Before each new school year from kindergarten through eighth grade, my parents would call a meeting with all of my new teachers. My mom and dad would introduce me to the teachers and tell them that I stutter. I would answer questions when asked. We would come to the agreement that I would not be called upon in class unless I volunteered. I would feel less scared about starting school.
We did this every year until high school. Around my 14th birthday, I came to the realization that at some point, my mom and dad would not always be there to pave the way for me. I had to be my own ambassador. This realization had been coming for a long time, but its arrival was sped up by a visit to the National Stuttering Project convention.
The NSP convention took place in Atlanta that year. For three days, my parents and I drove to the convention hotel and listened to lectures and met with stutterers of all ages and backgrounds. It was an eye opening experience. I met stutterers who were almost completely fluent, and I met stutterers whose afflictions were profound. I met stutterers who held high profile jobs, and I met stutterers who worked in whatever job required the least amount of talking, regardless of their qualifications. It was nice to meet the successful people, but it was in meeting the downtrodden and beaten that I found the most value.
These people were victims of their stutters. They felt helpless to change their situations, and many of them looked to the NSP to change the world for them. The NSP was their version of mom and dad calling a meeting with the teachers. The NSP taught that if we, as stutterers, educated the public about stuttering, the public would accept us, and It would be o.k. to stutter.
The NSP's way of thinking did not make sense to me. The way I saw it, people were still going to laugh and make rude comments unless I wore a sandwich board that read:
IT IS NOT NICE TO FINISH MY SENTENCES, LAUGH, OR MAKE FUN.
The logical parallel was that if I continued to let my parents fight my battles, I would be unprepared when "the real world" hit. I was going to have to leave the nest and bulldoze through life on my own. It was going to be scary and painful, but I had to do it.
Stuttering is not the listener’s problem. A person with no experience with stuttering should not be expected to react perfectly the first time they talk to me or any other stutterer. I have reached the point that I can forgive an initial misstep on the part of a listener. Some of my closest friends laughed at me when we first met. They weren’t being mean; they were just unaware. Stuttering is not incredibly common, so it is possible to go through life without encountering it. Furthermore, there are no visual cues associated with stuttering. When someone sees me, they expect me to talk they way they do. SURPRISE!
Stutterers, keep on bulldozing. You’re going to get made fun of, and it’s going to hurt. Try to give people a second chance… but maybe not a third.
Before I get any angry comments, let me clarify a couple of things:
1. I do not blame any of the “downtrodden and beaten” for feeling the way they feel or making the choices they make. Stuttering affects everyone differently. Given different circumstances, I may have ended up downtrodden myself.
2. I realize that the National Stuttering Project (now known as the National Stuttering Association) has changed its views. They now discuss the rights of the listener. This is a very positive step. The NSA must deal with both sides of the equation, and from what I understand, they now do.