Search Results for: elementary

Starting therapy and the rest of elementary school

In third grade, big changes started happening. I remember getting put into the gifted program (or maybe I was before, but now some of us were also in a separate group during regular class time) and my teacher, Mrs. Baker, telling me that while I did have a stutter, it wasn’t as bad as her uncle’s.

Even though I was being singled out for this, I wasn’t being held back by my stutter. I wasn’t letting it get in my way because I actually didn’t know any better. I was still doing very well in school, and scoring near the top of every test and quiz that was given. I knew almost all the answers in class as well.

While I haven’t asked my parents, I’m guessing this is around the time that the school district started talking to them about my stutter. My parents never talked to me about it anyway. Then in either third or fourth grade, I started speech therapy at school. It was what, maybe an hour or 45 minutes per week.

Like Jack before me, I would leave the classroom and see the therapist, a lady whose name I forgot. We’d sit down and chat, she’d make me say some sounds, some words, some sentences. And for the most part, I wouldn’t stutter at all. I was very comfortable. The nice thing was that nobody ever said, ‘hey, you need to fix this otherwise it’ll ruin your life forever.’ No, it was more of a break from classes to go chat with this nice lady, and that was that.

In fourth and fifth grade, I continued the speech therapy. And the gifted program. Thinking back on it, by fifth grade, I was very comfortable and confident. Knew pretty much everybody in the class, and got along well with them. Never got into any trouble. During a music class (while singing — or, you know, trying to sing) I discovered what anybody who stutters knows — that I didn’t stutter while singing. I thought this was pretty interesting albeit not very useful. My life wasn’t about to become a musical, after all.

I don’t remember the stuttering being a huge problem because we weren’t raising our hands and giving long descriptive answers. It was a quick word or number or whatever. Oral book reports or presentations … yeah, didn’t have those either that I recall. So things were going pretty well.

In our school district, the elementary school ended in fifth grade. Then it was time to get dumped into the junior high school (we called it middle school) for grades 6-8. A much bigger pool of kids, and a lot more uncertainty. But I’ll get to that in a little while. Let’s take a break and talk about how awful the telephone is for the next few days.

Heart pounding

So despite the acceptance, there are still times — moments — that the stuttering become overwhelming. I’m getting better and better at throwing myself into situations. Into asking questions I already know the answer to. Into making spontaneous small talk.

The other night our elementary school had an event for next year’s first graders. An informational session. I went by myself to listen — even though I pretty much knew all the information.

During the course of the talk, I thought of a question. And when it came time to raise a hand for questions, my heart took off.

Like, elementary school, counting how many kids are before me so I can figure out what paragraph I have to read pounding.

I seriously thought that I had this under control. That I could calm myself down. That I was calm! This was no big deal. I had this. Maybe not? Mentally I was fine. I was forming the question in my mind, and I knew how I wanted to ask. Physically I was a mess. My breathing was tripping over itself, and my heart was racing.

This response is really, really burned in. Maybe it was being back in school? Maybe because we were in an auditorium and I knew I’d have to speak up? Maybe because these were the parents of my kids’ friends and they might say something?

My question … it sort of got asked by someone else, so I put my hand down. I could have kept it up, but I didn’t want to go through with it. It was too much in the moment. So I let my stutter win. An unexpected, come-from-nowhere win, mind you.

Stuttering and Resilience

If you didn’t already know, those of us who stutter are a rather resilient lot. We have to be. We have to get up every morning and know perfectly well that we haven’t been cured magically overnight. Nor will we ever. We have to pick up the phone again and again, cold calls, strangers, onlookers and prompts for voicemails be damned. And we have to interview for jobs again and again and again and again. And before we interview in person, it’s always a phone call.

So yes, we know very well about bouncing back.

So this is an article about learning to become resilient.

This sums up a lot of what we all know:

Resilience presents a challenge for psychologists. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

The article also gets into stresses — the size and duration. Some are affected by a single large event. Others — like us — get the small, repeated kind. (And yes, I know it may not be very small …)

They go on to talk about what we should really take to heart — we are in control, and it’s our reactions that will shape our outlook and stance on life. I’ve always felt an internal locus of control. I don’t blame anybody else for my mistakes or station in life. I’m calling the shots, and thus, I’m living with the consequences. If there are others who are speaking negatively about me or trying to hurt me, then I either just cut them out of my life or ignore them.

Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements.

They then talk about perception:

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

More stuttering goodness here. Ok, yes, I had that oral presentation in front of my class, and I stuttered through the whole thing. But will I take that singular event (and be able to remember it 20 years later) or ask myself, ok, for the next presentation, what can I do better to prepare? Did I do everything I could have this time? Rehearse it with myself in the mirror? In front of peers? Did I practice the breathing and other techniques that I went over with my therapist? Did I relax my shoulders and focus on my best friend sitting three rows back, or the salty looking kid in the front row who I don’t like?

I was definitely not good at this growing up because I didn’t have a lot of tools to use for stuttering. I just sucked it up and kept pushing on. Hence my ability to recall a lot of specific events from the past (just read through this blog. No, really, there’s stuff from elementary school in here.)

And this is consistent with the article later on:

Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened.

So resilience can go both ways — we can build it up or tear it down. It’s our choice with how we react. And with stuttering, we face that choice every time we dare to open our mouth. And every time we don’t, too.

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.

The long road to stuttering acceptance

As I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog and opening up (almost) completely about my stutter, I thought I’d take a chance to talk more about how exactly I got to this point of acceptance.

This was a very, very long process. And I know it’s not the same for others who stutter. Even when I went to the NSA conference, I met people who stutter more and less than I do. Keep in mind that I graduated high school in 1997, so it was well before the Internet as we know it today.

However, this might at least offer some guidance to those still in school wondering if it’ll get better, or what can be done to make things better. And by “better,” I mean more comfortable, more tolerable, and less stressful on a day-to-day basis.

Elementary school – (Ages 7-11) I was aware that I stuttered, but didn’t understand its implications at all. Did speech therapy, but nobody gave me the big picture. Also, I was fluent during therapy, so that didn’t help. No mention on the homefront about my speech. (pretty much continues to present day, actually)

Junior high school – (11-15) My sixth grade teacher commended me at the end of the year about my accomplishments despite my stutter. This was the first time that a non-therapist recognized it and brought it up. I did more therapy in school, but I was usually fluent during those sessions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also growing more comfortable and confident in my environment — and gaining friends who didn’t mind the stutter. This was cyclical — low comfort and confidence going into junior high, riding high on the way out. Going into high school, I was down low again, but managed to work back up by the time I graduated.

High School – (15-18) Definitely knew that I had a stutter, and finally met someone else who did as well. We were in some of the same classes together, and we even looked alike. He was a lot more open about it. Not at all covert. But he and I never talked about it, and I regret that. Through peer pressure, I became more involved in the performing arts (on a very, very small scale) and that did a lot of good for my confidence even though it scared the hell out of me at times. I didn’t stutter when I was on stage doing Who’s on First (two nights!) when I was a senior. I had a different therapist in high school, and she taught me about easy onsets and breathing. These are things that I still try to use today, and it’s made a huge difference.

College – (18-22) At this point I should say that I still wasn’t “thinking” about the long-term effects of stuttering. I didn’t know about job interviews, going to meetings, giving presentations and whatever else the corporate world had for me. My summer jobs had been retail and as a bank teller. Not a lot of talking, and it was easy to be covert. I thought that was normal. Since high school, I have not seen an SLP. During the college I do remember introducing myself to others at the student newspaper, stuttering-be-damned. Once that was done, it was easy to maintain those friendships. And as people came and went at the paper, it was easier for introductions. Academically, I did what was required but never bothered talking to professors or asking for help. It just wasn’t something I was used to.

First job – (22-25) I had problems during some of the interviews only because I didn’t know what to say. But after a while I became pretty decent at just bantering and smiling. That being said, I did get my first job through my dad’s connections, and once there, it was easy to be the young engineer who didn’t know anything. I got used to keeping my mouth shut and trying to absorb as much as possible. During the first five years out of college, I never gave my stutter any thought. And despite the Internet, I never bothered researching it or finding any help groups.

Subsequent jobs – (25-31) I can’t pinpoint an exact date, but I started reflecting a lot more about my stuttering and my life. This probably happened when I found out about the Pagoclone trial. And so I started to keep journals. I think the boredom of corporate travel — hotels and coffee shops helped a lot with this. I thought that I could put it all together into a book. Despite all the writing and thinking, I still didn’t reach out to anybody. The Pagoclone trial wasn’t through an SLP. Through writing and reflecting, I started to realize that my general policy of not-asking and not-talking was entirely stuttering-related.

Moving to Saudi – (31-36) I feel like things sort of “settled down” a lot more in my working and home life when we moved to Saudi. Before that, I was traveling a lot more, worried about general job security, saving whatever money I could, and raising a family. But in Saudi more things are taken care of, and I was able to sit down with my stuttering thoughts a lot more. I came here when I was 31. So that’s how long it took to really start looking around online and finding out more about stuttering.

I realized after a while that publishing a book wouldn’t be feasible. But I was reading a lot more blogs, so I decided that might be the best route. But the stuttering still held me back — in being overt. I was afraid of so many things — that were all imaginary. That if someone found out it might affect my job, what my friends or family might think, what having to talk more about it would do to my psyche. So not until I turned 35 last year did I go ahead with the site.

So what does this all mean? It’s a long journey. I never researched stuttering online because it was bothering me or holding me back (or so I thought). I only researched it because I wanted to share my journey with others. For the longest time I thought it was very personal, something that I should have to struggle with on my own. I’ve found out the opposite of course. I’m not alone, and a lot of other people are going through this.

I think for a long time I also didn’t research stuttering online because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I stuttered. That’s an absurd thing to say, but I think it’s true for the majority of covert stutterers. If I don’t learn about it, it doesn’t exist to me, and it won’t bother me [any more than it does]. Of course I’ve since learned that it’ll actually make you feel better knowing more. And it’s really fun to get together with other people who stutter and connect and tell stories.

I will also say that a lot of things came together at the right time. Working at the same company for a number of years gave me the confidence that stuttering more at work wouldn’t have any negative effect. Also being here gave me the financial means to start attending the NSA Conference regularly.

Do I wish I had come to this point earlier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have been ready for it. On the one hand, colleagues have always been good to me, so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. What about during college or before that? That’s even harder to say — so I’ll go with “it’s complicated.” It’s that idea of, well, had I known and been more aware, would that have had a major impact? I don’t think now it’s going to make any major career impacts, but before it would have been possible. On the other hand, isn’t that true for fluent people anyway? As life goes on, you become more narrow in your pursuits and ambition.

A Stuttering Drop of Ink

The best way I can put this is with a drop of ink. Let’s say red. A cup of water. You know what happens. The ink goes in the water, the water changes color. All of it. Is it what I wanted?

I had to talk to one of the senior guys at the company today about some lists. I had a few really quick questions. We went through it, I didn’t stutter much. No big deal. But then I was really curious about something. And I wanted to ask him. So I did.

It was a total mess. Totally incoherent, got stuck on almost every word, he looked at me patiently, finished maybe one or two words (I really didn’t mind at that point).

Did I say what I wanted to say? Definitely not. Did I communicate what I wanted to? Sort of maybe?

It’s like the drop of ink. You should take the drop and use it in a pen. Write words. Draw a sketch.

The drop or blob of ink was shoved out. It was sent out in the hope that it could be understood even though it didn’t have the right pen or brush. Actually, you know what? It ended up being like that thing you do in elementary school where you drop ink all over the place and then blow it with a straw to make a tree. Except you wanted to draw a flaming truck powered by rockets jumping over the Grand Canyon.

After a few stuck phrases, he got up and started diagramming on a white board, “I think I know what you’re asking for.” And he did. Was I grateful? Very much so. But was it a success?

It’s hard to say. Yes? The thing is, I didn’t have to ask him that question (or try to). I probably should have been better prepared. I probably should have taken a deeper breath up front, or maybe stood up, or had something on paper to reference.

Then there’s the whole finishing-your-sentences aspect. He didn’t just do that, put he finished entire thoughts. Took a few keywords, squinted, and started drawing on the white board. Is that a win? He didn’t just dismiss me and tell me to figure out what I wanted to say. Or send him an e-mail. Or ask someone else. So there’s an element of respect, too.

Stuttering and Accepting the World

Often when we talk about stuttering and acceptance, we mean acceptance of our own stuttering, our own inabilities to communicate effectively.

I want to talk about this from a different angle — accepting things — policies, laws, rules, whatever, because you stutter and can’t voice your opinion.

Well, you can voice your opinion, obviously, but you’d just rather not because you know you’ll stutter.

So what does this silence lead to?

Well, let’s just walk through a simple example. Let’s say you’ve got a small child, maybe in second grade. You’ve just moved to a new school district. You find out (through e-mails and maybe neighbors talking about it) that your elementary school is considering implementing a dress code. At the last school district, they were doing the same thing. And when they did it at the old school, they ran into various issues, all of which you are really familiar with.

(Remember, this is just an example. I think you get the point of what I’m trying to say).

So here you are, filled with plenty of reasons why something like this might not work, and your child who will feel the brunt of it. What do you do? Write a letter? Try to make a phone call? Talk to neighbors who will hopefully be more proactive? Or, if you’re someone who stutters and doesn’t want to engage just … sit back and let it happen? Then just write it off as something your kid will just have to deal with?

Let’s say you take that approach. Your default approach, really. Then what’s the next thing? They’re thinking about adding a soda machine in the cafeteria. Any objections? Passed. Now they are asking parents to buy a more expensive textbook or lab kit, or whatever?

Well, what can you do then?

I don’t have any direct experience with this (and I am a parent of school-going children) but what I’d be inclined to do is this:

1. Try to get friendly with other parents as much as possible. Hopefully before anything like this comes up.
2. Go to school board meetings just to see what they’re like. No need to talk.
3. If I know my stuttering is going to win out at a school board meeting, then drag along a parent friend.
4. I should be friendly with this person. I should be able to convince them one way or the other
5. Support them with e-mails or letters. But then let them do the talking at the school board meeting.

I know what you’re saying — you’re supposed to just stutter and carry on! Ok, I know. But I’m not sure if that’s possible until I actually go to a school board meeting (or whatever kind of public meeting). Maybe it’s really casual, and I feel comfortable speaking up. I’m not saying stuttering should win out, but that, given your limitations, it’s still possible to get important things done.

Once the first few battles are won, more and more speaking should fall onto you instead of others. Confidence is gained. You’ll gain the respect of others, and they’ll focus on the message instead of the stuttering.

Thankful for Stuttering – Part 2

Alright, alright. It’s been a few days. Holidays! Turkey! International travel!

But now we’re back at it.

Firstly, here’s a post regarding being thankful for stuttering.

And of course I’m thankful for stuttering because of what it’s made me:

It’s made me more patient: There’s the old saying of treat others how you wish to be treated. Well, when it takes me a while to talk, I would like some patience. So everybody else gets it as well. My thoughts aren’t always well formed (maybe because I’m being covert and substituting like crazy) so I understand when other people are searching for the right way to express their thoughts.

It’s made me more ambitious. There’s two ways of looking at this. Either I’m more ambitious because I’m trying to run away from my stutter — and make people associate my name with my title or success — or that everytime I get a promotion or better job I’ve won the battle against stuttering. I’ve shown that it’s not going to hold me back.

It’s made me a better listener. I like to ask questions. Then I like to listen. The better the questions, the longer the answers might be. And that means I’m not talking as much. Which of course means I’m not stuttering, either.

It’s made me a better writer. I could call someone up and bumble over a question or two or three, or I could write a clear and concise e-mail. I’m pretty good at those now.

It’s made me a voracious reader. This has been true from the start — when I was in elementary school. Maybe it’s because if I read the book I would know all the answers and have more confidence? Maybe if I read the book I would know all the answers and not have to raise my hand to ask a question? Maybe because it didn’t involve talking to other people? The other side to this is a book club — would something like that have put me off with regards to reading? If I had to talk about books from a young age? Probably so …

It’s made me start this blog!

Stuttering through Lunch

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

Before going to a workshop on What’s Hot in Stuttering Research, I went to … lunch.

There was a First Timer’s lunch, so I grabbed a bagged lunch and headed into the hall. Round tables. Chairs. Strangers. Flashbacks to getting seated at weddings. Having to introduce myself to strangers. Danger! I was already halfway into the room, so no turning back. Wait! You’re here to meet people! No, no! Where’s someone I know? Anybody? I looked around. I was still walking. I was being told where to sit and …

Seated.

Next to a stranger. Other strangers at the table. Someone I know seated next to me! Bonus!

(This is the kind of push-pull that I went through at the conference every day — I’m here to stutter and meet new people. But I’m also holding on to my old ways and fears.)

Alright, let’s get through the introductions. Not all the seats were filled, so that was good. Less stressful at least. The person to my immediate right was not someone who stuttered. She was a speech language pathologist. Well now, this is an interesting change of pace.

While talking to her, I was paying much more attention to my speaking and stuttering. I wasn’t stuttering as much. I wanted to “reset” things after all the stuttering I was doing over the past few hours. Need to keep moving on! Forget the stutter! I talked mostly about my stutter, growing up with it, the job I had now, how awesome the conference was going so far.

She told me about the kind of work she did in the southwest — working at a school district. One thing she said really struck me though — that they needed to do a plan for each student. And then measure progress against that plan. But then … if there’s no cure for stuttering, how could they measure progress?

I haven’t spoken to a lot of SLPs at all (remember, just coming out with all this) so I’d be very interested to hear how this works. I mean, I can see how confidence could increase, how some situations could get better (me ordering at Subway and Starbucks, for instance) but sometimes you just have a bad day, right?

I also wonder if any of this was in play when I did speech therapy during elementary school and high school. Did they figure I was getting better or figure I wasn’t having any serious school issues … so … no need for further therapy?

Stuttering through 50 posts

This marks my 50th post here, and I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out so far. I’ve managed to cover a variety of topics, from elementary to high school to college. And of course the dreaded phone, and how I discovered and embraced the iceberg concept.

People from more than 30 countries have stopped by, and I’m bumping up against a thousand views. The plan to head off into a slow and steady direction is working very well, and I am confident this blog can continue easily for a long time. In the immediate future of course is the NSA Conference.

I’ve enjoyed “talking” to other people who stutter through their blogs or twitter. We are most certainly not alone!

I’m also participating on reddit as much as possible. If you haven’t already stopped by there, please do.

My goals for the rest of 2014 are fairly modest:

1. Put out a “college” guide for those who stutter who are going into college in the Fall. I’m hoping to have this out by mid-August. Basically like writing to myself as an 18-year-old who stutters. What would I have done differently? Sure things turned out well after it was all said and done, but it didn’t have to be so hard!

2. Clean up the resources part of this page with three areas — institutions/foundations/organizations, bloggers, and news articles. There’s a lot out there from the past few years, so I want to try to organize it for easier reference.

Other than that, just keep on posting six days a week. Saturdays will be a personal review of my speaking for the week, Sundays will be a link roundup, and I’m thinking of fixing a day to dip into the archives of other bloggers and commenting on one of their older posts.

As I’ve said before, going back and forth in time with my own stutter — or those of others — makes sense for the community because what you stuttered on yesterday I might stutter on tomorrow. How you felt today may have been something I went through weeks ago.

I want to be the site that my young self would have found invaluable.

Powerpoints and Children

I wanted to expand some more on the links that I posted yesterday. We’ll start with this one from Stuttering Student:

(When I say I want to discuss a link further, it may be only somewhat related. If the author mentioned a few points, I may only pick one. Or I may ignore the main point and just expand on something smaller they said.)

He says:

Sometimes my fluency tricks will help, mostly they don’t, however, because one of the biggest fluency tricks I use is word substitution, and you can’t really get away with that when reading from printed text.

I know what I end up doing sometimes when I have to read printed text is gloss over it, maybe mumble a bit, and then try to find some more points that are important. This happens a lot at work during meetings when there’s a Powerpoint. I don’t like reading the slides, and I hate it when people do the same. So when I do my own presentations, I put only a few words and then “fill in the blanks” orally during the meeting. I’ll say something like, “so, then, you see, there, in point 1, you can see it … (pause) … and the second point is also important.” Let them do the reading! Sometimes during conference calls I’ve got to present a safety topic. This has to be e-mailed out before. Whenever I have to do these, I always skim over them during the call (again, they can do the reading! I’ve e-mailed it to you!). But during those readings I almost always stutter. But at least I’m only spending about 30 seconds stammering over 2-3 points than 5 minutes struggling through 20 items. I really try hard to prepare for these — confidence usually helps on the phone for me. Fortunately on the calls they can’t see me, so I can write things down on the paper I’m reading from — like “breathe!” — and other easier-to-say talking points.

In the next sentence Stuttering Student writes:

Other times I will just force myself to read because I think it’s helpful and healthy to face ones fears.

I’m a pretty voracious reader, but until we had kids, none of it was out loud. I never practiced reading in front of a mirror or anything like that.

These days I read out loud almost daily. Sure it’s only The Cat in the Hat and other easy children’s books, but it feels great. I can really control my voice, getting louder and softer, faster or slower. I can breathe. My children love it, and it builds a little confidence for me to use later in the day or the week. It even surprises me how fluent I can be considering not only how much I am thinking about fluency while I read, but the words themselves — d-words, k-words, w-words — those kinds of hard consonants always get me while talking.

Also: You’ll notice on this blog that I was talking about my life until high school and then stopped. Fear not. I shall continue in a few days with the college adventures. There’s probably a week’s worth of posts just talking about the transition to college.

Sunday Link Roundup

Hope everybody had a nice weekend. I had a good time going on a long bike ride which I’ll post on in a little while. Stuttering had a lot do with it … as it does with everything, I guess.

Anyway, one thing that I’d like to start doing is a link roundup. So here’s my first attempt. These are all worthy of a follow-up post (or 3) so those will come over the next few weeks. Some of these are slightly old (more than a week) but great nonetheless.

How People Who Stutter Thrive in Everyday Life

A nice write up by someone who stutters on the Stuttering Foundation’s annual gala.

Wahl writes, “The room we were in had an uplifting, comforting air to it. Everyone was welcoming. Everyone had a passion about the topic of stuttering whether it was conducting research on it, writing about it or simply working with others who stutter.

My heartbeat normally races in social settings but here, my heartbeat slowed. I felt at at peace in their company.”

Definitely looking forward to the NSA’s annual conference — I think it’ll be a similar experience for me.

Teaching Elementary Students

While this blog hasn’t been updated in a while, there’s a recent post regarding teaching children. I’ve got three kids of my own, and I don’t stutter as much when talking or reading to them.

Stuttering Stanley writes, ” Some have asked me how can one be a teacher…with a stutter? For me, it is because I mostly do not stutter when I am speaking in front of others, especially with children in a teaching capacity, and I also stutter much less in professional situations. If you want to know the reason why, I am afraid that I can’t tell you.”

Exactly.

The iceberg analogy of stuttering was recently posted on the Stuttering Foundation’s facebook page. Here is more information about it.

I’ll have more on this because it’s basically what this site is all about — how my own iceberg has formed over the years.

And lastly, the conference schedule is out!

Ninth Grade

The transition from junior high to high school wasn’t as bad as from elementary to junior high. For one thing, I was still running around with a good group of friends, and I had a few classes with them. I was watching more Letterman and making my own top ten lists to amuse everybody. Even French wasn’t as bad since the class was smaller, and we had a different teacher. I do remember goofing off a lot in that class though. That would probably explain why my French grammar is lousy.

What I do remember is an oral book report that I had to do. I don’t recall any during junior high school, and I think I would remember that sort of thing since I remember all the reports I gave in four years of high school.

For whatever stupid reason, I chose The Three Musketeers. I probably should have looked at the names of the characters. I mean, seriously, d’Artagnan? I’m supposed to go up in front of people and say this name over and over again without stuttering? Are you kidding? And the other names, Athos, Porthos, Aramis. I could do Porthos probably. I wasn’t smart enough to a.) pick a shorter book and b.) pick a book with fewer characters who have easy-to-say names.

I’m sure we had weeks and weeks to prepare for this book report. And of course I didn’t really even read the book. I didn’t have the Clif’s Notes, either. I think I must have skimmed a few pages here and there and made up the rest. (Remember, this was all pre-Wikipedia). Actually, maybe I used a children’s version as a crutch? (side note: I have not gone back and read the book. I should probably do that.) Maybe I thought that by not reading the book, I wouldn’t have to do the report …I’d like to also point out that since I’d never done an oral book report before, I didn’t really know how to prepare for it.

As to be expected, the oral report was wretched. Not only was I not prepared (thus no confidence) but those damn names kept on having to be uttered. And all this in front of my friends whose opinions of me was a great concern. In reality, of course, they were probably just spacing out, thinking I was nervous, and well, soon it’ll be their turn and they’ve got other things to worry about.

Two more crappy things came of this — one, another person in the class did her report on The Three Musketeers (and, by the strong narrative she presented, it was obvious she had actually read the thing) and two, in eleventh grade I had to also give an oral report that I also didn’t prepare for. Should have learned my lesson.

The same English class also demanded — near the end of the year — to go up in front of the class and recite a few lines from Romeo and Juliet. I did this pretty well, but managed to forget for a few seconds one of the lines. Fortunately a buddy of mine mouthed the words, and I was good to go. It’s an interesting contrast — having to prepare and memorize — versus half-assing a classic and bumbling through it.

Sixth Grade

Let’s get on to sixth grade. Just to recap, by fifth grade I was feeling very confident and smart. I had plenty of friends, didn’t understand the magnitude or consequences of my stuttering, and assumed life would continue to be all sunshine and kittens.

Not so much.

Our school district is made up of about a half-dozen elementary schools. These then feed into the junior high school, grades 6-8. They then feed into the high school, 9-12.

Sixth grade was divided into 18 classrooms. These were split into three wings. In each of these three wings, the six classes paired up. So you’d have half your classes with your homeroom teacher, then walk across the hall during the day for other stuff. Some classes were in the other wings as well, but most of your life was in just one wing.

I had a problem with both classrooms. First of all, there was no more coddling. Time to grow up and toughen up. My homeroom teacher was a tough guy named Mr. Shull. He could laugh and have a good time, but he was also very serious. The next thing was that I didn’t really know anybody in my class. This was pretty intimidating.

Every morning we’d all stand up and say the pledge of allegiance. To get this started, everybody took a turn saying “I.” Once the person said it, then the rest of the class would join in. I suppose we could debate the merits of this approach, but hey, this was life, so figure it out. Most of my mornings were consumed with counting kids. I’d see who was saying “I,” and then figure out how many more days I had. What made this more complicated is that we were seated in clusters — two by two desks facing each other, and then a fifth hanging on the end. How the counting got around each cluster always seemed to change.

Anyway, the day finally came. I couldn’t hide from it, and as I stood up and put my hand on my heart, nothing came out. I was trying. I didn’t have any breath to say anything, but I was still trying. I could feel everybody waiting. It felt like minutes even though it was probably only a few seconds. Everything was locked up, and there was nowhere to run. I didn’t know to stop and take a breath. Finally, I eeked out the quietest “I,” and the others in my cluster started in on the pledge. Afterward, Mr. Shull came up to me and asked if I had said “I.” The kid standing next to me in our cluster said yes, he heard it.

Across the hall, we’d have spelling class. This was pretty simple, but it turns out sixth grade was determined to show me the wonders of class participation. For each spelling lesson, a student would say the word, spell the word, and then (I think?) read a sentence. Oh what fun! And every week, a new list!

So we’d start off, and I’d look down the row (no clusters in that room for whatever reason), count the number of kids, and count down the list of words. Then I’d start panicking. It almost didn’t matter what the word was. I’d seriously try to calm myself down, but no, it never worked. Saying a word is one thing, having to utter so many more syllables just to spell it was even worse. And those vowels. And hard consonants. And seriously, we could all read, so what was the point of this again?

Going to the conference

Let me take a break from talking about how much I love talking on the phone …

I have some great news — my vacation was approved for early July which means that yes, I can go to the conference! I signed up for it already and am now just sorting out flights. My parents are still in Pennsylvania, and I’ve got a bunch of friends in and around DC. So it’ll be great to see everybody again as well.

Now for some background on these posts. A peak behind the curtain. They’re not fun to write. At all. I usually start them out with a sentence or two, dig into my brain and … do something else. Then an hour later I get back to it. It’s not a “work process” issue at all. That’s not how I write other things. It’s how I write things I don’t like writing about. But I’m forcing myself to do this even though for most of them reliving the details causes some sweating and angst. What is good is that as I look back, I think, yes, I made it through that, and today, I might not handle it the same way. I have more confidence. I have more patience. I may not breathe right all the time, but at least I know what works and what doesn’t a little better.

The other interesting thing about digging into the past is the difference between what’s available technology-wise. I couldn’t just e-mail people or hit them up on social media when I was in elementary school or high school. (I graduated high school in 1997) I had to call them. I had to talk to them in person. I can hide my stutter a lot more now because on any given day, I can avoid most verbal communication. But I don’t want to do that. What that does allow is for me to handle my stuttering on my own terms. Maybe doing something electronically is just better and faster and will save me the frustration of a stutter. Is that better? Maybe.

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence. Just been sucking it up on my own. It’s time to end that. How do other people use e-mail and other means to help when they’re feeling frustrated? Are other people challenging themselves in a methodical way to build confidence? And just because you can talk to your secret childhood crush on social media does that mean you’re not intimidated by calling her instead?

Starts with an eye

Aside from reading to the kindergartners in first grade that I mentioned yesterday — and really, I don’t even remember the actual act of reading, just that I did it (I still have the book at my parent’s house) — I don’t recall any speaking out loud in first grade.

But in second grade, that’s when I remembered the stuttering started.

A family friend told me a simple story, the crux of which was, “his eyes were so itchy, he scratched them out.” No idea about the story’s other details …

Anyway, as a seven-year-old, I thought this was earth-shattering stuff, and so, when it was time for open sharing or book time or whatever (I remember we were all sitting on a carpet together) I raised my hands and told his random bit of information for everybody’s benefit. And I stuttered on the word “eye.”

For the rest of second grade, I don’t remember any other “public” speaking. What I do remember is one of the kids, Jack, going to “speech.” The teacher would tell him once a week that it was time for “speech,” and off he’d go. Years later I realized what was up — Jack had a lisp.

My entire elementary school life (and the rest of it, for that matter) was devoid of bullying. Nobody ever said anything negative about the way I spoke. I think the reason for this was because I was somewhat smart, and usually knew the answer to whatever was going on. And I wasn’t afraid to offer up help if anybody asked.

It wasn’t until third grade that I started seeing the school-provided therapist (I think) and I’ll get to that tomorrow.

Karma

I think this week I’ll go back through some quick elementary school stories of stuttering. There’s not as much to say about these since those days are pretty vague. Also, it’s important to date this — times before the Internet and easy information. So it’s something like 1985-6 for first grade …

When I was a teenager and stuttering all the time, I wondered a lot what was causing this. I thought it might be something physical — maybe landing on my back or front all those times playing football in the backyard with my brother. Then, since we were being brought up to believe in God, maybe it was something bad I had done a long time ago that I was being punished for? What exactly could that be?

Ah, that’s right. First grade. During first grade, all of the students had the opportunity to read a story book to the kindergarten class. All you had to do was sign your name up on a list, and then you’d be the person for that week. Well, not being on top of things, of course I forgot about signing up. And the end of the year was coming. If I added my name to the bottom of the list now, I wouldn’t have the chance to read to them. But I really, really wanted to read to those kindergartners! (No idea why). So I simply went up to the list, erased someone else’s name, and put mine on there. (yes, I’m a terrible person) Done! And a few weeks later, I was reading to the little kiddies. I don’t remember stuttering at all in first grade, by the way.

Clearly that must have been the cause of the stuttering! Not only were you devious about signing up, but it was a verbal activity! And now your oral prowess would be compromised for life.

Obviously that wasn’t it, but this is the kind of thing that runs through your young mind when you have nowhere to turn.

About

So, about me then. My name is Rehan Nasir, and I’m 40, an American engineer working in Lancaster, PA, USA. I have been stuttering since I was 7. I’m divorced with three kids under 13. Before moving back home to Lancaster, we lived in Indianapolis for two years. Before Indianapolis, we spent five years in Saudi Arabia. Before that, we lived in Omaha, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I grew up in Pennsylvania and have a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.

As for stuttering treatments and therapies, there has been little done. From elementary to high school, I saw speech therapists that were provided by the school. The first one who I saw in elementary and junior high didn’t make much of a difference. I remember just having casual conversations (and not stuttering) and then having her tell me words and sounds to repeat. I do remember feeling very comfortable during those one-on-ones. And in hindsight, maybe that’s why I didn’t stutter as much.

During high school, I had a different therapist who suggested some improvements to my breathing. She described it as a balloon — and then slowly let the air out to say words. This is a technique that I try to use every time I open my mouth. Before ordering food, before saying hello on the phone, and before talking with friends and family.

After college at Pitt I was able to get on the Pagoclone trials. I did that for about a year. I personally noticed some improvement, but can’t honestly remember if I could have been on a placebo or not. But I remember feeling more calm before speaking. I had a stressful job at the time, so I figured it must have been doing something. We moved toward the end of the trial and didn’t continue after that. While it’s not a cure, it certainly helped a little. Since then I’ve not tried any more drugs for my stuttering. I hear that anti-depressants may help, but haven’t dug into it further.

My objective for this site is to have a conversation about stuttering on a regular basis. It’s taken me this long to get online with this because I’m a closet stutterer — that is, I don’t want people to know that I stutter. But enough is enough. Time to get on with helping people and making someone else’s journey less painful.

I tried at first to post every day. That sort of worked, but then got to be too much with family, work and kids. I wanted to make sure the quality of the content remained high. So now I’m down to maybe once or twice a week. I have, however, written over a hundred thousand words on stuttering through this blog. Now it’s 2020, and I’m focusing on it again. I want to keep the conversations going.

I went to my first NSA Conference in Washington DC. If you stutter and haven’t been, you absolutely must go. I can’t speak of it highly enough. I have since gone two more times — to Baltimore (when it was supposed to be in Chicago) and then in Atlanta.

You can reach me at rehan.nasir at gmail dot com.

%d bloggers like this: