How Confidence and Overcoming Fears Can Transition the Speech of Persons Who Stutter from Disfluency to Fluency – Ismail Denwar

Ismail DenwarAbout the Author:

My name is Ismail Wafaa Denwar. I am Ghanaian and an IT Officer by profession. I have stuttered since I was a child; I started speaking when I turned four and a half years old. Stuttering has taken its toll on me over the years; however, as an ambitious young man, I am aware it will take efforts to overcome stuttering. So far, I am able to speak fluently when there is a need for me to speak, such as in interviews and presentations. Practicing has helped. However, on a regular day, I stutter.

I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at Valley View University, Accra, Ghana, from 2013 to 2017. I proceeded to the University of Ghana, which led to an award of a Master of Science in Computer Science degree from 2019 to 2020, running concurrently with my job.

Academically, I am currently assisting in publishing research papers concurrently with my job as an IT Officer. I have co-authored some papers so far. I also serve as a peer reviewer for a journal (volunteering). I have a strong passion for research and am looking forward to doing a Ph.D. (Computing) in the future despite my stutter. It is the reason I stutter that makes me highly motivated to keep moving; that is how I thrive.

For persons who stutter (PWS), speaking has always been a daunting task. Coping with stuttering and making efforts has been a hurdle only a few have overcome dauntlessly to achieve fluency. The few who are unable to jump over the hurdle of disfluency are beaten with fear, anger, sadness, hopelessness, self-doubt, self-rejection, and all other loads of negativity weighing them down and their self-esteem.

Growing up, stuttering has been a huge part of my life; it shook my confidence from reading aloud in class when called upon, learning to speak multiple languages, running for leadership roles, and public speaking. My inability to express myself fluently left me feeling handicapped; I was seen as not good enough and dull for those who didn’t know because I wasn’t engaging or participating in a lot of activities that would demand some speaking. I often kept to myself; I was aware of their perception, and I was aware of my frustration of not flowing as I should. I found peace in silence, which may have indirectly triggered my introversion over the years.  I stuttered covertly; I was good at swapping words causing blocks with those I could easily say just to conform and not feel different. I managed to hide it for long, and it has been exhausting; I felt I would be seen differently, I didn’t want to be treated as a person with a disability, my pride wouldn’t let me open up. I also realized a lot of people were not good listeners and were judgmental (looks, stature, popularity, finances, academic performance, and so on), so for me, hiding it was the right thing to do.

According to Boyle, Beita-Ell, Milewski, & Fearon (2018), self-esteem refers to an individual’s assessment of self-regard, self-worth, and self-competence that is stable and relatively invariable over time and across contexts. Research has also shown that increased self-esteem is significantly associated with reduced feelings of self-stigma among adults who stutter. Therefore, it could be the case that higher self-esteem is a protective factor in a person’s willingness to communicate and might therefore be linked to communicative participation. Another component that is likely to predict communicative involvement in PWS is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as a person’s belief in one’s own ability to complete a specific task or habit successfully. In PWS, self-efficacy may provide some protection against the widespread consequences of chronic stuttering.

Stuttering is a highly personal and complex disorder that affects 5% of children and 1% of adults around the world. The most frequent type of stuttering, developmental stuttering, begins between the ages of two and four. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the many distinct brain systems involved in speech production. There is mounting evidence that stuttering has a hereditary component (Everard & Howell, 2018). However, in overcoming stuttering, it is not merely the absence of disfluency; rate, breath stream management, prosody, and self-confidence appear to be additional components that are necessary and sufficient to create regular speech flow (Perkins, 2016).

The turning point in my life was undergraduate. There are often presentations, from group presentations to the thesis defense. There was nowhere to run; I just had to develop confidence and make adjustments where needed, or I wouldn’t grow academically and professionally. Everything required speaking; hence there was the need to break free from the shackles of fear and discomfort. At that point, weakness or anything negative wasn’t an option. I realized that to see changes, I had to change my ways. I had to start doing uncomfortable things, which meant opening up; I started to do the opposite (extroversion). After school, when I started working, I learned to be professional in handling issues. I spoke on the phone and in person to workers from various departments. My job as an IT Officer allowed me to become more vocal. I still stutter, but the slight adjustments in my life have made a huge difference. I opened up to some of my colleagues about my stutter, which has been quite liberating. The relief of people knowing about one’s stutter can change things. My MSc research supervisor was aware I was a PWS, and before my thesis defense, he informed his colleagues to give me more time; during the presentation, I expressed myself confidently and answered all the questions posed; I owned my work, I finished my presentation earlier. It felt good. Aside from the speech preparations, PWS must inform those around them, colleagues at work, school, and even their significant others, about their stuttering to ease the pressure. Boyle & Gabel (2020) state that individuals with disabilities have reported on the benefits of disclosing or being open about their condition as a way to reduce feelings of stigma and increase social support.

Previous research investigations have found that PWS experience much higher worry and distress levels than fluent individuals (Boyle et al., 2018). For the individual who stutters, the experience of stuttering may entail unpleasant affective, behavioral, and cognitive reactions from both the speaker who stutters and the surroundings. This event may also result in severe limitations in the individual’s capacity to participate in daily activities, as well as a detrimental impact on the individual’s overall quality of life (Klompas & Ross, 2004). I studied my patterns, and confidence was a recipe for fluency. I interviewed at a company, and the first question was, tell me about yourself? I had practiced for this question weeks before the interview; I did not have to tell the interviewer I  was a PWS because I was fluid, I was confident, I spoke the change I wanted to see. If PWS wants to see change, they have to practice and rehearse like they were in an acting school; this has worked for me in my thesis defense, job interviews, among others. 

Stuttering is a condition that has conditioned the mind to have certain tendencies; the couvert and ouvert idiosyncrasies of stuttering are what we must be aware of to improve, to speak the change we want to see; it takes effort to overcome, to overcome we must take charge of our speech, and a starting point is to start being confident and aware of the intricacies. It would be recounted that Joe Biden, the 47th vice president of the United States of America, is a PWS and was running for president in the 2020 election regardless of the impediment. He often practiced in a mirror before delivering his speech, which is an indication that practicing before any event or occasion can be helpful. He is president of the United States of America as PWS, which is excellent news for the stuttering community; there is hope. If the world is big enough to accommodate us all, it is certainly bigger than the negative voices on our minds; there is room for growth. It is okay to stutter. We cannot predict the words we say every day due to the capricious nature of stuttering, but it is worth making an intentional effort to speak, an effort that will eventually speak the change we wish to see.

 

Reference

Boyle, M. P., Beita-Ell, C., Milewski, K. M., & Fearon, A. N. (2018). Self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social support as predictors of communicative participation in adults who stutter. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61(8), 1893–1906. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_JSLHR-S-17-0443

Boyle, M. P., & Gabel, R. M. (2020). “Openness and progress with communication and confidence have all gone hand in hand”: Reflections on the experience of transitioning between concealment and openness among adults who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 65(March), 105781. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfludis.2020.105781

Everard, R. A., & Howell, P. (2018). We have a voice: Exploring participants’ experiences of stuttering modification therapy. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1273–1286. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_AJSLP-ODC11-17-0198

Klompas, M., & Ross, E. (2004). Life experiences of people who stutter, and the perceived impact of stuttering on quality of life: Personal accounts of South African individuals. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 29(4), 275–305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfludis.2004.10.001

Perkins, W. H. (1973). Replacement of stuttering with normal speech: II. Clinical procedures. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 38(3), 295-303. doi:10.1044/jshd.3803.295

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How Confidence and Overcoming Fears Can Transition the Speech of Persons Who Stutter from Disfluency to Fluency – Ismail Denwar — 40 Comments

  1. I love this quote “Boyle & Gabel (2020) state that individuals with disabilities have reported on the benefits of disclosing or being open about their condition as a way to reduce feelings of stigma and increase social support.”

    This is such a underreported phenomenon as being able to create that feeling that we can be more authentic and open impacts us in more ways than we may appreciate

  2. Hello Ismail,
    Thank you for sharing your story and your experiences. I am studying to become an SLP and am wanting to learn as much as I can to ensure my ability support my future clients. You mentioned that disclosure has been liberating for you in your workplace. With Voluntary Stuttering I have read that disclosing one’s stutter immediately in a conversation by purposely stuttering can have a similar effect. So with that being said I was wondering what your thought are on Voluntary Stuttering? Does it seem like a plausible method in your opinion?
    I look forward to your reply.
    Thank you in advance,
    Jessie Redmon

    • Hi Jessie, I am glad this is the part you have chosen to improve the quality of our lives as PWS. Thank you. Now, with voluntary stuttering, in my opinion, it is counterproductive; a PWS always strives for fluency and does not want to inconvenience those around them. It’s important to be natural especially after making it known you are PWS. Informing those around is to ease the pressure, to be not stigmatized, and to gain social support that will in turn boost confidence. A PWS wants to appear fluent and not disfluent that is why I think voluntary stuttering is counterproductive.

  3. Hi Ismail,
    Your journey and growth described is really admirable. I find it inspiring that you chose to use your voice, take control of the situation, and desensitize from the fear of stuttering in front of others during your undergraduate years. I am currently an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton, and I hope to work with PWS and shed light on many points that you discussed. A very useful point you touched on was if PWS wants to see change, they have to practice, and rehearse similar of that in acting school. I am curious if this is a method that you still use to this day?

    Sincerely,
    Serena

    • Hi Serena,

      I am flattered, thank you. I wish you all the best in your study; we need you. I had an interview last week Monday, a panel of 3 interviewers for the role of database administrator; I was grilled for almost an hour; I did not stutter, I only stumbled on some questions, and that is normal. I had been practicing answering some common questions such as ‘tell me about yourself, ‘why do you want to leave your current role,’ and so on. The company is making me an offer. Practicing allowed me to tweak and project my voice; it was constantly improving. I did not memorize. Practicing puts your mind in a different state, a state of confidence, a state of fluency. For me, in terms of presentations and interviews, practicing or rehearsing has worked. However, in a regular conversation, I will stutter. I didn’t want stuttering to limit my growth, so I focused on what was important; if I didn’t learn to speak, I wasn’t going to grow. I practice when I have an interview or a presentation. I think most PWS are not bothered by stuttering around family and close friends; the major problem is stuttering in an academic or professional setting to people they are not familiar with and feeling embarrassed. My next challenge will be improving my stutter in a regular conversation; a regular conversation is a bit different because you can’t predict what someone will talk to you about or how you will respond, especially if you have blocks on certain words.

      Thanks again,
      Ismail

      • That is so amazing to hear, congratulations on your offer. Thank you once again for sharing the positive effects that practicing has had while giving me a new perspective on such. I know you are going to overcome any challenges that come forth as you already have thus far.

  4. Hello Ismail!

    Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate you stating that, “to see changes, I had to change my ways.” It is a lot easier said than done I’m sure, but those changes allowed you to live in every moment. I know that you decided to make these changes because you knew that you would not grow academically or professionally by not speaking. Do you wish you had made these changes before college? If so, do you think you would have benefited from acceptance, commitment, and mindfulness in stuttering therapy?

    – Kaitlyn

    • Hello Kaitlyn,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. Indeed it is a lot easier said than done; change is a marriage of action and drive, you can’t separate the two. If I had known what to expect in college, I would have prepared way ahead of time before anything else. Back at home I was used to be being indoors, but when I arrived at college, it was overwhelming, I had roommates who were the complete opposite of me. I was in a different region far away from home. Stuttering therapy I believe would have made a tremendous impact during my formative years and made me more confident; ideals like acceptance, commitment, and mindfulness as you have mentioned would have shaped me. I learnt the hard way.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  5. Hi Ismail,

    I am blown away by your confidence! I am currently in graduate school studying speech-language pathology and your story really resonates with me as someone who does not stutter. You stated, “If the world is big enough to accommodate us all, it is certainly bigger than the negative voices on our minds; there is room for growth.” This statement is something I would love to pass on to my clients who stutter and really anyone in general to boost much needed positivity to everyone with hurdles.

    • Hi Jbrendle,

      Confidence will never disappoint I assure you; you can expect good things. You have taken speech-language therapy to the post-graduate level to help people like me, thank you for choosing this path. I know will make a great speech-language pathologist. We need positivity, lots of it for people who stutter, and anyone in general like you mentioned.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  6. Hi Isamail,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and growth. One thing you said that stood out to me was “I realized that to see changes, I had to change my ways.” By doing uncomfortable things and getting out of our comfort zone is when we are really able to start to see changes and growth within ourselves. If you could go back in time, what is something that you would/could tell your younger self (before undergraduate program) to be able to take that next step and get out of your comfort zone?

    • Hi Desi Perdue,

      I am glad you found something that stood out in the article. If I could back in time, I will tell my younger self that fear is only an illusion, I would open up more, participate in activities, run for leadership roles, learn public speaking, I would do all the things I wanted to do, but could not. I would let nothing limit me ever again.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  7. Hi Ismail,

    thank you for sharing your story with us! Would you say that the best thing a PWS can do to get over their fear is to put themselves in situations, or in workplaces, that require them to be constantly talking to people?

    Thank you

    • Hi Ashley Nguyen,

      Thank you for the question. Well, a PWS has goals and dreams in life, and whatever they do must take them closer to their dreams; I realized personally, if I didn’t open up I was not going to grow academically and profressionally.What I an trying to say is that as PWS, stuttering should not limit us in anyway, even if it means overcoming our fears to achieve our goals in life. Putting ourselves out there is an intentional effort to take us closer to our dreams. And yes the best thing a PWS can do is put themselves in situations that require constantly talking to people; it will help develop the needed confidence to thrive out there.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  8. Hi Ismail,

    Your story is eye-opening and really signifies how the power of confidence can surpass any challenge. A part that really stood out to me about your story is when you stated “I studied my patterns, and confidence was a recipe for fluency”. This is really powerful because you took your stutter into your own hands to achieve a level of fluency for yourself. My question regarding this is, did you find in your research of others that were able to somewhat have a level of fluency by practicing certain speaking approaches or treatment methods by themselves similar to you practicing/ rehearsing what to say before a presentation or interview? And if so, would you share what specifically worked for other PWSs that you came across?

    As a post-bac student at California State University of Fullerton and currently taking a Fluency Disorders class, I find the potential of self-recovery of stuttering truly empowering. It means that other PWS, like yourself, can also undertake their stutter head on without fear to have a certain level of fluency that they would like to achieve.

    Your story is one that I will share with PWS as a future clinician to encourage and empower. I look forward to reading your response, thank you.

    ~Elilta Zellalem

    • Hello Elilta Zellalem,

      Confidence and practice gave me a level of fluency I needed to further my ambitions. We must know who we are. During my undergrad, I would do a little bit of research on presentations and public speaking for people who stuttered, and what I had gathered from various sources emphasized the need to practice; I tried it and I realized it made a huge difference in my speech. I was comfortable speaking when I practiced than when I did not. Practicing allowed me speak more clearly and project my voice. I have been practicing before a presentation or interview since then, and it was enough to take me where I wanted to go.

      In preparing for a presentation or an interview, I would write down what I am going to say though I don’t memorize it. I practice based on what I have written, I speak to myself in my room a number of times till I achieve the desired flow (articulateness). Remember it is not just about my stutter, but also the message I am conveying. So once I am able put my thoughts together, fluency comes naturally. The more I practiced, the more it tweaked my speech which in turn gave me some fluency.

      I am glad you find my story useful to other PWS like myself. I am certain that as PWS if we practiced for a presentation or an interview, it will make a lot of difference. It is a lot of work, and requires consistence,patience and a champion mind-set. Personalties like Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Joe Biden, and so on all practiced in some form which allowed them make an impact though it did not totally free them of stuttering, but allowed them perform to the highest level they desired in their respective careers; that is what I also seek to do. I am not looking a 100% fluency, but a level of fluency to achieve my goals. Practicing is a good start for anyone in my opinion.

      Thank you,
      Ismail.

  9. Hi Ismail,
    I really enjoyed reading your story. I believe that your story can inspire others to practice and overcome their fears when it comes to stuttering and speaking. I am currently studying speech at Cal State Fullerton and hope to work with those who stutter in the future. How do you feel clinicians can best support those who stutter? I look forward to your response and thank you for sharing your story.

    • Hi Emma,

      I appreciate people like you who have chosen to study speech. Thank you. Well, in my opinion, clinicians should find out what their patients hope to achieve with regards to speech and life in general; clinicians should be accountability partners and must communicate as often as possible; they have to build a relationship and ensure their patients are making progress, enough to achieve their goals and make an impact out there.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  10. Hi Ismail,

    Thank you for sharing your story! It is truly inspiring how although stuttering became a roadblock for you to grow, you were able to overcome and gain confidence to change your ways for yourself. My question for you is, you mentioned that you inform others of your stuttering to ease the pressure for yourself. Has the overall reaction and feedback been positive or were there any instances that were negative and made an impact on you?

    • Hi Demi Dang,

      Thank you for the question. Those I inform about my stuttering don’t see it as big deal; they focus on my strength and appreciate how far I have come; I think that may have compensated to an extent for my stuttering. So far, the overall reaction has been positive.

      Thank you,
      Ismail.

  11. Hello Ismail-

    Your paper has left me speechless. I didn’t know our president was a PWS nd that is just amazing to know because as you said, this gives the stuttering community an opportunity to be courageous and follow their dreams. Do you currently still practice before any huge event or have you felt comfortable enough now to step out and speak? When you first told this to people, were they shocked that this is something you have to do? Thank you so much for sharing such a personal, but empowering part of your life experiences. This has truly made me admire those who stutter or have any type of speech impediments. Hope to hear from you soon.:)

    • Hello Karen,

      I am happy you have learned something from the paper. Thank you for taking the time to read. On a regular day, I stutter. However, for presentations or interviews, I practice my speech to deliver; these interviews and presentations are mostly a step to the next level of my life. I practice till I don’t have to tell the panel I am a PWS. I get anxious just when I have started, and after a few seconds, there is a boost of confidence. Being prepared and knowing what to say I will say have been helpful.

      Thank you,
      Ismail.

  12. Hi Emma,

    I appreciate people like you who have chosen to study speech. Thank you. Well, in my opinion, clinicians should find out what their patients hope to achieve with regards to speech and life in general; clinicians should be accountability partners and must communicate as often as possible; they have to build a relationship and ensure their patients are making progress, enough to achieve their goals and make an impact out there.

    Thank you,
    Ismail

  13. Hi Ismail,

    I really enjoyed reading your article, it was very informative. I am proud to hear you were able to step out of your comfort zone and build the confidence you needed to become who you are today. I am an undergraduate student studying Communication Sciences & Disorders and I recently completed a project for my Fluency Disorders course. Similar to the research you provided, sources I found noted that when PWS inform their listeners that they are a PWS, it reduces possible negative emotions when speaking. You said that your pride did not allow you to open up and you often tried to hide your stutter. Do you remember when you discovered that directly informing your listeners would help release this pressure?

    Zaydell

    • Hello Zaydell,

      Thank you so much for reading the article. It makes me happy to know you are non-stutterer who has chosen to study Communication Sciences & Disorders to assist PWS, we appreciate you.

      I started to inform my close friends during my undergrad and also colleagues when I started working professionally, because I was working with them, and it was important they knew. My colleagues never mocked or judged me, everything was so normal; things were smooth.

      Informing people you will be working with is very helpful. In my opinion, PWS don’t need to inform everyone, however, they need to inform those who have some direct influence regarding their career goals and aspirations in life.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  14. Hi Ismail,
    I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for sharing your personal story. Your story is really admirable! I am impressed with your strength and determination to overcome the negative feelings of stuttering. Although I am not a person who stutters, I can relate to your story. I am currently an undergraduate student studying to become a speech-language pathologist. Besides pushing yourself to open up and become an extrovert, do you think working with a speech-language pathologist would have helped you even more?

    • Hi Bilsel Celine,

      I am glad you enjoyed reading the article. I wish you all the best in your studies, we need you. I strongly believe working with a speech-language pathologist during my formative years would have made a huge difference; I studied my own patterns to improve and allow me speak when there was the need; I think working with a speech-language pathologist will help me understand myself more, since every PWS is different.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

  15. Hello Ismail!
    Thank you for writing such a powerful article that describes how you have overcame the challenges stuttering has posed in your life. It is a great testimony for other to hear and read and be inspired from. I am proud that you have achieved very much in your academics and are considereing a PhD. I wish you the best of luck. I was wondering what advice you would give to young children who stutter about being ambitious and not letting stuttering hold them back?

    • Hello Alexis,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. Thank you for the question. My advice to young children is to find something they are passionate about and channel their energy into that; when they are good at something that average person isn’t good at, it builds their confidence, whiles they are still stuttering. I advice young children to focus on their dreams and goals in life; they should focus on making their mark out there, making an impact in society. They have the power to achieve anything they want, all they have to do is decide to put in the work; stuttering will be only a secondary issue.

      Thanks again,
      Ismail

  16. Hello Ismail,
    My name is Lauren and I am an SLP graduate student. Your story is truly inspiring and admirable. To say the least, even though I do not know you, I am proud of you. When you realized in college the only way to make it was to break down your barriers, you did just so! You did not let your stutter interfere with your goals. I think it is very important to spread the word from Boyles article, “Research has also shown that increased self-esteem is significantly associated with reduced feelings of self-stigma among adults who stutter.” I believe this could be a turning point in the lives of PWS. Thank you for sharing your story! It was truly inspiring.

    • Hello Lauren,

      Thank you so much. I’m flattered. I’m glad to know you are furthering SLP to the post graduate level; we the stuttering community need you.

      I was not going to let stuttering get in the way, on the contrary it gave me the drive to keep pushing. I always tried to focus on my goals, and making stuttering a secondary issue.

      Thank you,
      Ismail

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