Stuttering and reading

Well, of course the day after I talk about reading simple children’s books, my daughter comes to me with … a real book. It’s some book about a princess, but that’s not important. It doesn’t have any pictures, is well over a hundred pages, and it definitely taking me back to “Bump” in school.

(Did you have Bump? Oh, it’s a special kind of hell for someone who stutters. Basically one person in your class starts reading part of a story out loud that you’re all following along silently to. Then they say, “bump, Rehan.” And Rehan has to pick up reading (OUT LOUD — did I mention that part?) until he’s had enough and says, “bump, Rebecca.”)

Anyway. she asked me to read this book to her. I’m not entirely sure she “gets” the book, but maybe it’s just nice for her to hear me tell a story. About a princess. And it gives  me a chance to practice my reading, tones, pacing, breathing, and accents as applicable. When I first started reading, I was stumbling a bit. And thought, oh no, here we go. We’ve graduated to non-picture books, and I’m screwed now.

But it’s getting better, and I’m trying to really practice speaking out loud. I do stutter very, very slightly on some words. The ones that start with “w” or “l” I tend to drag out slightly longer which of course irritates the crap out of me. But she doesn’t care or notice, and on we go.

When I was very young, I remember reading books to myself and getting completely lost in them. I’d cast the characters, paint a scene in my head, and off they’d go. I’d read for hours on end, this movie going on in my head the whole time.

Well, I’m doing that again, it seems. While reading out loud, I find myself getting lost again in the story, really picturing what’s going on, how people are talking, interacting, moving.And honestly I think it’s helping with the reading and not stuttering as much. I’m not thinking about the words, I’m thinking about the story and characters. Sure, I see the words I know I’ll stutter on, but they don’t feel like as big of a deal. And again, of course, the audience helps. It’s just my five-year-old daughter (and sometimes the other kids if they’re wandering around).

Fluent now, fluent later …?

One of the few things that I’ve been fluent on consistently is reading children’s books to my kids. But I’ve noticed that whereas before I could rip through say, 10 stories without a single stutter or stumble, now it’s once or twice per 10. I don’t know if I’m being too hard on myself (I think I am) or if something is getting to me and letting the stutter creep in.

My daughter mentioned to me the other day that in her school the parents sometimes come in and read to the kids. Could I come in and do this? Well, I have been busy, but it is something I want to try.

I’ve noticed that when reading the kids books I see words ahead … that I think, ok, that’s a word I’ve stuttered on a lot before. And the word comes, and I just say it. Without stuttering. This happens again and again and again. (The prescanning of course being a natural course of action for those of us who stutter so we can get ourselves all worked up.)

I’m fascinated by this. On the one hand, I’m happy to see a word, worry about a word, and then say it without any problems. On the other, I think that maybe it’s the audience. I’ve read to my kids thousands of times, and some books I’ve almost memorized. How would I actually do if I had to read in front of a bunch of 5-year-olds? And the teachers? And any other visiting parents?

Well, only one way to find out.

Action for Stammering Children Day 5

Alright, so today is the last day of commenting on the Action for Stuttering Children’s tweets. You can read what I wrote about on Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

Today’s post is  “Can you really read other peoples’ minds? Do you really know what other people think about your speech? Try to relax and go with the flow.”

So I really like this one. Quite brilliant, really. And here’s why — think about … what you think about other people when they’re talking. Are you really even paying attention? You hear bits and pieces here and there, right? I mean, if you’re at lunch, making some small talk with coworkers, what are you really thinking about? You listen for a bit, you think about the meeting you have coming up. Or what’s due tomorrow. Or your dinner date that evening. Or your weekend plans. Isn’t your credit card bill due? Is this Friday payday? What time is that thing for my kids tomorrow?

Just as you’re thinking about other things while your friends are talking, so are they. They hear you. They hear the stuttering. They might hear what you’re saying. But they’re also spacing out. Trust me. And we shouldn’t be bothered by it. And we should also shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, either. There’s an enormous pressure on those of us who stutter to be perfect — because that’s what we always see on tv, at work, and at home or with friends. But it’s not necessary. But speaking is just one part of life. And we just so happen not to be perfect at it. So?

I wrote a while ago about first impressions, and I think it’s really relevant here, too. (almost a year ago to the day!)

I think this idea of a first impression being so important is a bunch of crap. Try this out — what do you remember about the first time you met your best friend? You know, the one who you’ve been friends with since you were like, 12? The one you met in English class who you still talk to every day? The one who doesn’t care what you look like because they can just as easily open up the high school yearbook for a few laughs?

Do you remember that first encounter? No? I didn’t think so.

I’ve also noticed that as I tell more and more of my close friends about stuttering, I get sort of the same reaction — you stutter? I never noticed. Some even say, yeah, but it never seems to bother you. Does it?

I’m not saying at all that stuttering doesn’t bother me. Or that it shouldn’t bother you. But it should bother us less and less as time goes on. As we make more positive connections between stuttering, saying what we want, and having neutral or positive experiences. And that all comes from realizing that we are our harshest critic. That our friends are our friends because they support us. And that strangers who hear you stutter aren’t going to jump down your throat about it and then spend the rest of their week telling the whole word how strange you sounded while ordering coffee.

Action for Stammering Children Day 4

I’ve been commenting on tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. You can read my thoughts on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Today’s post is  “Building your child’s confidence by focusing on what he is doing well and praising them, can make them feel more relaxed about their stammer.”

I was very fortunate that my parents never bothered me about my stutter. They never told me to slow down or whatever. They were supportive with regards to me going to speech therapy in school. They also did encourage me academically and when I was involved in extracurricular activities. I think that all helped a lot.

I think that stuttering during school and then going home to pressing expectations would have really crushed me and caused me to completely shut down socially. As it stood, I enjoyed school and became more and more comfortable talking to my friends as the years went on.

I can see how my parents even asking a question here and there would really make me dwell on my stuttering for days and days. I had enough of that when I had book reports and whatever other presentations in school.

All that being said, I do think it’s important that if your child stutters, to get involved more in what they’re doing at school. That way you know when certain things are coming up (presentations!) and can help them — and encourage them — to rehearse. Even if it’s not in front of you, point them toward their best friends for an audience.

It’s also important to focus on the positives as the quote says. We all have our bad days, and once we start thinking about what we stuttered on, we get to, well, I’ll always stutter on that. Which leads to, if I can’t even talk in front of my class this year, how will I do it next year? And the self-doubt mounts quickly and spirals out of control.

We absolutely need someone there to put it all in perspective — a parent to say, what else will you be doing in that class? What else have you done? Is there a report that’s also part of the grade (in addition to the presentation?) Are there more oral reports coming up this year? Did you get feedback from your teacher already, or maybe you’re just being harder on yourself (as we usually are) than you should be?

I think as parents we must also come to grips with the fact that our children may not always want to confide in us. And that’s ok. So it’s also important to keep an eye on your kid’s circle of friends. Who are they spending the most time with? Can they confide in them? Can you talk to that friend about your child’s stuttering? Is that friend strong enough to stand with your child if someone laughs at their stutter?

Action for Stammering Children Day 3

Been going through some tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. Here’s a link to the First day and Second day.

Today’s post is  “Take your time and speak a bit more slowly. Pause and take some time to think before you start to speak.”

I find that as I get older, I definitely do this more and more. If nothing else, it’s to just take the time to take a breath. Maybe a long, deep breath. And this sounds strange, but I then try to focus on the middle of my first sentence. What I’m going to say — not how I’m going to start to say it. Sometimes this works, and the opening bit of the sentence comes out more easily.

It’s a fine line when you’re speaking slowly, though. Especially if you’re covert — all you’re really doing is scanning ahead for words to avoid. On the other hand, I find that if I can string a few words that I actually want to say (through better breathing and pacing) my confidence grows and so does the momentum of my speaking.

I’ve also found that if you actually stop to think and pause between sentences, you can really gather your thoughts and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. There’s nothing worse than getting completely off track and stuttering while doing so — it just means you’ll have to stop, correct yourself and explain what you really meant. And by that time, you’re flushed with anxiety and want to start speaking faster. And then it all breaks down quickly.

If you get a chance, try to notice how you pace your speaking when you’re talking to colleagues or even strangers versus close friends. With strangers, I’m usually a bit more tense, a bit more hurried, my shoulders are hunched up, and I’m not really thinking about what I’m saying. More of how it sounds coming out, and what I have to say next.

With close friends, think of a time in a coffee shop, or in the living room late in the evening. Quiet, relaxed. Your pacing is probably slower, you’re listening more, you’re not as worried about how you sound, but what you’re saying. That’s the kind of pacing we should all try to do with everybody.

Action for Stammering Children Day 2

This week I’m going to go through several tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. Here’s yesterday‘s post. These have all been done by children, teenagers and therapists. They all sum up the stuttering experience very well, and I thought I’d add a bit more to them regarding my own experience.

Today’s post is, “Certain situations make us stammer more. Many of us find being put on the spot or under pressure the hardest.” This is meant for teachers by pupils.

I know when I was in school I certainly hated getting called on randomly. I mean, yes, I had the answer, but having to articulate it was pretty stressful. And everybody who stutters has been through The List.

What’s The List? Oh you know. For me it was a spelling lesson. There’s a new chapter for spelling, a list of words, and we’ll go around the room, and everybody will say the word, spell the word, read the definition and/or use it in a sentence.

So let’s see … I’m … 15th … go down the words … yeah, I can’t say that.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I think my French teacher in high school figured out that my stutter bothered me and that I hated having to speak. So imagine this — we had a language lab. You put on headphones and you and everybody else are all on the same “channel.”So the teacher could make us listen to a recording (en Francais!) and then she’d ask us about it. So everybody could hear you answer (en Francais!). So it was the hell of having to speak up in class but with the added hell of basically being on the phone. Fun!

Anyway, the point is that my French teacher was nice enough to click over to me, ask me something for just a second, and then go onto the next person. So grateful.

I know that for most presentations or book reports or whatever I was a total wreck. But I think that was a function of being a young person — waiting until the last minute, throwing something together, not rehearsing, and totally lacking confidence.

So what would I tell my younger self? Well for book reports and presentations that are a few weeks out, prepare and rehearse. Get more comfortable. You’re going to stutter, but the more you know, the more confident you’ll be, and the more comfortable you’ll be with delivery.

And what would I tell my younger self about getting put on the spot? About being asked to read something outloud suddenly? About having to go up to the chalkboard, do a math problem and then talk through the solution?

Well, start with a deep breath. Then take another. Then focus on delivering your answer at your own pace. Just because your friend before you rattled off an answer quickly doesn’t mean you have to. Remember — slow is your friend — your friends want you to take your time — it’ll make class end earlier! But seriously, I do still deal with this in my working life. I’m put on the spot by a senior manager or VP — asking me specifics about a project. Deep breath, some consideration, slow delivery. And in the working world, it’s ok to say you don’t know (when you genuinely don’t know — not when you’re just avoiding) and say you’ll find the information and get back to them.

The stuttering bothered me because I was comparing myself to my fluent friends constantly. But how do they sound when they’re put on the spot? Unsure? Uncertain? Searching for words? Nobody is perfect in those situations time and time again.

And what would I want to tell my teachers if I could go back?

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t want them to back off on oral presentations or anything. Not at all. That’s not how real life is going to be. But I’d prefer them to challenge me more on it. Ask me — Did you prepare early? Did you rehearse? Did you get a bunch of friends together and do the presentation in front of them?

For stuff on the spot, I’d ask simply that they be patient and maintain eye contact. To control the tone and make sure I’m not feeling rushed. For something like spontaneous group work — where you assign a leader — ask the group to assign one. So if I’m feeling good that day, I can take it. Otherwise I can still contribute meaningfully without the stress of having to present the bulk of the work.

I think also to recognize when I’m having a bad day (speaking-wise) and you’ve called on me. Look, I got up and did the math problem in front of the class. I showed all my work. I wrote it all out in a way that anybody could follow along. When I go in on explaining the first step and can barely say “x,” I’d certainly appreciate lightening up on follow-up questions.

To read more about my experiences in school, you can click here for elementary school, here for junior high, and here for high school.

Action for Stammering Children Day 1

Last week Action for Stammering Children put up posts on Twitter regarding stammering. These were quotes by children, teenagers and therapists on stammering and how to build confidence. I wanted to look at them and give my own thoughts on each. I’ll be doing one per week — they posted five, and they can be found on twitter @StammerCentre and by searching for #stammeringtips.

So the first one is, “People are more interested in what you have to say than how you are saying it

One of the nice experiences I’ve had since moving to Saudi is the respect. You simply get more if you are a Westerner. The premise is simple — you have been hired because you have the expertise and knowledge to help the company or project. The way we do things in the West is considered more sophisticated, and imparting that know-how is important.

So what happened to me when I started going to more meetings here — meetings with my engineers and clients — was that as soon as I started talking, everybody got quiet and started to listen. It was a bit unsettling at first, really. But then I figured it out. Did I stutter? Oh sure, lots. But everybody just sat there, staring at me, hanging on my every word. This guy knows! Listen to him! At least that’s what I’d like to think.

Sadly, thinking about it more, I realize that before coming here, people would listen to me because … well, I didn’t talk that much in the office or in meetings. Because I was covert! And knew I’d stutter. So if I had something to say, it was startling to them. And it must have been important if the quiet guy is speaking up!

But most importantly, I’ve learned that friends and loved ones don’t care about your stutter at all. If you ask them about it, they’ll tell you that, “I don’t hear you stutter when you talk.” And why is that? It’s because they’re listening. They want to hear the message, hear your feeling, and make a connection. You listen to them, and they listen to you. That’s the point of family and friends, right?

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Not nervous at all

This will the first part of a story regarding a recent presentation at work. The presentation wasn’t that big — we were put into groups of 4, given 2 days, and had to present on the third to about 40 people. We only were given 45 total minutes, half of which we were supposed to speak. (the rest for discussion) So … 24 minutes of speaking, 4 speakers (well, five in my group) so five minutes a piece. Take out some transition time, maybe a single question here and there, and it’s really 3-4 minutes of talking.

Anyway, the morning of our presentation, I was chatting with our team leader. He said he was nervous. One of the people on the “panel” made him a bit nervous all the time.

I think most people who stutter have had this happen to them — a fluent person tell them about being nervous publicly speaking. And you look at them like, are you serious? You’re nervous?

But that’s the easy thing to do. Get pissed off. I just sort of dismissed it but saw it instead as an opportunity. I haven’t been advertising much at all lately. So I said, “oh, well, I’m not nervous at all. But I do stutter, so that just makes it a little harder to talk.”

And it was true. I really don’t get nervous about public speaking in a “getting up in front of others” sense. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve done it before. It’s the opening my mouth and betrayal that annoy me more than anything.

The other thing for this particular presentation was that I’d be speaking in front of all my colleagues — who I probably talk to at least once a week or more. So I was feeling fairly comfortable.

Tomorrow — just how did things actually turn out?

 

Looking for the right connection

I was at a meeting several weeks ago with a lot of people. It was an open kind of discussion, if there’s a problem, let’s get it out there, and let’s talk about it. So I had a problem. So I raised my hand (eff you, stuttering!) and stuttered away, stating my issue.

What I noticed as I tried to look around the room was that someone wasn’t interested. At all. Face sort of down, exasperated, get-on-with-it, whatever. We all know this look. Now, was this just because of me and my stuttering? In the moment, I certainly thought so. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen it enough to think well, that’s what that is.

But what else did I see? I saw neutral faces. Eye contact. And at the far end of the bell curve? A small smile, a nodding head. Agreement. Understanding.

I think for a long time I’ve been too focused on the wrong end of the bell curve. The dismissive looks and boredom. I need to focus more on those who are actually listening and engaging, those who don’t care about the stuttering and want to hear my message. That keeps me going. I may forget to breathe, to pace myself, to think clearly, but at least I have their attention for the moment, and I shouldn’t waste that.

I know if I have friends in the audience and start to smile a little, they will too. I can then hold their eyes for a little longer before going on to the next smirk or the next nod.

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