Pamela Mertz

@pamela-mertz | contributor
Pamela Mertz is a person who stutters openly after 35 years of trying to hide it. She is an outreach specialist for a high school career technical program and does public speaking for a living. She was a Toastmaster for eight years and earned the highest distinction you can: Distinguished Toastmaster. Pam is on the Board of Directors for both the National Stuttering Association and the International Stuttering Association. She is also working with leaders around the globe through #50MillionVoices, an effort to improve workplace outcomes for people who stutter. She is no longer ashamed of her stuttering.
Pamela Mertz

Ending Ignorance About Stuttering

The world continues to be impatient with stuttering. It makes many people uncomfortable, nervous, and seems to activate the part of the brain that assumes any stereotypical portrayal of stuttering one has seen must be true. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true. If it’s on TV or in a movie, it must be true. Stuttering has been around for years and years and the exact cause is still unknown. Only about 1 percent of the population stutters, so it’s relatively uncommon and sometimes people have never even met a person who stutters. Even stutterers themselves often never meet a fellow stutterer, thus leading many of us to believe we’re the only one. Hollywood uses this rarity for comedic effect, often portraying people who stutter as bumbling fools, emotional wrecks and incompetent. Occasionally, something comes close to the truth, like the movie “The King’s Speech” (2010), which realistically portrayed King George of England, who stuttered. For the first time, millions of people who stutter felt like they finally weren’t being represented in a negative light. But many myths were perpetuated about stuttering, including things like parental bullying causing stuttering. People who stutter still struggle to be taken seriously, to have equity in schools and at work. Kids are teased and bullied in the school yard and classroom, sometimes even by teachers. Some kids feel uncomfortable being “pulled out” of class to attend speech therapy where everyone sees they are singled out. And very often, the school-based therapist has little to no knowledge about stuttering because university programs only require one class in fluency disorders, if that. Many have dropped the requirement completely. A 2018 published study about labor market outcomes in the U.S. shows that people who stutter are often paid significantly less than fluent colleagues for doing the same exact job. And this is particularly true for women who stutter, a minority within a minority to which I belong. People still laugh at people who stutter, mimic us and make clueless comments. Often, we can and should brush it off, as most of the time it’s not meant maliciously. Sometimes we should self-advocate and take a moment to educate and hope the person who laughed won’t do it again the next time they encounter a person who stutters. This has happened too many times for me and sometimes I get sick of having to explain I stutter, and would they please not laugh and please be patient enough to let me finish my own sentence. Stuttering is one of those “hidden disabilities” someone doesn’t see coming, so they don’t know we stutter until we open our mouths. Most civil people would never laugh at a person in a wheelchair. Why then is it OK to laugh at stuttering? Last month, I went to my doctor’s office for a planned appointment because I was having seriously low blood sugar issues. Yeah, I’m diabetic too. Another hidden disability. But no one has ever laughed upon learning I have diabetes. When the nurse called me in, she asked me to verify my birth date. I began saying “tw-tw-twelve” and she laughed. I looked her dead in the eye and continued with “th-th-thirteen” and she laughed again, and then said, “it’s not a trick question.” I was stunned and embarrassed. There was another nurse in line of sight and within earshot. This was a nurse, a medical professional. I stayed calm and said, “wait, I stutter, what you’re hearing is stuttering, please don’t laugh.” She claimed that’s not why she laughed. I stood firm and asked, “oh, what were you laughing at then?” She said the confused look on my face when she asked my birth date was funny. I said, “Of course I knew my birth date, I just stutter.” Then nothing else. She did not offer an apology and I was left feeling humiliated. I stewed about it for two days before deciding to contact someone in the patient relations department of the large faith-based hospital group practice. I chose to go that route because if I didn’t say anything, how would anything change? They were unhappy this happened and seemed receptive to my offer of providing an educational awareness session to medical associates. Medical professionals also don’t get any training on what stuttering is and isn’t. I’ve talked to a few people now affiliated with the hospital about next steps.  It’s been frustrating since it’s clearly not a training priority for them, and one person admitted that after talking to the nurse, the nurse’s only regret was that the matter had “got this far.” That was discouraging. What’s it going to take? People do not laugh and mimic other disabilities. How can we pave a smoother road for kids who stutter so they don’t have to deal with educational and career discrimination and be the brunt of jokes? Why is it so hard to be patient and respectful to everybody? Please, just take that extra moment and listen. Don’t roll your eyes or look away or finish what I’m trying to say. It’s not that hard.

Noah Ulicki

Developing a 'Type A' Personality Because of Fibromyalgia

This morning as I was sitting in class my English teacher asked to use my work as an example for someone who came late to class. I happily obliged and passed it to her, but as she viewed my page she began to laugh. “You’re a little Type A, aren’t you?” she asked. My paper was organized in a neat list, drastically different from my classmates who had words all over their pages. Being Type A is categorized as being ambitious and organized among other things, whereas characteristics of a Type B personality include being more laid back. I have been dealing with chronic illness more and more the last couple of years and the more unpredictable my health becomes, the more I attempt to control what I can. This includes how my schoolwork looks and being constantly early, because when living with an unpredictable illness such as fibromyalgia, I cannot afford to leave things up to fate. I almost always catch an earlier bus than I need to in case I need to get off due to nausea or I miss the bus because I cannot walk to the stop fast enough. My bag, like many others with chronic illness, is filled with the dozens of things I’d need in an emergency such as my meds and pain management supplies. Although I may be laughed at because of my organization, there is so much more than people see when they look at my neatly organized lists and multiple notebooks. My organization isn’t just a quirky personality trait, but a way to cope with the unpredictability I face every day.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Don't Force Students to Do In-Class Presentations

I work in a high school in New York, and we are the first state to mandate mental health instruction, curriculum and awareness raising activities in grades K-12. I am the Outreach Specialist at my school and I have also been assigned to serve on our newly formed Equity Team, which has been created to offer support and resources to teachers in identifying signs and symptoms of mental health challenges with our students, and to also recognize that mental health is not always a negative thing. Indeed, all human beings have mental health. The goal is to encourage knowing the difference between mental health wellness and when something has gone awry and a student may need help or support. We want teachers to know when the general sadness we all have from time to time may have slipped over to anxiety or depression that requires intervention, or a referral to a qualified mental health professional. We want to ensure no student falls through the cracks and all have equitable access to mental health care and support. We have a number of students in our school that manage anxiety, ADHD or other mental health challenges and require and desire the same opportunities for educational success as everyone else. As a person who also stutters, I am acutely aware of the need for adults in a student’s life to be consistent, caring and meet students where they are at and with compassion. I recently read a fascinating article on kids with anxiety who are self-advocating for the right to “opt out” of high pressure public speaking situations in the classroom. These kids often feel they are not ready to give a presentation in front of their peers, and that being forced to present may actually exasperate their anxiety. In my high school, our students are required to present often, as they should be; we need to be preparing kids for college and careers, where effective communication is a crucial life skill. Many of our students are terrified of speaking in front of their class, and often ask for reasonable accommodations they are entitled to if they have a diagnosed disability and the accommodation is noted on their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Very often, our teachers will work with students in need of accommodations and have them present to just the teacher and one or two friends, rather than the whole class. The goal is always to have a hierarchical goal, where the next time the student will feel comfortable presenting in front of a few more people and eventually before the entire class. This approach demonstrates compassion for the students’ needs and also that we are “putting students first,” which is our school motto. Recently I posted the article on Facebook, which invited comments from friends. Many commented that students should have not have “the right” to opt-out of mandatory school presentations. “It’s a rite of passage,” one said. “We’re raising a generation of wusses,” another said. I countered with agreement that we should be preparing students for life after school, and communication skills must be taught and honed so kids are ready for college and careers. But in the spirit of mental health wellness and compassion, we should not force kids who are telling adults they are not ready to do it anyway, “for their own good.” Very often, “for their own good” causes harm to kids with anxiety or who stutter. I had a harrowing, humiliating experience in college. It was my third year and I was majoring in Social Work. We were told at the beginning of the semester that we would be required to do a 10 minute presentation in front of the class. I stuttered, and for most of my life, including college, I kept this hidden. I was deeply ashamed and afraid of laughing, teasing, mocking and judgment from peers and adults. I had been mocked about my stuttering a lot by other kids growing up — and once in a while by adults too. That also shocked me, that an adult would laugh at a child who stuttered. I know now as an adult that it probably wasn’t meant to be harmful or malicious, as they probably just didn’t understand stuttering, but it was indeed hurtful. So I protected myself, avoided speaking situations and hardly talked at all. I agonized and obsessed for weeks over having to do this presentation, to the point I was making myself anxious and even a little physically sick. I finally gathered up my courage and asked my professor if there was some other way to present my knowledge of the subject, as I didn’t feel ready to stutter openly in a college setting. This was the first time I had acknowledged my stuttering and fears and actually asked for help. The professor denied my request, and said I must either make the presentation or take a zero for the class. I felt backed into a corner. Of course I didn’t want to take a zero, as it would harm my grade. But I was worried that stuttering openly in class would harm me. I went ahead and did it the presentation. It was the most humiliating and agonizing experience I’d ever had. I stuttered on almost every word, and felt myself physically tense up, struggle to breathe and my face and neck were flushed. Once or twice, I glanced up and saw my classmates stare at me with such pained expressions, as if they felt sorry for me. At least they didn’t laugh. When I glanced over at the professor, she had the same pained expression, but she also looked disgusted. I’ll never forget that. When I finally finished, to my horror, I felt tears welling up in the sides of my eyes. I was afraid I would start crying, and desperately did not want to do that in front of the class. So I headed back to my seat, feeling quiet stares behind me and silent tension in the room. Instead of taking my seat, I walked out of the classroom and into a bathroom right next door. By then I was crying, as I was so embarrassed. I also felt myself begin to hyperventilate, so I went into a stall and before I knew it, I was having a full-blown panic attack. I grabbed one of the brown paper bags provided for sanitary napkin disposal, and began breathing into the bag in an attempt to calm myself down. Mind you, I was just one room away from my classroom. I had been gone from class for well over 15 minutes by the time I finally started calming down and had stopped crying. No one came to check on me. How could that be? How could a 20-year-old college student walk out of a classroom in obvious distress, and no one was concerned enough to find me and see if I was all right? I will never forget that experience. It most certainly did not feel “in my best interest” or “for my own good.” How can humiliation of a student of any age be appropriate? Especially when that student specifically reached out and asked for help? We should be teaching kids who struggle with anxiety disorders, other mental health conditions or who may stutter that they need to challenge themselves and develop crucial communication skills. But we should also encourage and teach these kids how to self-advocate, talk about their disability and not be afraid to ask for help. And when that student does ask for help, meet that request with compassion and help the student feel proud that they spoke up. Then figure out together what might work best for them. After that humiliating college presentation experience, I took a “deeper dive” into trying to hide my stuttering. That came at a huge emotional price. I always felt like an impostor, and felt trapped by not feeling allowed to just be my true self. It took me 20 years and lots of “aha” moments along the way to “recover” from that “for my own good”experience. Most people in the education field — teachers, counselors, support staff — are not doctors. But it may be helpful to adopt the stance of doctors everywhere — “first, do no harm” — when it comes to pushing kids too hard when they may not be ready.

Pamela Mertz

Educating Professionals About Stuttering

One of the best therapy experiences for a person who stutters is to give talks about stuttering to people who don’t stutter. A person who has stuttered her entire life is certainly an expert on the topic. People who stutter and professionals in the field of speech language pathology can teach each other. A person who stutters can teach more than a textbook can to students studying to become therapists. I have had the opportunity several times to speak to both professional SLPs and students. I have spoken to graduate stuttering classes at universities both in person and via Skype. I’ve told my story and let people ask questions. One thing I’ve learned is that talking about stuttering to people who don’t stutter is extremely valuable. Both professionals and students don’t always have a lot of experience working with people who stutter, so getting to “pick our brain” is important. I had the opportunity to speak to the New York State Speech Hearing and Language Association annual conference this past Saturday. I had proposed a workshop on covert stuttering and was delighted that it was accepted. I was assigned the last slot on Saturday to speak, for which I was not delighted. I was worried only a handful of people would come to the last slot of a two-day conference. But I was wrong. I had a nice turnout with a mix of professionals and students, who stuck around ’till the end to learn more about stuttering. My workshop was titled “Reclaiming Her Space: From Covert to Overt Stuttering.” My goal was to talk about how a person makes the transition from wanting to hide their stuttering to reaching a point where they are OK with stuttering openly. I had a formal PowerPoint presentation prepared, with 28 slides. I also had a couple of activities planned for participants to do to convey what it’s like to try to hide stuttering. I quickly realized I was not going to get through all of my material. The audience wanted to ask questions and engage in dialogue with me. They really wanted to hear my personal story about my stuttering journey. So I pretty much ditched the last half hour of the presentation and just “leaned in” to having a back-and-forth discussion, with lots of great questions. It dawned on me at that point that I was the expert in the room. People wanted to know how it felt to stutter and how I handled less than positive reactions from people who are not used to communicating with someone who stutters. Because I get negative reactions a lot. People sometimes respond to me rudely, with pity or attempt to finish my words and thoughts for me. After the presentation was over, I felt relieved and proud. I gave myself an invisible high five for giving my best and stuttering unapologetically and openly in front of people I didn’t know. People came up to me at the end to thank me and a few even hugged me. But the best thank you came from a young SLP student who approached me in tears. She said she stutters too, that so much of what I had said resonated with her and that she wished she had the same courage to openly stutter. She said she has always tried to hide her stuttering out of fear and shame, but I had sparked a desire in her to try being more open. She said she hopes being a person who stutters will help her be a more compassionate SLP. We hugged and I felt a connection with her. I felt she was leaving with just a little more confidence to take with her on her journey. Stuttering makes us vulnerable. But when we take the risk to share our story, we realize many people are interested in our authentic voice. For that I am grateful. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Pamela Mertz

What I Wish My Younger Self Knew About Stuttering

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 soashamed. 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 somehowstuttering 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. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .