How Bad Do You Stutter?

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Re: Great story!

From: Russ Hicks
Date: 03 Oct 2007
Time: 10:54:15 -0500
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Hi Jessica, Good question! Was there a single EVENT that triggered all this? Hmmm... In all honesty I would have to say no. That whole realization was a long process that took decades. However there were several significant events along the way. Probably first was my chance encounter with a guy who dragged me kicking and screaming into the National Stuttering Association in 1984. I was 44 years old at the time and had been out of the stuttering community - totally - for nearly twenty years and had no desire to get back into what I was convinced was a profession full of quacks. However he held my feet to the fire long enough to show me how I could affect the lives of OTHER people who stutter just by being there and listening to them. What a concept! No one had ever listened to me! And I could certainly relate to their struggles. Been there, done that, IN SPADES. This was my first introduction to the self-help movement, and eventually after several months, I began to realize how therapeutic it was just to have someone to talk to who truly understand what they were going through. While I had no answers, it felt amazing to just share these feelings with other people. ..... The second event was being dragged kicking and screaming (again! This happens to me a lot!) into Toastmasters in 1988. I had met another guy in the NSA who was a combination of Norman Vincent Peale and Tarzan who convinced me - and a lot of other people - that you MUST face your fears head on with your eyes wide open - and then conquer that fear! Feel the fear and do it anyway! No compromises. Just DO IT! This whole story is almost surreal and I should probably do an entire ISAD paper on it next year. Nevertheless I was shaking like a leaf when I gave my icebreaker (first) speech, but the feedback I got from my fellow Toastmasters was beyond amazing! It was soooo positive and encouraging. They told me how inspirational I was - me of all people! - and how much they enjoyed hearing me speak. That really stretched credulity, but it still felt good to hear it! So that started my journey into Toastmasters which has changed my life almost as much as the NSA. Those two organizations fit together like a glove and I continue to this day to be VERY active in both organizations. And my life has never been the same. ..... The third event was again in Toastmasters when I actually WON a very high level public speaking contest in 1996 which was being judged by total strangers and super professional speakers in their own rights. I remember standing on stage receiving that first place trophy and thinking almost like Sally Field said, "You like me! You REALLY like me!" I distinctly remember feeling my old world crumbling at my feet where all my life I had been totally convinced that stuttering was somehow offensive to other people. Again that contest experience deserves another ISAD paper of its own. But I stood there FINALLY realizing that I had been WRONG all my life and the other people had been RIGHT! They honestly didn't care about my stuttering as long as I could COMMUNICATE effectively - which I had learned to do by that time. Forget the stuttering and work on the struggles which definitely DO interfere with good communication. What a concept! .... Finally there was a NON event which deserves mention. Back in the "olden days" no one had the slightest clue of the tremendous impact of the stuttering iceberg. If I had ONLY known about this, I wonder how my life could have been different? Once I discovered that concept it was like a whole new perspective opening up to me. "Duh! I coulda had a V-8!" (See my 2003 ISAD paper at for more details of this.) That is one of the most important concepts that future SLPs MUST understand in order to be effective treating people who stutter. I certainly don't blame my speech therapists back in the 1950's for not knowing this. The stuttering iceberg concept was first proposed nearly 20 years later in about 1970. And what an amazing difference it makes! ..... And finally - again - you asked if I had people supporting me during my worst struggling years? I graduated from college, got a job, married and had kids, and lived a relatively normal life, struggling and stuttering and all. Like the elephant in the room, we didn't discuss stuttering at all. It was more or less a taboo subject. So although I got no direct support, people treated me more or less like a normal person. But it was ME who had to fight the elephant every day of my life. No one else understood what I was going through. They wanted to help but they were clueless what to do. I was expected to do what everyone else did, things like giving presentations at work which was required. They cut me no slack. Is that support? In retrospect I must admit it no doubt was. We just didn't recognize it at the time. ..... This is WAY too long, Jessica, but I think you deserved a decent answer. Good luck in school. You're going to make a wonderful SLP some day! Listen to what Lee has to say (she's a good friend of mine - tell her hi for me) and get involved with support groups like Friends, the NSA, and even Toastmasters. You'll love it! .... My very best to you, .... Russ

Last changed: 10/22/07