Natalie Belling and Courtney Luckman are speech therapists and people who stutter.
Was speech therapy helpful for you?
- N: For me, speech therapy was a mixed bag. In all, I’ve probably had about 15 years of therapy, starting from the age of 5 all the way up to 25, with some breaks in between. Most of my therapy as a child consisted of learning strategies to get rid of the stuttering which, though helpful on the surface, didn’t address my personal feelings of anxiety and shame surrounding my stuttering. Therefore, because I felt so awful about my speech, I tried everything I could to avoid stuttering: adding in extra words, faking sick to skip presentations, changing words, etc. When I was much older and in graduate school, I worked with another speech therapist who not only helped me deal with all of the negative feelings surrounding my stuttering, but also told me that I should stutter, since all of the avoidance strategies that I had been using were actually detrimental to my overall communication. Based on my own experiences with speech therapy, I learned that the emotional side of stuttering is just as important as the speech aspect of stuttering, and therefore needs equal attention in therapy.
- C: I didn’t have speech therapy until I was 20. I’ve always blocked (silent stoppages of sound) and never exhibited any repetitions or prolongations, so I didn’t realize that I actually stuttered. I was also very covert, and didn’t tell anyone that I stuttered. I avoided situations, words, and often didn’t speak. Stuttering took over my life. I attended an intensive therapy program and learned about self-disclosure, acceptance of stuttering, and techniques to facilitate forward moving speech. The intensive therapy program changed my life, because I could finally stutter openly, say what I wanted to say, and do what I wanted to do. I was no longer held back by my stuttering.
Did stuttering affect your ability to make friends?
- C: Not at all. I had a core group of friends throughout school that I still keep in touch with today. I made friends like any other kid did. My friends didn’t care that I talked differently.
- N: I agree with Courtney. I always had a core group of friends, and made new friends as I went through each stage of life, just like any other kid. How I talked was just a part of who I was to all of my friends.
Did you get bullied?
- C: No, I never got directly bullied because of my stuttering. I used to have very long silent-filled blocks that would cause my classmates to giggle. Looking back, it wasn’t bullying, it was misunderstanding. I never disclosed that I was a person who stutters, so no one knew why I was having difficulty talking.
- N: I never really was bullied either. Knowing what I know now about people in general, stuttering can be confusing to listeners, especially younger kids who have never seen it happen. When we’re nervous, or we don’t know what to do, or we feel confused, we usually laugh or give a weird look. Though it can be hurtful for someone to be on the receiving end, it’s a pretty natural reaction we all have (kids, as well as adults). That’s why I do encourage my clients to educate their classmates and advertise their stuttering—these are two great ways to advocate for people who stutter.
What happened when you graduated high school? Is there speech therapy for adults who stutter?
- N: I had speech therapy all the way into early adulthood. As I grew up, the challenges I had with my stuttering changed. For example, doing show and tell in kindergarten was very different from presenting at a science fair in middle school and very different from interviewing for my first job. Because I had speech therapy pretty consistently throughout my life, I had a support system to help me navigate the increasing demands on my communication.
- C: I never received therapy in school. As an adult, I had some amazing speech therapists including Katie Gore, the founder of speech IRL. Speech therapy was incredibly helpful for me as an adult who stutters.
- There are many organizations dedicated to providing support for adults who stutter:
- National Stuttering Association: the world’s largest support group for people who stutter. They have local chapters and an annual conference.
- Shared Voices: a brick & mortar community space for people who stutter, right here in Chicago
- FRIENDS: serve as an adult mentor for this self-help organization for kids and teens who stutter
- Stuttertalk: weekly podcast about stuttering. Features people who stutter, researchers, and clinicians.
- Stuttersocial: Virtual support group for people who stutter
- ISAD: International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference
What was dating like for you?
- C: Dating is hard for everybody, and having a stutter definitely does not make it easier. I disclosed my stuttering on every date. I have been dating someone for over 2 years. Turns out, we have a mutual friend who stutters. He is very supportive of my stuttering, and to him, it’s just a part of who I am. For more information on stuttering and dating, see our blog post.
What was it like for you getting a job?
- N: I think everyone gets nervous thinking about the hiring process, including interviewing and talking with potential employers. I had jobs all throughout high school and college, and part of my job responsibilities always involved interacting with customers and coworkers. Now, my job as a speech-language pathologist means I talk all day, everyday.
- C: I’ve had several (front-of-house) customer service jobs. I was a hostess at a busy restaurant for several years. This required non-stop talking - greeting customers and answering phones. I’ve worked as a store manager at several bakeries, and ran a research study where I was required to read a page-long, verbatim description of the study to participants. A supervisor once told me that she was really impressed by how I interact with customers. As a speech-language pathologists, I am constantly talking to people, and I stutter through it all!
- People who stutter are in all professions. Let’s take a look at the professions of some adults who stutter that we know:
- Rocket scientist
- Stuttering is covered by the ADA. As a person who stutters, you have the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation at your workplace.
- Check out the NSA’s stuttering in the workplace initiative.
Have you become more fluent as you got older?
- N: My stuttering varies, just like it always has. In some situations I am very fluent, and in some situations I still stutter quite a bit. I think what has changed is how much headspace my stuttering takes up now. When I was younger, worrying about my speech was a second job for me—would I stutter when I talked in class? Would I stutter when I was working? What does the other person think? How can I get out of making a phone call? Now that I’ve worked through a lot of negative feelings regarding my speech and have come to accept my stuttering more as what my speech sounds like some of the time, I’m able to worry less about about it. Certainly, there are days when it’s more frustrating than others, but I’m able to move through it and focus on what really matters. Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter that I stutter.
- C: I’ve gained a good amount of fluency as an adult. The most important thing that has changed for me is the relationship I have with stuttering. I enjoy talking. I’m okay with letting out blocks, stuttering, secondaries - whatever comes out. I make speeches and presentations. I make phone calls because I want to, not because I have to. I worry about “normal” things, instead of worrying about my stuttering. I’m more concerned with what I say, rather than how I say it.
What is one thing you want parents to know?
- N: That it’s going to be ok, and that there’s so much more to me than my speech. I’m able to be a person who stutters AND do what everyone else can do.
- C: That it’s okay to stutter! I am who I am because I stutter, and although it was challenging and frustrating at times, it has shaped me into the person I am today.
Have more questions about stuttering? Check out our recent blog post.