I also told them about my struggles. And this time they all listened and realized that what they thought was a joke, was instead hurtful, but were so happy I made a 180 turn, was travelling the world as a keynore speaker, had a great job and had a family. So I could get closure.

      And even though my parents had a problem with my stutter, they were great parents in so many other ways and I have a bunch of sibblings. 😉 Yet, as stuttering was such a taboo, I never told them about my struggle. It was my first boyfriend, his parents, my now husband, and later the stuttering community, that made me share my feelings, as their support was livesaving.

      When I speak to therapists I tell them to not just hear my stutter, but to see and hear the whole me. Find out my background, find out where I stand today, find out what my needs are, and work from there. We’re all individuals with different stutters, different cultures, different experiences, so we all need a different approach. Tough for you, I know, but also an exiting challenge to find what makes us bloom! 🙂 Give us a smörgåsbord of things to try. What helped me to get a better flow, mentally, physically and speech wise is a mix of regular speech training (pausing, articulation and alternating voice volume has been the most helpful for me), relaxation, mindfulness and NLP, music, massage, public speaking, fear reduction and finding my stamily and my voice. As you can see these things are very different, so if you’re not into all of these, find people who can, so that I can work on all of these things at the same time, just as John Harisson talks about in his Stuttering Hexagon.

      Also to be humble (sometimes a therapist and a client are simply not a match, noone to blame) and to be creative (why not bring friends to the therapy room, so that they too learn about stuttering and can join their friends doing exercises, support and have fun together while doing tough challenges).

      The face you’re here and asking these questions show you’re the right person for the job. 🙂

      If you want more answers, do check out my papers and replies in previous conferences.

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  12. Anita, thank you so much for your vulnerability and your willingness to share your experiences as a person who stutters. As an emerging speech-language professional, I find your openness instrumental in shaping my approach to stuttering and “treatment.” What do you think is the greatest obstacle facing SLPs when it comes to advocating for and working with individuals who stutter? How do you think we can best prepare?

    • Thanks you for your comments and your important question.

      I think the greatest obstacle is that we’re all different. A broken bone is a broken bone. It might be broken in different ways, but it’s still a broken bone, no matter the person attached to it. 😉 So, to be able

      When I speak to therapists I tell them to not just hear my stutter, but to see and hear the whole me. Find out my background, find out where I stand today, find out what my needs are, and work from there. We’re all individuals with different stutters, different cultures, different experiences, so we all need a different approach. Tough for you, I know, but also an exiting challenge to find what makes us bloom! 🙂 Give us a smörgåsbord of things to try. What helped me to get a better flow, mentally, physically and speech wise is a mix of regular speech training (pausing, articulation and alternating voice volume has been the most helpful for me), relaxation, mindfulness and NLP, music, massage, public speaking, fear reduction and finding my stamily and my voice. As you can see these things are very different, so if you’re not into all of these, find people who can, so that I can work on all of these things at the same time, just as John Harisson talks about in his Stuttering Hexagon.

      Also to be humble (sometimes a therapist and a client are simply not a match, noone to blame) and to be creative (why not bring friends to the therapy room, so that they too learn about stuttering and can join their friends doing exercises, support and have fun together while doing tough challenges).

      The face you’re here and asking these questions show you’re the right person for the job. 🙂

      If you want more answers, do check out my papers and replies in previous conferences.

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  13. Reading about the abuse that you have suffered due to your stuttering makes me sick to my stomach. Thank you for so openly sharing your experiences so that others may know that this behavior is unacceptable and that you can move on from it. I have known other individuals who stutter to find refuge in things like music and I am so glad that you did as well.

    • Thank you so much for caring. <3 A assume you are an SLP or a student? You can do great things to help giving children the tools to deal with bullying. Kids might not always call for help. That’s why I made my quote “Sure I stutter. What are you good at”. If someone imitates, tell them “I’m much better at stuttering than you”. Or when someone says “you can’t speak” reply with “but what I say is worth repeating”. And to wear those buttons, t-shirts and other things that advertise. Beat them to it. When they see you don’t care (or even pretend not to), they will move on. Also to speak in classes, (and/or ask the nearest support group to speak), talk to the teachers, use the ISAD to raise awareness, and also the International Day of Disabilities, Dec 3, where schools can organize events to raise awareness of different disabilities, not just about the blind, the deaf and the wheelchair users. There's so much to be done. And you can play such an important role. 🙂

      Stay safe and keep them talking. 🙂

      Anita

  14. “We need to focus even more on those who stopped talking.“ Excellent point!

    Elegantly written, as usual, Anita!

    • Thanks Daniele. Sometimes it feels SLPs keep forgetting this. And raising awareness and activities of NSAs are not just for members, but even more important to those who still think they are alone. What you do with your awareness material (plugging stuttering is cool ;-)) is life saving and I’, so grateful for that, and your friendship.

      Stay safe and give my love to Franky Banky 😉

      Anita

  15. Anita, thank you for being so vulnerable and open with everyone while sharing your experiences and thoughts looking back on your past. It was great to hear about the mindset change that you had over time, especially when referring to, “The hurt, the memories, the triggers, they will always be there. But they turned me into the person I am today.” It can take alot for people to look at things this way and I’m proud that you can! I’m currently in school for speech-language pathology so your paper really pulled out to me. Is there anything you wish SLPs would focus on more or approach things differently from your perspective when it comes to stuttering?

    • Thank you for your comment. I’m proud to say more and more PWS are speaking up, sharing life stories and telling like it is. And there you play an important role! Therapy is not just about smoother speech, it’s also about pride, confidence, getting the coping tools to deal with the emotions, and with society’s reactions. As it’s still considered being OK to make jokes and to mock PWS. We need to start in schools to raise awareness. You, and/or people from the nearest support group, can make a huge difference by speaking in class and/or to teachers. A Swedish study shows stuttering might not be considered a problem for teachers, but it is for students!

      I so want SLPs to be where I am. We’re all different, age, culture, background, experiences, stages, and have different needs. Some people want smoother speech, others want confidence, public speaking skills, relaxation, knowledge, help to talk with relatives, or maybe something completely different. If you start offering what a client doesn’t need, there’s a risk you won’t see progress. So listen, learn, ask, and work together. Than offer a smörgåsbord with solutions, and let your client pick, not one but a few (for me it was some speaking tools, public speaking, mediyoga, mindfulness/NLP and massage) and work together, or offer contact details to other professionals in the different fields. You know therapy, your client knows its stutter. A pill might make a headache dissapear, but if you don’t address the whole body and living situation, it will come back. But together you can add pieces of the puzzle and make a beautiful picture. 🙂

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  16. I just want to thank you for opening up about your past. I can’t believe you went through such hardships due to your stuttering. I am glad you are here and doing well. It takes a warrior to overcome what you have and I am just grateful to ran across your paper. I’m currently a graduate student for speech-language pathology and I just wanted to know what are other factors that SLPs should take into consideration when having a client who stutters.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. As I write in my paper: it might take a warrior, but it also needs people to cheer, push and pull. Who see the person behind the stutter. And that’s where you play an important role with it comes to raising awareness. Visit schools, talk to students and teachers, or contact the local stuttering support group to do so. The more people understand, the less the bullying.

      I so want SLPs to be where I am. We’re all different, age, culture, background, experiences, stages, and have different needs. Some people want smoother speech, others want confidence, public speaking skills, relaxation, knowledge, help to talk with relatives, or maybe something completely different. If you start offering what a client doesn’t need, there’s a risk you won’t see progress. So listen, learn, ask, and work together. Than offer a smörgåsbord with solutions, and let your client pick, not one but a few (for me it was some speaking tools, public speaking, mediyoga, mindfulness/NLP and massage) and work together, or offer contact details to other professionals in the different fields. You know therapy, your client knows its stutter. A pill might make a headache dissapear, but if you don’t address the whole body and living situation, it will come back. But together you can add pieces of the puzzle and make a beautiful picture. 🙂

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  17. Anita,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and for sharing on how we can support children who stutter. It is empowering to see how people chase after their dreams.
    These ‘superheroes’ you speak of are a powerful reminder of what resilience looks like and what we can all aspire to become.

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I’ve reached the age where I’m confident with myself, including my speech. Children however, need a helping hand. So we all, PWS and SLPs, need to join hands to raise awareness and tell them they are not alone. That their voices are important, no matter how they sound. That stuttering is something that needs just as much attention as other speech and language issues. What if people hear we stutter and just think “Oh hey, s/he stutters. OK.”. Than we wouldn’t need to be superheroes needing all our superpowers to become resilient. And just be heroes. 😉

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita

  18. Hi Anita

    Its always great to learn from you. What a great inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

    • So wonderful to hear from you again. I hope you are safe and celebrating the ISAD. We’re in this together and you too make a difference.

      Virtual hugs, stay safe and keep talking

      Anita

  19. Hello Anita!

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this. I am a current SLP grad student and your paper truly inspired me. It was a great reminder of the power a person can have on a person’s life. I am so thankful you are still here with us, teaching all of us so much about the power of a shift in mindset. “People broke me, but people mended me”.. Coming from a future SLP, I hope to be a person who mends. Just one person can change a person’s life forever. Thank you for sharing this deeply vulnerable post with us. You have reminded us all that the hurts, triggers, trauma, etc. any of us have gone through have shaped us and made us into the people we are today.

    Happy ISAD!

    • Thank you Katelyn for your sweet comments. Your insightful reply tells me you’re going to be an amazing SLP, seeing the whole PWS, and who knows mending is so much more than fluency. It’s also to stand up with pride saying “I stutter, and what I say is worth repeating”. 🙂 Because a PWS who feels good about him/herself will find it easier to take on the speaking tools you’ll provide.

      Stay safe and keep them talking

      Anita