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 the chairperson of the local stuttering chapter (SSF), international contact and former chairperson of the Swedish stuttering association, 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."

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

Home at last

by Anita Blom
from Sweden

I started stuttering at the age of 9. And for 18 long years I thought I was doing something terribly wrong.

I was told stuttering was my fault, as well as the bullying, and that it was up to me to do something about it. My parents couldn't face my stutter. Kids at school laughed at me or, even worse, ignored me. One teacher didn't want me in his class, another one let me, and only me, come in front of the class for homework check, but all of them told me I had no future because of my stutter. When I was denied to become a police officer because of my stutter, my world fell apart. I felt alone, being a bother to people, and with no future. I even faced a rape attempt by an SLP and never told anyone. I wanted to jump off this world once and for all.

Luckily some things happened which started a change within me. I got a job. And boyfriend. And moved to another country, facing a new life. But still I felt lonely and couldn't talk about my inner self and my constant battle to speak. A new language and two bonus teens didn't make things easier.

At the age of 27 something happened that changed my life. I got a brochure about a local group of people who stutter. A group? Of people who stutter??? I went to the local meeting and loved every minute of it. I had come home. I was so eager and wanted to do everything at a time, a place on the local board was soon offered. At a national meeting I met people my age, all stuttering. We told jokes all night. Not impatiently, worried about stuttering, worried about the other people laughing too early, not at all, or, even worse, see them walk off to talk to other people. No, they all remained eye contact and didn't laugh until the punch line.

In 1995 the world congress for people who stutter was organized in Sweden and as I was already on the national board by then, I was on the organizing committee. I was so much looking forward to meet all these people, all stuttering, all these interesting and inspirational lecturers. But I didn't forget where I was coming from and how lost I had been for so many years, so I wanted to do something for young people.

I was asked to contact ELSA, the European League of Stuttering Associations. We made plans for a European Youth Meeting to be held in adjacent to the world congress. And I couldn't have been happier that, at my first world congress, not only the International Stuttering Association was formed, but it was also the birth of a biannual European Youth Meeting.

Needless to say I winded up on the ELSA board and became active within the ISA. I had become a stuttering seminar junkie. The amazing feeling of being with people who understand is just so amazing. You don't need to say anything as they understand. Or you can talk about stuttering as much as you want and still they would understand.

I could now make a difference on local, national, European and international level. After being quite for so many years, I talked. I stuttered, but nothing would stop me from talking anymore. I realized that so many people still didn't have a voice. That they hadn't even found the safe haven I had found. I heard parents tell the same stories for years and years. Teachers still didn't have the knowledge to help a stuttering pupil. And young people still lacked the self-confidence to find their own voice, their own true self.

But thanks to the people who have given me my voice back, I can now pass on my voice to other people. I cannot be more proud to see that "my" kids from the youth meetings made funny movies mocking their stutter. They join Toastmasters. They wear their stutter t-shirts. And best of all: they proudly use the words "I have the right to speak. Because I have a voice!"

I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't found the stuttering community. Where they taught me to be proud of me. To simply BE me. Where we together practice the speech training we learn from our devoted speech therapists, where we empower each other to expand our comfort zones by doing things together and where we can laugh and cry together and be one big happy family. They picked me up when I was down, dragged me along when I wanted to give up and are my every day cheerleaders. I live from one meeting, seminar, and congress to the other. And try to drag along as many as possible. People who stutter, but also therapists, researchers, parents and other family members, friends, yes, everyone who has an interest in stuttering. We welcome you all to be a part of the stuttering family and get "adopted" from the moment you cross that doorstep.

My life changed in May 1992 and I've been addicted ever since. You should try it. I dare you.

"S-s-sure I s-s-stutter. What are you good at?"

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

SUBMITTED: September 1, 2011
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