Covert and Overt Stuttering

I’m trying to understand this covert and overt thing a little better. Remember that I haven’t talked to anybody about my stuttering (until now, basically) so the terminology and labeling is … well, interesting.

Tony mentioned it on his blog the other day:

I use fluency tricks to hide my stuttering because I want to sound like people who are fluent. Does this mean that I am ashamed of stuttering? Perhaps. That would be a matter between me and my therapist, if I had one. 🙂 Does this mean that I don’t accept my stutter? Not at all. I accept is as much as a person must accept that he has only one leg or one eye. I AM A STUTTERER. See? There, I wrote it. I am not delusional. 😛 I am okay with reality. However, this does not mean that I have to be okay with stuttering. There is a difference, in my opinion.

I think the covert-overt thing is kind of funny at times. Because, what, you’re basically covert until you stutter … then the cat’s out of the bag, right? I mean, sure, the Starbucks barista doesn’t know I stutter (and of course I didn’t get what I wanted because I was afraid of stuttering when I ordered it) but after meeting a new person at work and talking to them off and on for a week, I’m probably going to stutter. Then what? Maybe they’ll just think that I was nervous or couldn’t find the right word and stumbled over it? So they don’t think that I completely stutter? I suppose that’s being covert, sure. Or maybe they’ll realize it and not think anything of it?

So for some people I’m covert, and others I’m overt?

Here’s the definition from the Stuttering Foundation at the Guidelines (An excerpt of Chapter 23 from the book Advice to Those Who Stutter)

There appear to be two main types of stutterers: (1) the covert stutterer who attempts to avoid contacts with feared words and situations that might identify him as a possible stutterer to his listeners and (2) the overt stutterer who struggles laboriously through word after word as he communicates. Which one are you?


So I guess in my mind, I’m a covert stutterer, and in reality, I’m overt. I think this is part of the iceberg — ok, sure, I stutter, but I don’t want the listener to identify me as someone who stutters. As in, when the conversation is done, and they talk to their friends, they don’t say something like, “oh, you know, Rehan, the guy upstairs who stutters?”

I think lately (past 5 years or so) I’ve been more overt because well, I have things at work I just have to say. And I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to mind the stutter on a few words here and there.

Here’s another older article that touches on it. And this might explain why I didn’t do speech therapy all the way through school.

For MacIntyre, as long as she could replace words, or avoid situations where she knew she would block, she said, she could hide her problem from everyone, including her parents. “I was a walking thesaurus,” she said. When MacIntyre was in grade school, she was already showing signs of stuttering. But when a specialist told her mother to ignore the symptoms, MacIntyre began consciously masking her stutter. Her parents assumed she had simply grown out of it.

I’m curious how other people label themselves and their subsequent behavior. I’m guessing someone who’s overt doesn’t preface every conversation with “look, I stutter, so bear with me.” Or do they?

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.

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