This is my second interview on stuttering. My daughter and I met with our good friend Pam, the Chapter leader of the National Stuttering Association in Cincinnati. She shared some of her stuttering journey with us.
She, like my daughter, doesn’t remember not stuttering. She had other speech issues as well, and can’t really recall when she began to stutter.
Pam shared that when she was young she had a lot of blocks and pauses, which is common with some people who stutter. She remembers that it changed somewhere along the way during elementary school, around third or fourth grade. The blocks and pauses stopped for the most part.
When Pam was young she really didn’t notice that she talked differently than other kids. In high school, however, she realized what a huge transformation had taken place with blocks and pauses. She no longer had to contend with that. And although she still stuttered, she noted that she stuttered less.
Some people who stutter refer to themselves as covert stutterers; meaning that they hide the fact that they stutter. They expend great amounts of time and energy strategically avoiding certain words that they are sure to get stuck on, and instead look for other options or ways to communicate.
I asked Pam if she fit into this group…did she avoid words that were difficult to say, or words she knew she would get stuck on. She said she was sure she did but doesn’t remember any specifics.
Pam, like so many other folks who stutter, went to speech therapy while in school. She said she didn’t really remember being given any techniques to use that helped her. She also said there were no devices that she remembers, perhaps before the days of Speech Easy and other such aids.
Pam first heard about the National Stuttering Association (NSA) on MTV. There is apparently a show that is aired on that station called True Life. They ran a show entitled True Life I Stutter. It was due to that show that Pam began her journey to finding this organization which she stated, “Has changed my life.”
When I asked her if she was ever made fun of because of the stutter, she replied, “Oh yeah”. How sad that makes me. This led me to ask her if she knew any others who stuttered while growing up. She responded that as far as she knew there was no one. In a school of three to four hundred people, Pam knew of no one else who stuttered. I find that incredible, and hard to believe. Were they not there, or did they just hide it?
Pam said that the issue of stuttering has become easier now that she is an adult. She accepts it as a part of who she is, and especially in the past couple of years, due in part to becoming acquainted with and a part of the NSA.
I asked her if she ever feels alone because of stuttering. She simply said yes.
She is quick to add that there are positives about stuttering which I think, is hard for those of us who don’t stutter to comprehend. She says stuttering has opened doors to meet new people and make new lasting friendships through NSA.
When I asked her if she could would she take the (pretend) pill to never stutter again, she replied “No.”
“Why?” I asked.
Her response, “Basically it boils down to if I take the stuttering away I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It is a part of who I am.” I get that, really. That can be said for any given life experience that shapes and molds us into the people we are. I, however, would drink the Kool-Aid (so to speak) and hope for something else to make me the person I am today. It is with great respect for her that I relate that. It shows such character and maturity on her part.
I asked Pam while sitting there talking about this stuttering issue that I have had so much experience with, yet don’t truly understand, if she would care if and when she has children of her own, would she hope that they didn’t stutter. Pam said it really didn’t make a difference one way or the other.
Pam ended our conversation stating that she doesn’t feel limited at all by the fact that she stutters. She was somewhat shy and reserved because of it while growing up; she didn’t like to participate in activities, especially reading aloud in school. But she said most teachers were very patient with her when she did.
She said she believes that maturing and becoming comfortable with who you are is a major factor in stuttering. Accepting who you are and that stuttering isn’t something that can limit you or hold you back, unless you let it.
Her message to the non-stuttering community is: “Be patient. Let us get our words out. I encourage you to ask questions to those who stutter, to learn more about this complex issue of stuttering. I’m open to questions. That is the only way people will learn.”
And she definitely feels strongly about finding a local NSA chapter and becoming involved, and if at all possible have your family become involved too.
Thank you, Pam, for sharing your story with us. Helping others become aware is key to helping people become more comfortable with how to interact with people who stutter. You are an inspiration, and a great chapter leader.