Sunday, October 24, 2010

Have Mercy on Kids Who Stutter

Did you know that Friday was International Stuttering Awareness Day? Three million other Americans, or approximately 1% of the population, stutters. That said, my guest today is Ms. Pamela Mertz, who also has a brilliant and heartfelt blog...Make Room For The Stuttering. Right now she's posting a series on women who stutter. I encourage all of you to check it out.

Have Mercy on Kids Who Stutter

Imagine being an 11-year-old, in sixth grade. There are 30 kids in the class. The teacher takes attendance at the beginning of the period, and does it in a fairly traditional way. She calls each student's last name alphabetically, and each kid has to say "here" or "present."

No big deal, right? This is played out in classrooms all across the country.

The 11-year-old's last name begins with "S", so he has to wait while the other kids' names are called. It's always done the same way too, starting with the "A"s, never with "Z."

Waiting, this kid does what he always does. He focuses on what he is going to say and what will happen when he says it. His palms start to get sweaty and his heart starts to pound. He can feel his face grow really hot and realizes he is squirming in his seat.

He is thinking, "Please, not today, please not today, please let it be OK today." But he knows that the same thing is going to happen.

He wishes he was sick and could go to the nurse's office.

Then he hears the teacher say "Stasick." He decides to say "here," which might go easier than it did yesterday. He opens his mouth, says "hu-hu-hu-hhhhh- here" and his eyes squeeze shut. He hears the teacher call the next kid's name.

Maybe it won't happen today. Nah, he hears it, the snickers from the kids sitting behind him. Then the skinny kid with big ears whispers loudly, "Spastic Stasick, he can't t-t-t-t-talk."
The kid tries to shrink down in his seat as he hears the kids laughing at him, just quietly enough so that the teacher doesn't hear it. She never does. He has thought about telling her, but knows that will just make things worse.

It's bad enough that he is pulled out of his classroom twice a week to go to speech. When he is pulled out, (and it's always during math or science, the classes he likes) he hears the kids whisper, "There goes spastic Stasick with the b-b-b-b-babies learning how to talk".
He can't talk to his speech teacher about the teasing either; he only gets 20 minutes with her and there is usually another speech kid in the room.

There is no way the kid can tell his mom, because she always tells him to slow down and think about what he is trying to say before he talks. The kid keeps thinking, "No one understands me."
Lunch time is the worst. No one sits with him, and when kids walk by, they snicker and laugh. A couple of times, the skinny kid with big ears bumped into him on purpose, knocking him into the wall and making him drop his stuff. The kid and his friends start yelling, "Spastic can't walk either." That gets other kids laughing, including girls.

This kid stutters. He dreads being called on in class. He never raises his hand, even when he knows an answer, and is teased a lot. He is called names, left out socially and sometimes pushed. He does not know anyone else who talks like him and is really starting to hate school.
Kids who stutter get teased and bullied. Kids can be cruel, especially in middle school. Most people do not understand stuttering, because they have never met someone who stutters. Only about 1 percent of the population stutters and it's usually boys.

If you know a kid who stutters, know this: It's not his fault. Stuttering is an involuntary stoppage of normal speech flow. It can be hereditary and some research suggests that it is a neurological disorder. There is no known cure yet for stuttering, but therapy with someone who understands stuttering can help, especially with feelings of shame, embarrassment and isolation.

Kids who stutter are just like anyone else, they just talk differently. It is not OK to tease or bully a kid who stutters. We have heard enough in the news lately about what happens when bullying is left unchecked.

Friday was International Stuttering Awareness Day. The only way to raise awareness about stuttering is to talk about it. It will sure make it easier for the kids.


LK Hunsaker said...

Sad that I didn't even hear about International Stuttering Day.

I just read a novel where the heroine grew up with a stutter and still does as an adult when she's nervous: Lake News by Barbara Delinsky.

I do understand, even if I don't stutter, because social phobia is much the same, with the heart racing and red face and the stares and the inability to talk clearly when you get called on. It's a whole different thing than just being shy and people don't understand that, either.

Thanks for this post! The more awareness, the better.

Keena Kincaid said...

I didn't know there was a International Stuttering Day. It's one of those things I just don't think about in my daily life because I don't know anyone who stutters.

But it's easy to understand the fear that comes with it.

As a listener, if someone stutters what should we do? Help them out? Wait until they finish?

Unknown said...

Any affliction a child has makes him a target for teasing or downright bullying. I have a male cousin who is only a few years younger than I. He stuttered as a child well into his teens, but outgrew it--or stopped, anyway. He had a twin sister who was born second, severely brain-damaged and crippled, and partially blind. (She died recently at age 65.) He always tried to protect her, even though she never left the house. I wonder if his stuttering would have happened had his sister been perfect? I'm only speculating.
Thanks for the enlightenment. Celia

Maggie Toussaint said...

I have a cousin who stuttered as a child. We never thought anything of it, just waited for him to finish. Who was I, a knobby knees girl with coke bottle thick eyeglasses, to make a comment about anyone else?

I grew up thinking everyone has flaws, some are just more easily noticed.

Kids can be cruel. I'm sorry that they pick on the weaker or different kids.

Enjoyed reading the blog.

Maggie Toussaint

Mona Risk said...

It's so sad for the kid who is a little different from the others. My son grew up with a nervous tic, blinking his eye too often. I was always worried about him. Eventually he outgrew it and gained self-confidence.

Terry Spear said...

I still stutter when I get nervous. My father used to get really impatient when I'd tell him about something and would prompt, "Spit it out." I don't do it all the time and the best thing for me is when others listen and don't say anything or try to help. It's not bad, but I always feel it is and try not to stop what I'm saying, but keep going and hope no one notices too much and try not to dwell on it when it happens and lose my train of thought completely. :)

Liana Laverentz said...

Apparently, if you "could" be "just spitting it out" you would be. I don't think anyone chooses to stutter. My friend Louis says the best thing to to is just be patient and accepting, and wait for the person to say what it is that they have to say. If you try to step in and help...such as offer the word they are trying to might not be that word at all, and so they might let you think it is, just to keep the conversation moving. So it's always best to be patient and wait it out. Thanks for stopping by, everyone so far. I appreciate it!

Jennifer Mathis said...

i didn't know it was National Stuttering Day . Thanks for telling me about it. My brother had a stutter growing up. I remember people trying to make fun of him for it and how mad that made me.

Joanne Stewart said...

Great post. I have a son who stutters. He sees the speech therapist at school and has found some help in that. I don't know if anybody teases him or not, but I think he's only aware of it because the people at school have noticed and commented on it. We've always just waited for him to finish. Thanks for a great post. <3

Pamela said...

I am so happy that Liana asked if she could re-post the story/article I was lucky to have published in my local newspaper in Albany, NY this past Thursday. Y

Yes, Friday was International Stuttering Awareness Day, and I always try to do something to raise awareness of stuttering in October and again the second week in May, which is National Stuttering Awareness Week in the United States.

I did a radio interview for NPR in May, visited schools to talk to kids about stuttering and bullying last year, and was on a PBS TV local special to raise awareness about stuttering.

I am an adult woman who stutters, and believe me, it is hard. Not as hard as lots of other challenges, but nonetheless, hard.I am not one of the lucky kids who outgrew it. I was picked on as a kid by other kids, but what was harder was that my dad yelled at me and was ashamed of me. That's why I tried to hide for a long time. Until the stress of hiding became too much.

I have been laughed at and ridiculed as an adult, because people just don't understand it. people think I am nervous, or anxious or forgot what I was trying to say, or have an emotional problem or am not as intelligent. Employers think people who stutter will "ruin" their image, since communication is so critical. And women who stutter are only .25% of the 1% of the population who stutters.

So any awareness I can do makes it easier for me, and kids who stutter. There is nothing wrong with us -me just talk a little different or need a teeny bit more time to say what we need to.

I am a wonderful communicator, if you can look past my stuttering. Most people can!

If you have time, or know someone who stutters, encourage them to visit my blog, as Liana mentions,

And listen to me talk with other women who stutter. We have a voice and stories to be told. Thanks again to Liana, and for all of you who read my story. That was my experience as a child.

Maeve Greyson said...

This post brought me to tears. Not only for the cruelty endured by the poor child but because it reminded me of my favorite uncle (God rest his soul). He ended up dropping out of school because of a teacher who persisted in mocking him in front of the class. Now, this was over 50 years ago. So, the insensitive teacher would force my dear uncle to stand in the center of the class until he could "figure out" what he wanted to say. My uncle was an extremely intelligent and sensitive man, who despite this teacher, became a successful businessman. So be patient with those who stutter - they just might teach you a thing or two.

Fiona McGier said...

Recently husband and I went to a barbecue at the home of one of the men he has done Tai Chi with for years. The wife stutters. At first I thought she was just nervous in front of all of us guests that she didn't know, but as the evening wore on it became obvious that she doesn't always stutter, but often enough for it to be noticeable. But we were all adults and no one ever tried to interrupt her or say her words for her. I admire anyone who has been able to overcome such a public difficulty. My husband and oldest son both are dyslexic, but neither was diagnosed in school. Both taught themselves how to cope, and both have jobs involving numbers (husband is an engineer!) We all have our crosses to bear, and no one deserves to be made fun of.

Kayelle Allen said...

An excellent article. I knew a person who stuttered and she had told me never to interrupt or try to finish sentences for those who do. I've met several people since who stutter, and it seems to help them if I relax and say "Take your time" and then show that I'm listening.

I have a very odd stutter myself. It's intermittent. I never know when it will happen, but I'll be speaking and suddenly simply cannot form the words. It feels like an internal fight to get the words out, and when they come, it's stuttered. I used to think it was when I was nervous, but it can happen when I'm with friends having a quiet evening. I'd always figured if you stutter, it's all the time. Now, I'm starting to wonder if there are others like me who have occasional lapses where they can't speak as well. I've been like this all my life.

Thanks for sharing the article. I saw your post on my yahoo group and came over to check it out.

Lorna Collins - Author said...

Fortunately you rarely hear kids with severe speech impediments any more. When I was a kid, there were lots of them. Today they use behavior modification and intervene aggressively at an early age. My husband, Larry Collins, stuttered for eight years and reached the point where he rarely spoke at all. he was blessed to meet Countess Elektra Rozanska, a larger-than-life personality who helped him change his patters in less than a year. he is now a lecturer and workshop presenter. Together, we presented a keynote address at EPICon 2009. You can read more on our website at:
Awareness of the embarrassment and frustration of these kinds of problems will help others have compassion.
Thank you for increasing the awareness.
Lorna Collins

Unknown said...

I didn't realize about Friday being International Stuttering Day. I also never realized how hard it was for stutterers until I began research for my novel. My MC stutters. He also has dyslexia and, since writing the book, I'd do anything to help people with these problems.

DawnsReadingNook said...

I so did not know about this day. Thanks for letting us know about it.

My daughter as a mild form of stuttering....she only gets affected when she feels under stress. She started middle school this year. So far no one has given her any issues *knock on wood*.

Thanks for this post and raising awareness of it.

Kathy Otten said...

My brother's college roommate stuttered. This young man always seemed to have lots of friend's around him. No one seemed to pay much attention to his stutter, them seem very accepting. Maybe the efforts of those who have tried to raise awareness are paying off. I also worked with a young man who stuttered. He was also a big guy, and 6'6". If the other kids had picked on him, he probably would have kicked their butts, but I don't know. He never mentioned school.

Pamela said...

I am actually loving all the great comments here. I feel like this is really helping to open up lines of communication about stuttering and differences in general.

Someone asked how should you best listen to someone who stutters? As someone who stutters, this is what I prefer: listen to me the same as you would anyone else. Thats means with patience and respect, don't offer me any suggestions like slow down or take a breath, and maintain eye contact with me. If you hear me stutter for the first time and you are surprised, thats OK. Feel free to ask me about it, And if you don't understand something I said, ask me to repeat it, just like you would with anyone else.

The absolute worst thing I get is what i call "look-aways". Sometone hears me stutter and gets uncomfortable, and looks away, down at the floor or off in the distance. Like that spares me. If you get embarassed listening to me, then I probably am too. If you "look-away", that makes me feel you don't know what to do or how to respond. its OK, just ask.

It usually only takes me 15 or 20 more seconds to get something out, when I am in a good stuttering rip. And the frustrating thing is, soemtimes, you wouldn't even know I stutter.

Stuttering is complex and situational, and can vary for each person by the hour. The hardest part is not what comes out of my mouth, but the stuff you don't see or hear: shame, fear of judgement, inadequacy, helpless.

Thanks for tuning in to this - all these comments are great.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Liana, I a very insightful post. Did you know King George VI of England had a stutter? He made a great king and I think he's a person you can take a lot of inspiration from.


Liana Laverentz said...

That's right, Steph! Go here for a list of other famous people who stutter or stuttered.

Carol Silvis said...

It was nice of you to post this and raise awareness.