Being a millennial has its perks, but access to speech therapy right when we began stuttering wasn’t one of them. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) weren’t very common back in the late 80s and early 90s.
If a child began stuttering, his/her parents either ignored it or tried to treat it at home. Taking children to the SLP for speech dysfluencies wasn’t common practice back then.
I grew up in a bustling city, yet my parents never deemed it necessary to seek the help of an SLP or a cognitive behavioral therapist when I was a child. They did ask their friends and friends-of-friends who were aware of the ongoing research on speech dysfluencies and received the advice to ignore my stutter.
So, that’s how it was. My parents and extended family knew I stuttered, but no one really spoke about it. Since none of my cousins stutter, I often felt like I was alone in my suffering. Stuttering and fear shared a strong bond in my mind.
Only when I was in high school and already in my teens, I sought and received speech therapy. I shall always be thankful for it since it has helped shape who I am today and given me a voice. I won’t say I don’t stutter. I do stutter, a lot, sometimes, but speech therapy has taught me that stuttering and shame need not go hand-in-hand.
Breaking the Bond between Stuttering and Fear
You stutter. And that’s alright. It bothers you. And that’s alright too because you are here to look for a solution.
You can begin your search by locating the right resources. The resources can be professional SLPs, self-help groups for speech dysfluencies or apps/websites dedicated to people who stutter (PWS).
Since there are more SLPs available online and in person, you have a better chance at therapy than I had when I was young. If someone has told you that speech therapy doesn’t work for adults, this is your chance to prove them wrong!
Most importantly, now you have apps like Stamurai that provide speech therapy in the comforts of your home. You can consult professional SLPs and practice your speech exercises regularly while at home or during your lunch break.
As long as you have a smartphone, you will have access to speech therapy.
Taking Account of the Challenges of Stuttering
The next step is taking stock of your dysfluencies. Stuttering is heterogeneous. Repetitions, blocks, and prolongations may characterize stuttering, but each person who stutters has a different list of feared words.
For example, “stuttering” itself was a feared word for me. While you may say it fluently only to get stuck on “language” or “pathologist”.
What’s your story? Before we can explore the different ways you can potentially overcome stuttering-related insecurity, we need to explore your story. So, get a journal and begin writing the answers to the following questions –
- How has stuttering influenced my life and life choices?
- What have I given up for stuttering?
- How much am I willing to spend to get professional help for my stuttering?
- Who will support my decision to get help from an SLP? Who wouldn’t and why?
- Have I received help to improve my speech fluency?
- What has worked in favor of my speech fluency and what hasn’t?
- Who criticizes my stuttering and why?
- Am I ready to take the full responsibility of seeking help for my speech dysfluency even though I might not become 100% fluent?
Even if the answer to the last question is a “no”, it doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you possibly need the help of an SLP on your journey towards fluency and you are not ready to undertake the responsibility entirely on your own.
Reducing the Burden of Stuttering and Fear
If your answer’s “yes”, then it’s time to move on to the next step – reducing the burden.
Just for this step, ignore the feelings and attitudes that come bounding once you think about stuttering. Try to cover things you actually do, such as –
- I repeat the first syllable of every hard word at least six times.
- I always blink when I stutter.
- I can’t make eye contact with the person I’m talking to.
- I am terrified of public speaking.
- I become easily frustrated while talking on the phone.
- I don’t receive calls or leave voice messages.
It should be a straightforward list of actions you take while talking. It’s a necessary step towards overcoming your fear and insecurity stemming from stuttering.
Overcoming the Stuttering Challenges – One Step at a Time
The list should show you exactly what is keeping you from doing things you would love to do including meeting new people, talking to someone at any time of the day, and even leaving voice messages.
Initially, it might feel awkward or, even, weird, but it becomes easier with practice. Here are a few techniques that have helped me despite not receiving professional therapy for years –
Making eye contact
Most listeners don’t know how to react to your stutter. You may find them to be fidgety or distracted.
They are simply wary about making eye contact. It is not always a sign of disrespect.
You can put them at ease by making eye contact.
Stutter on purpose
You should try this one. Begin stuttering on simpler, monosyllabic words. For example “I cuh-cuh-cuh-cuh-uh-not (real) spuh-uh-uh-speak (fake) without stu-uh-uh-uh-uh-ttering (real)”
It’s like a game, but one that gives you a sense of control. Instead of focusing on NOT stuttering, you should focus on trying to stutter deliberately. Repeat this around 20-times per day.
See if listeners can tell the difference between your real and faked stuttering. Doing this put me at ease with myself. After all, people expected me to stutter, so I was providing them with a few extra instances of stuttering.
Speak to strangers
Go up to strangers with a simple line, such as “pardon me, what’s the time?” or “when does the next bus to XYZ leave?”
Tell them explicitly that you stutter. You will be surprised to see how many of them actually listen to you patiently and don’t mock at all.
Going out and interacting with strangers can boost your confidence to say what you want, whenever you want and to whomever you want!
Do things you normally wouldn’t do.
Go to a Starbucks and place your order verbally instead of using the app. Give an order at a drive-through. Leave a voicemail for your friends. Volunteer at your workplace or school for giving a presentation.
Transitioning to this step might take weeks if not months, and that is perfectly fine. Our goal is to NOT overcome stuttering but to embrace it as a part of who we are and overcome the insecurity that stuttering has imbibed within us.
Change the Way You Stutter
Once you significantly reduce the burden, you will be talking more, socializing more, and taking more chances. You may even consider making a new career move or joining a college course that requires you to talk a lot more.
You will find that although you are more outgoing in comparison, you still stutter significantly. Now, that’s alright too. Stuttering is a part of who we are.
If you want to become a more effective communicator, you should think about changing the way you perceive your stutter instead of looking for a cure for stuttering. The first step to achieving it is by not trying to NOT stutter.
In our effort to hide our stutter we have picked up habits like blinking, lip twitching, raising eyebrows, rapid and shallow breathing, and head jerking. It’s time to say “goodbye” to these habits and adopt a new viewpoint.
Stutter all you like and all you can, but do so smoothly.
Make the prolongations unforced and the repetitions slow. Don’t hold your breath and don’t try to breathe rapidly and slowly. Take a deep breath and make strange sounds to overcome a block!
It may sound strange, but it’s not stuttering. You are in complete control of the sounds you make and the words that leave your mouth. This is what SLPs refer to as “stuttering more fluently”.
If you are able to stutter more fluently, you will be able to shorten your stutters and simplify your repetitions.
The Final Few Words on Overcoming Insecurities Related to Stuttering
Stuttering is not a habit. It is a symptom of a neurobiological condition reinforced by emotional and environmental factors.
However, rapid blinking, twitching, head jerking, and shallow breathing are habits that we have picked up over several years of dedicatedly trying to avert stuttering.
Since old habits die hard, we need you to not give up.
You should practice deliberate stuttering at least once a day initially, and once a week after you attain noticeable fluency. You should keep working on your speech without trying to avoid stuttering.
In the next few years, your goal should be to modify your stuttering so that speaking is less of a hassle for you.
You are your own master and you are in control of your stutters.
You don’t have to be fluent like the majority of your friends and family.
You need to be you – complete with your blocks, repetitions, and prolongations.
Don’t practice fluency. Practice stuttering. Regularly.