I debated about whether to write about this experience, because I do not want it to sound as if I am criticizing this person in any way. My only desire is to raise greater stuttering awareness. Due to the circumstances, I know in my heart this person did not understand what stuttering really is. He did not understand that stuttering is a real disorder millions of people face each day. One of the greatest things stuttering has taught me is to see the best in everyone — to always give them the benefit of the doubt, even when it is really difficult.
So, here’s what happened…
Quite a few months ago, I was sitting in speech class (a class taken by video) waiting for the next performance. If I remember correctly, this particular assignment had been to pick out a monologue and perform it in front of the class. Even though we followed a certain storyline, we had free reign to create our own characters. As the next student on the video walked to the front of the class and began speaking, something immediately caught my attention. There was something very different — and way too familiar — about the way his character spoke. Then, it hit me… really hard. He was pretending to stutter.
Unfortunately, this character wasn’t just someone who stuttered. He was also portrayed as awkward and unintelligent. Sadly, some people seem to associate stuttering with these things. As I listened to his broken speech, I felt like sinking down into my chair and disappearing. The whole class on the video was laughing. I tried to smile and ignore the way this made me feel, but I just couldn’t. I tried to focus on the performance, but the stuttering was all I could hear at that moment. It’s not that I was bothered by the stuttering itself. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just sad that stuttering was being used as a joke.
I could sense the people next to me, who knew I stutter, glancing nervously at me. I tried to mask the shock and sadness on my face, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the performance ended. The teacher on the video walked to the front of the class and congratulated him on his excellent performance. What is so difficult about this situation for me is that it really was a great performance. He did an amazing job staying in character and making the character believable. But the teacher’s last couple of comments stung so deeply. “Great job on making your character stutter! I think that added a great aspect of humor to the performance.” My heart sank.
At that moment, I realized I had to do something. I told myself over and over, “You can’t be upset at them. You just can’t. But you know what you can do? Raise awareness.” I think we have all probably seen the media portray stuttering in a humorous way. It is so difficult for me to not be deeply hurt by every stigma I hear about stuttering. However, I have had to realize that many people do not have a full understanding of stuttering. It’s OK that they don’t understand. I can’t expect them to understand something they have never experienced or heard about. However, I can do my very best to keep raising awareness so they do understand. That has become one of my life goals!
Will you join me in raising awareness for stuttering? Whenever we hear something negative about stuttering, we can take that opportunity to kindly and lovingly tell others more about stuttering so they can understand. Small things like that can make such a huge difference towards raising awareness.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share this amazing journey with you.
Image via Thinkstock.
A version of this post originally appeared on Flawlessly Spoken.
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