My name is Phyllis Edwards from New Zealand I am an older lady with a wacky sense of humour. I am also a teacher with a stutter who was able to fulfill her dream of being an early childhood teacher for thirty years with lots of support from friends and my family during my training I have loved being in this role and love to share how I have learned how accepting young children are. I found the discovery of Facebook pages led to me meeting some amazing people who understood where I was coming from. This year’s online paper was about change so my heart was led to highlighting just some of the people and events who have led to me being able to write these papers and hopefully share with others.
I feel that change can be scary, healing, empowering, and life-changing. We need to be open to, be brave enough to work on, and accept that we need to make these changes, embrace opportunities and experiences that opening doors bring.
I never really understood how to change, what to think or do, what changes as a child people expected of me. It was one more thing to worry about and I just felt confused, wanting to ‘be good and talk properly,’ but the tongue monster in my mouth just wouldn’t let me. For example, if you spoke properly you got the reward of people listening, if you couldn’t speak properly you got told to hurry up, so you never quite knew where you stood.
It is always such a joy and positive outcome to see how willing families/caregivers seek to learn and share knowledge, then positively understand and encourage a family member who may have developed a stutter. They embrace the opportunity of being involved, using Facebook pages that support our stuttering community. You can see this confidence-building and nurturing allows children and young adults to open doors and follow dreams.
If it hadn’t been for my life-changing, accidental discovery of Facebook stammering groups, of people who stammer, and how they were understanding and helping each other my life would not have been so enriched. It all began, when with my still emerging computer skills, looking for a romantic holiday spot for my ever-supportive husband. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a message from a lady called Alexis Parker. We have since become ‘’Sisters brought together by our experiences of being women with a stutter and still being able to follow our goals and dreams.”
Alexis’s post mentioned she was getting married and was worried about saying her vows. Without worrying about my skills or even knowing what Facebook page I was on, I knew in my heart what to reply. I replied, “don’t worry, love will conquer all.” Shouting to the lovely Donald I said, “Look, this page popped up, a lady asked a question and I answered,” then I said, “Donald I didn’t know there were all these people on Facebook with a stutter and look, look, they even have special pages and groups.” “What page is it?” Donald calmly asked, “well I don’t know but don’t let me lose it, help me save it or whatever you lot do”. Don looked and said the page was called ‘The British stammering Association Support Group’, The first person to get my questions was Christine Simpson. She is still my very patient go-to person today at B.M.A.S. I also noticed the page was advertising a conference in Cardiff, for people who stutter. With Christine’s patience, I managed to attend the conference, where I met and heard many inspiring people.
Returning home from the Cardiff Conference I felt a bit down on myself because I hadn’t taken the opportunity or been brave enough to read the poem I wrote on the open mic. Feeling like I needed to talk to somebody, I contacted Anita Blom and asked “Could I please adopt you as my mentor?” Anita was amazing, she seemed to understand the place I was at. One day she said, “maybe you could think about paying it forward.” Who me, I thought, I can’t do that. Then I thought, yes I could try.
I had the perfect person to ask. Laura Overton, an amazing mum of two and a well thought of speech and language therapist, had always been so supportive and encouraging with any activities and awareness days I organized at work. I asked if she had any ideas for me to try and help others. Laura was back the next day with an email address for START. – STUTTERING TREATMENT AND RESEARCH TRUST.
Excited but nervous, I emailed START explaining why I wanted to pay it forward and was there any way I could be of use to them. I got a very quick response from Voon Wang, who put me in touch with Jannelle Irvin. The Executive Director and Clinical Leader for START. Janelle gave me her time and was so supportive and encouraging. I learned, to my surprise, that START is the only specialist organization in Aotearoa New Zealand. I was lucky enough and felt privileged to be able to become affiliated with START. One change I would like to see is that START would receive more recognition in NZ for all the support and training programs they offer. I messaged Janelle to tell her about the paper I was writing and ask her if she felt the change I was thinking of was a reasonable expectation. Janelle replied that the change I had mentioned was a good suggestion because part of START’s vision is to grow to have satellite clinics in other parts of Aotearoa. Janelle also gave me an example of how this was happening already when she mentioned a film that had been made last year with ‘Cody Packer, a filmmaker who also has a stutter. Janelle described Cody’s volunteer help as ‘wonderful’’. She felt the film he helped them make was a great way to raise awareness about stuttering and the therapy and support that START can provide
.I have learnt that when we embrace change, other doors open. Last year I found the ‘World Stuttering Network community page’, where Tom Scharstein was interviewing a young man whom he introduced as Cody Packer from New Zealand. It’s funny I never worry about my computer skills anymore when I see something on these pages that excites and enlightens me. I sure know how to message back fast. I just said ‘Oh you come from New Zealand, that’s exciting. Cody messaged back straight away and said “yes he did and that he was pleased I had contacted him.’’ Cody quite rightly put it when he said “Let’s catch up and talk about stammering.” Cody kept his word and visited me If either of us stuttered I didn’t notice or care. It was so natural, we just talked, laughed, and shared our experiences.
Cody explained about his filmmaking with START and showed me where I could look at the film ‘First Day’ on the computer. with Zoom.
My reason for going to the World Congress hosted by the ‘International Stuttering Association’ in Iceland was, I felt like I had some unfinished business. I hoped I would be brave enough to speak on the open mic this time. I did! By picturing the support I knew I had in the room and back home. It was an amazing experience, which is a story for another day. Because I am bursting today to share examples of two of the amazing workshops that were on offer at the Icelandic conference. They both inspired and educated me.
‘Mobile device apps for children who stutter’ workshop run by the dedicated speech and language therapist Eric Raj. Eric showed us and talked about how to use computers within his therapy sessions for children and what good results he got. He said he had noticed that when he used certain digital experiences with some of his students they would smile and laugh in a completely appropriate way and he felt working in this digital manner would help the students to relax and feel comfortable. Wow, I thought what a long way we have thankfully come, since my day in the early 1960s when I went to speech therapy. To me it felt like if you couldn’t blow a table tennis ball across the top of a paper washing line you were not practicing your speech homework enough.
The second workshop was interactive, learning how to create cartoons. It also left a lasting impression, run by Daniele Rossi. Author of ‘Frankie Bankie’ books. Daniele said he found Frankie Bankie resonated with children and was yet another way to communicate.
Yet another example is the Facebook page of Dori Holte; ’ Voice Unearthed’ says’’ she is grateful for the technology that allows people all over the world to connect and share unique experiences.’’
One wonderful example of parents encouraging their children to follow their dreams was when Victoria Wiggins published a poem her son had written. It was amazing and you could also see the love and pride from both mother and son. Sam then encouraged other children supported by their parents to join in reading poems. Sams’s poem was also featured in the 2020 online conference bringing many positive comments. Sam is emerging to be a wonderful role model.
Participating in online conferences is yet another example of how technology lets us share. I have found with my computer skills you are still able to participate and contribute and if what you are saying helps one other person reach their goals and dreams then that is good. I was really worried when I first started writing for the online conference but the comments and questions I received were interesting and amazing. People who had a stutter and understood where I was coming from could relate to me, which was healing and helpful. The questions and comments from speech and language therapists, particularly from newly graduated speech-language therapists showed their willingness to learn and be the best they could be to help people with a stutter.
Another door that opened, as a direct result of writing my first online paper, a lady called Pamela Mertz contacted me. Pamela runs a podcast and group called ‘Woman who Stutter our stories’. She wanted to do a podcast with me. I was so pleased, but I shrieked to the ever-patient Donald, “what is a podcast? I want to do this but I can’t, what if I stammer?” But the podcast was another amazing experience.
I remembered when I first began attending training and seminars to be an early childhood teacher. I could never say my name to introduce myself. To the extent where it did cross my mind to give up on my dream. No, I thought people believed in you and you are starting to believe in yourself, you need to work out a way to solve this. Also, I wasn’t brave enough to tell my friends that I was thinking of quitting, I knew this wouldn’t go down well and they could run faster than me. I call them ‘The Angel girls’, who have always supported and believed me in forever. With their love, humor, kind but no-nonsense words. So when it was my turn, instead of sitting there with muscle spasms in my back I would say “Hello I am not apologizing for it but I just need to share that I have a speech stammer, and oh by the way my name is Phyllis’.
Then not long ago I learned through discussions on ‘Woman who Stammer’ for the very first time, that what I had been doing was called ‘Declaring your stutter’. So when I saw these positive posts and discussions I thought, oh that’s what I do, but I never realized it.
To end, I want to finish where I started. I just want to highlight again and say a big thank you to parents and caregivers who are embracing these pages to build an environment for their children, with all the nurturing and self-esteem, lots of young adults and children and will know in their hearts even if you do have a stammer, it doesn’t matter., or as Brandon Muffolette from his Facebook page would say ‘’SoSo what if I stutter’’.
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