|About the presenter: Anita Scharis Blom was born and raised in the Netherlands, but is now married and living in Sweden. She works as a secretary and as the IT support/teacher assistant in school. Besides that, she is a member of the local disability committee, board member of the local stuttering chapter (SSF), chairperson of the Swedish stuttering association (SSR), vice chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA) and a member of the advisory board for the International Stuttering Association (ISA). She states, "I have stuttered since I was 9 and had a troublesome youth, but this helped me to now work with and give advice to people who stutter of all ages and help them to break down their barriers and show them the world is at their feet."|
I'm one of the luckiest people on earth. I get to be the leader of children and European youth camps. To see these kids come to the camp, not ready to make contact, and leaving the camp full of confidence, asking when the next one is. I also get to talk to kids in school to tell them what stuttering is all about, which is as much fun as it is rewarding. But it was not always like that. My youth was not all that. To say the least...
When I finally accepted my stutter I decided to share my thoughts and experiences with others and started a school information project. There was one class I entered and as soon as I told them my name and the reason I was there, while stuttering heavily, the whole class started to laugh out loud. And the teacher did...nothing. I was devastated, but even more I was angry. So I told them to laugh as stuttering may sound funny, but when they were done laughing, I would tell them how funny stuttering really is. And believe me, I told the most depressing version EVER! I also wondered why the teacher let that happen. But it ended with the kids coming to me afterwards apologizing and asking more questions. They explained why they laughed: My stutter did sound funny as well as some ticks that came along. And the fact they were laughing was more because they never heard someone stutter like that and because they didn't know how to react and as soon as one laughed, they just went along. That made me realize they were not laughing at me, but at the way I talk, which made me feel more confident. That experience changed the way I wanted to get my message out to teens.
Today I have a message that makes kids want to be a person who stutters. I try to look as cool as possible, while sitting in the class before they even arrive, to try and feel confident and don't have to fumble or stumble, clumsy as I am. I talk about my stuttering problems to explain the barriers been set up by the people surrounding me, including them. But I also talk about the fun people I meet, the world wide trips I make while getting funded (!) BECAUSE I stutter, how I celebrate the ISAD by making demands for breakfast in bed and spending the rest of the day the way I want, the crazy things we do at camps and I even bring my DAF to give a hint about the confusing feelings one can feel while not being able to synchronize thoughts and voice. I also talk about my family (to show them we CAN get a partner), my job (there's nothing wrong with intelligence), and my saxophone playing, including sax tattoo. I want to make stuttering COOL and want non-stutterers to be a part of MY life instead of the years of struggle, desperately wanting to be a part of THEIR life. And I get those kids who stutter to raise their hands and tell the class they stutter(ed) as well (to most teacher's despair, as teachers often me they don't have a stuttering student in their class).
Now the most rewarding thing in my life is talking to teens and "twenties" who stutter. Life is tough being young. School work is graded depending on your talking skills, group work needs discussing with the group, job interviews are dreaded even for fluent people, not even to mention social life. So how do you tell them it's going to be OK when life seems to be a big, solid wall? Therapy is for kids, teachers often don't know how to handle the situation and most of them are living on their own. So, where do you get help being a young stutterer? FROM EACH OTHER!
Our recipe for the greatest week in life: Bring a bunch of young adults together (for example, the ELSA European Youth Meeting, FRIENDS or Our Time) and talk together discussing that stuttering is not who you ARE but something you DO. We use all kinds of creativity, singing, dancing, theatre, art, IT, film making etc. to make them express themselves. But also talk about legislation and that it's your RIGHT to get help. We check out the media and internet, to find friends and how to connect and interact with others. And we tell them what YOU can do to make a change. A change for yourself and for others out there. Also add a session of truth or dare to get it all out. Finally, put a stereo there, possible a karaoke machine and the week is complete. And what do you get? A website. An application to Bill Gates to start a youth organization. A movie on funny situations PWS have to get used to (for example Mum pouring soup asking the new stuttering boyfriend to say "Stop" and she keeps on pouring) and a movie on how to start stuttering (stuttering courses, stuttering devices etc), daring to lie down on a nail bed, and lots and lots of dancing and laughing, mixed with hugs and tears, as everything is shared, everything is accepted and all solutions are being offered by the young people themselves. And yes, I'm one of the lucky ones to share it all, lose sleep and regain my youth.
And the most rewarding thing is to follow up. Change of job, change of school, travelling around the world and visiting friends, becoming the chair of the national stuttering association, becoming a professional interviewer and even becoming the mayor! Anything is possible. And most of them now interact with the world. And we still party together every time we meet.
That's what I call self help. We're all in it together. So if we help each other as well as helping the world to understand what stuttering is all about and that we're here to stay, together we help to make this world a better place. A world that understands stuttering.