By Carla Bevilacqua
Being a teen is hard. But being a teen who stutters is so much harder. I know what you’re thinking: “what does this person know?” Well folks, I know. I’ve been there, I stutter.
Let me digress with a brief history of myself so this makes sense. I didn’t know I stuttered until I was 23 years old. When I was young, my parents asked my doctor about my speech and he told them I would grow out of it. By the sixth grade, when I didn’t grow out of it, my teacher made a recommendation to my parents that I go see a speech therapist. I saw two therapists over the next two years who both told me that I did not stutter. They informed me that what I had was distinctly different and that it was a dysfluency issue called prolonging. For years I chose to accept what they told me, but since entering school in Speech and Hearing Sciences, I have had no choice but to become informed and have realized that those words are just other terms for stuttering. So here I am, 25 years old, still getting used to being a “stutterer.” Don’t get me wrong though, just because I didn’t have the title STUTTERER branded on me like a scarlet letter doesn’t mean that I didn’t experience all the typical feelings, anxiety, fears, and bullying of someone who stutters.
When I was a teen I didn’t know anyone else who stuttered or who had any kind of speech difficulties and this caused me to feel very alone. These thoughts are completely normal in teen years – well actually, even into adults years – but it has made all the difference for me to meet other people who stutter. A woman who stutters spoke in one of our classes last year and I had a discussion with her afterward in which she revealed that she was an active, and very involved, member of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). She continued to explain that talking to other people who stutter and sharing common experiences changed her life. That day, as soon as I got home, I looked up the NSA online and became a member. However, it was months before I took the initiative to go to one of their monthly meetings. Now, the NSA is a place where I can express my fears, happiness, anger, excitement, or trepidation about past, or coming experiences. It is a place where you can realize that your stuttering doesn’t own your life. Possibly one of my biggest battles with my speech is the fear that when I stutter, people will doubt my intelligence or knowledge of a subject matter, and therefore think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, or worse, that I’m stupid. The NSA has helped me to realize that my stuttered speech matters far more to me than it ever will to someone else.
For a crash course on the NSA and what the organization stands for, below is their mission statement: “The National Stuttering Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing hope, dignity, support, education and empowerment to children and adults who stutter and their families, and the professionals who serve them.” The NSA began in 1977 in California, and was mainly formed in order to establish self-help groups where people could gather together, share their experiences, and gain strength and encouragement from each other. Today, the NSA has over 80 local chapters nationwide where those who stutter can go and know that they are not alone. For a complete history of the NSA, finding your local chapter, or more information in general, please visit their website at www.nsastutter.org.
Want to hear more from people who stutter?
visit the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference at http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad9/isadcon9.html and click on links under “The Experts (PWS) Speak for Themselves.”