Friday, May 17, 2013

Recap of National Stuttering Awareness Week Hangout on Air

To celebrate National Stuttering Awareness Week, Stutter Social broadcasted a Hangout on Air yesterday, featuring a panel of participants from across the international stuttering community, to raise awareness.

Participants included folks who stutter from Canada, the United States and India. 

Debbie Horovitch from Toronto, and someone who doesn’t stutter, also joined the fun to learn more about stuttering. “I really don’t have a lot of awareness around it," Horovitch said. "I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what causes it.”

“The purpose of this Hangout is to raise awareness about stuttering,” said Stutter Social co-founder David Resnick, from Los Angeles, as he kicked off the Hangout. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there because people are either misinformed or under-informed. They haven’t ever spoken to someone who stutters. This is an opportunity for people who stutter and don’t stutter alike to ask questions, to learn, share experiences and knowledge.”

Topics included what stuttering is, how it feels like, eye contact, and common myths and misconceptions around stuttering.

Pamela Mertz, a participant from New York, defined stuttering as “the involuntary disruption of the normal flow of speech,” which can manifest itself in different ways for each person.

Mertz’s stuttering manifests itself in terms of repetitions, prolongations and blocks (when words don’t come out), she says. “It’s definitely involuntary and I think it’s important to note that because it’s not our fault. It’s not something that we’re to blame for. It’s just the way that we speak. It’s a different form of communication.”

In terms of what it feels like, Resnick said it’s like a “disconnect between the mechanism that is formulating speech and thoughts, and the mechanism that gets the word out. It’s as though someone put a cement wall in there and I’ve got to pull it down every time it comes up. It takes a lot of energy. Stuttering can be exhausting.”

Stutter Social co-founder Mitchell Trichon, also from New York, likened stuttering to an iceberg.  While stuttering involves repetitions, prolongations and blocks, that’s only what we see, he says. There’s also what’s under the surface – the emotions, which can include embarrassment, shame or guilt. “Stuttering can be disabling,” he said. “However, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve seen people with severe stutters be great communicators. It’s important to realize that.”

Participants also chatted about maintaining eye contact while stuttering. "I realized how very intimate it is to be speaking to someone and looking at them in the eye and stuttering," Resnick said.

While it can be a challenge, Trichon offered another reason why folks who stutter often lose eye contact: privacy. "I've heard stuttering described as a feeling of being naked in front of someone and the person is giving them their privacy while that happens," he said.

As stuttering is shrouded in mystery, there are many myths about the causes of stuttering, which, as Resnick says, can include being nervous or not knowing what we want to say.

For instance, Dustin Linkins, a participant from Fort Myers, Florida, said stuttering may be viewed as a sign of weakness. “As a police officer prior to my current job, I would stutter on a traffic stop. People would ask me, ‘are you talking that way because you’re scared of me?’ I would say, ‘I’ve been stuttering since I was five years old. You really don’t scare me.’”

Mertz said it’s important for people to realize that they can reframe stuttering as a strength. “Stuttering can make you memorable. People know who I am , where I work because I’m the one that stutters. For a while, that was not what I wanted to be perceived as. Now I can look at with ‘God, they know who I am! They remember who I am!’ That can be be a real strength in today’s world.”

The Hangout is available for viewing on YouTube and is embedded above.

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