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The First Time I Heard Someone Imitate Stuttering

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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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When I Took Steps Toward Becoming My Own Advocate

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Last week, my mom helped me reach some pretty big goals. I am so thankful for her “gentle pushes” along the way. Without both of my parents’ guidance, I don’t know where I would be. They are simply amazing!

Recently in speech therapy, my therapist and I have been discussing how important it is that I become my own advocate, especially as I approach college and job interviews. Becoming my own advocate could include something as simple as making my own appointments or calling a store to ask about a certain product I need. For my whole life, my mom has done all of these things for me. However, as I get closer to being a legal adult, I am reaching a point in my life when my mom just can’t do these things for me anymore.

In addition to the usual fear of growing up, I also sometimes fear whether I will be able to communicate what I need on my own. For the first time in my life, it will be just me and my voice. Wow… talk about scary!

With all of this in mind, I was determined to start taking mini steps towards advocacy, no matter how scary it felt at first. I started at the most basic level — picking things up for my mom at the store and returning clothes to Kohl’s. Pretty simple, right? It might sound simple, but for me, someone who stutters, simple tasks can become mountains. With my mom’s words of encouragement still on my heart, I walked slowly to the pharmacy counter to pick up a prescription for her for the first time.

I had to tell the pharmacist the name of the medicine I needed, my mom’s full name and her date of birth. The pharmacist was kind and patient, even when I really struggled to say my mom’s name. It might have been a little rocky, but we still received what we needed, and most importantly, I had finally asked for something myself. That’s all that mattered to me in that moment. What amazed me most was how little my stuttering appeared to even faze the pharmacist. For the first time, I realized how different my perspective of my stutter is from everyone else’s. An experience I feared would be so traumatizing and so embarrassing turned out beautifully. My speech hadn’t been perfect, but that was OK. I was seeing my stutter through a brand new lens.

In less than an hour afterwards, I picked up some pictures from Meijer and returned a shirt to Kohl’s. At Meijer, I struggled quite a bit to say my last name, even more than usual. But again, the lady I spoke to was so sweet and patient that it was as if I had never even stuttered. Her response filled my heart with so much hope. “Maybe I can do this. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.”  

My experience at Kohl’s went very well, too. Nearly everything I needed to say came out surprisingly smoothly. Needless to say, I walked out of that store with a smile on my face and praise on my heart!

By the end of the day, I had learned such a valuable lesson. Sometimes what we fear doing the most is not nearly as scary once we have the courage to try.

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My Stutter Is Not 'Stubborn Speech'

Although I am proud and satisfied with the way I speak, I do not appreciate people misrepresenting me. Someone recently introduced me to another individual (whom I do not know) by saying, “This is Dariel, and she has stubborn speech.”

I strongly felt that person’s introduction of me was an insult. I am so much more than my stutter; it does not define who I am. The fact that the person felt the need to warn someone about my stutter before I could even open my mouth was totally disrespectful. I felt like she was telling the lady, in so many words, how she should communicate with me according to how I speak.

No matter what condition someone has, I would never introduce them as someone who has a disability or disorder, for it has nothing to do with who they are as a person. I do not want to be defined as someone who has a speech impediment, just seen as Dariel. I’m not mad at the woman who wrongly introduced me, because I do not think she meant any harm. However, I do believe that people should be careful and mindful of how they interact with us stutterers. Saying the wrong things can hurt our feelings; not everyone is not as strong as I am when hearing comments that could easily be taken as offensive.

My advice is not to point out a person’s stutter. It takes confidence and courage for us stutterers to speak.

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5 Things I Wish My Younger Self Knew About Stuttering

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When I was growing up as a kid who stuttered, I felt so isolated. I didn’t know anybody else who talked like me, and no one ever talked about my stuttering. My father would yell at me when I stuttered, which made me feel scared and ashamed. When I started school, I remember my kindergarten teacher also reprimanding me for the way I talked, which again made me feel so
ashamed.

I got teased a lot for my stuttering. Kids mimicked me and laughed and I began to not want to talk at all, because of the reactions I got and the feelings I had. It was a very lonely experience growing up thinking I was the only person who talked like this. I felt weird and awkward and like somehow
stuttering was my fault.

I worried about stuttering all the time and constantly figured out ways to not stutter openly. I developed a huge vocabulary as a kid, and became an expert at substituting words that I knew I would stutter on with words that were safer to say. And I also avoided speaking situations a lot.
Sometimes it was just easier not to talk – then it was guaranteed that I wouldn’t stutter.

As I got older, things changed. Dealing with stuttering became a little easier, because I learned to not care so much about what other people thought. And I met other people who stutter, which changed my life dramatically. I realized I wasn’t the only one and there was no need for me to feel so weird and awkward anymore.

These are the things I know now about stuttering that I would have liked to know when I was younger.

1. Stuttering is no one’s fault. It is a speech disorder that interferes with the normal flow of speech production. It is widely thought today that stuttering is neurological and also genetic. No one in my immediate or extended family stutters, but it definitely wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything to cause my stutter, and neither did my parents.

2. When you get older, stuttering is easier to deal with. It’s a bigger deal in our heads than it really is to other people. Adults have their own issues – they don’t care that someone else stutters.

3. Stuttering does not mean that we are less intelligent than others or that we have emotional problems. We are not nervous or shy. We just stutter. We’re as smart as anyone else and can do anything that anyone else can.

4. There are lots of people who stutter. In fact, there is a whole community of people who stutter, from all walks of life. People who stutter are very successful and have careers as lawyers, doctors, educators and many more. When I was growing up, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a good job just because of the way I speak. That’s just not true.

5. Stuttering make us unique. Only 1 percent of the general population stutters, which means I have something that 99 percent of the world doesn’t have. And that’s kind of cool.

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The Difference Between Pity and Empathy for My Stutter

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Empathy and pity… are these words synonymous, or are they worlds apart? The first definition for pity is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortune of others.” However, empathy is differentiated from pity by a single, beautiful phrase: to understand and share. Should we feel sorry for others, or should we strive to understand and share in their struggles?

By its very definition, pity suggests that my stutter wasn’t really supposed to happen. It implies that stuttering is a tragic mistake that keeps me from enjoying life. Pity is feeling sorry for the sadness and the suffering that stuttering must bring. In other words, pity dwells in the darkness, instead of stepping into the light. It only sees the negative, when in reality, there is so much more to stuttering. My stutter is not a mistake. My stutter brings me sadness sometimes, but it also brings me incredible joy. It has not kept me from enjoying life; it has made me love it even more. Please, do not pity my stutter.

While pity only sees the condition, empathy goes one step further to see the person. To be honest, I need to work on this in my own life. Feeling empathy for others means that we begin to understand how they feel and what they see. As we seek to truly understand someone’s condition, we slowly begin to share in their feelings, too, although we can never fully understand what someone else feels. The truth is that I do not want people to feel sorry for me. I do not want people to be sad for me, because I am not sad. I am on an amazing journey to embrace all the wonderful gifts stuttering can give me.

Of course, I do desire for people to understand how difficult life can be for someone who stutters. Stuttering can be extremely difficult, but I don’t want people to miss all the blessings I have experienced from stuttering. I want people to share in this journey and grow with me. I believe true empathy acknowledges the struggle and feels the heartache, but then it encourages us to thrive in spite of it all.

My greatest desire is for people to see that being different is not something to be pitied. Rather, it is something to be felt, to be understood, and most of all, to be celebrated.

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'So... What Does Stuttering Feel Like?'

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Although it’s impossible to describe exactly what stuttering feels like, there are a few comparisons that closely resemble the struggle that takes place:

First, try thinking of the mouth as a “gate.” Only once the tension grows strong enough to force open the gate do the words finally tumble out, much to the stutterer’s relief. As you know, every sound requires its own unique formation in the mouth. Each of these sounds comes to the gate and pushes… and pushes… and pushes with all its might until it finally breaks through. This pushing causes a lot of tension in the mouth, neck, and shoulder area for the stutterer. I often feel my neck tighten, my shoulders scrunch together, and my tongue push against my teeth.

From this description, I’m sure you can imagine how exhausting it is to stutter. It is much more than just messing up words sometimes. It is a daily battle to break free and to make one’s voice heard. But it is a worthy battle, a battle that strengthens character, teaches endurance, and reminds me of just how precious this life really is.

Secondly, try thinking of the mind and voice as two conflicting sides in this battle. Although stuttering mainly affects speech, it wages quite a war against the mind. The mind stands on one side, absolutely bursting with things to say. The voice stands on the other side, fearing it will crack under the weight of all those words. As I look at the person standing in front of me waiting for my answer, my mind screams out a beautiful response, but my voice freezes. My voice knows what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, but it just can’t bear the load. Finally, my mind and my voice compromise, and I blurt out the first thing that will come out. Sometimes, this means that I end up with a caramel iced coffee instead of a vanilla iced coffee.

In the past, I really let moments like that get to me and make me feel like less of a person. As soon as I was out of sight, I would cry until I couldn’t cry anymore, staring at an iced coffee I really didn’t want. On the hardest days, my mom was right there to encourage me: “Kenzie, you may not be the average speaker, but why in the world would you want to be ordinary when you can be extraordinary? Of all the people in the world, your voice makes you uniquely unforgettable.” I love you so much, Mom.

I would be lying if I told you I still don’t have moments like this. I am still human, just like you. To be honest, there are days when I just want to scream. Stuttering makes me feel so vulnerable. But I’m slowly learning how to find beauty where I used to see brokenness. 

All of us have struggles, but those struggles can be a gift we give to the world. If we can just learn to harness the stutter’s incredible power and redirect it for good, we can encourage someone else who is struggling. We can remind them that they have every reason to dream big and give them the courage to say what is in their heart. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty beautiful!

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