|About the presenter: Alan Badmington is a former police officer who commenced stuttering in childhood. An active public speaker, he regularly addresses diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering. His media involvement has further brought the subject to the fore. Alan has appeared as a finalist in the Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships on two occasions. He was a keynote speaker at the 2004 World Congress for People Who Stutter, in Australia, where he also won the Oratory Contest. Alan is due to present at the annual ASHA Convention later this year.|
When, in 2000, I decided to make a concerted effort to address my stutter, I befriended an unexpected ally. I'm referring to something that has revolutionized the manner in which we communicate, both individually and collectively -- THE INTERNET.
IT OPENED UP A WHOLE NEW WORLD
At the time, I had not read any meaningful material about the issues that had adversely affected my life since early childhood. I was virtually ignorant of speech therapies and knew little about how other people were coping with similar matters in their lives.
Everything changed when I went online. I was astounded by the wide array of information being disseminated and became aware of the existence of various international discussion groups dedicated to the subject of stuttering. Within days, I joined several of these groups, affording me access to written exchanges between members located in many parts of the world. The way in which these forums operate is that once an email (or post) has been submitted by a member, it is circulated to everyone within the group. Should someone decide to respond, that person's comments are automatically communicated to the entire membership. This may, in turn, stimulate others to participate, thereby causing the discussion to continue or develop in a different direction.
I was surprised (and intrigued) by the nature of the dialogue. My reaction will be better understood when I explain that, throughout my life, I had met very few people who stuttered. I was also blissfully unaware of the availability of self-help groups or other supportive organisations. After living in virtual isolation (from other PWS), I now found myself reading intimate and moving details about the experiences of total strangers scattered around the globe. It was bizarre, yet somehow reassuring, to learn that there were so many others who had experienced (or were still experiencing) similar struggles, heartaches and disappointments.
At first, I absorbed what I was reading without making any effort to respond. Everyone seemed to know everyone else -- each forum appeared to be an established social circle. I wondered how they would react to intervention by a newcomer and questioned whether or not I had anything of value to contribute. Why should someone on the other side of the world be interested in things that were happening in my life?
JOINING IN THE DISCUSSION
My thinking soon changed. When someone recounted a particular incident; raised a specific issue; or asked for advice; I felt an urge to respond. After all, they were talking about matters to which I could relate. The circumstances may not have been identical but there were many similarities to the personal experiences that I had encountered. I, therefore, felt qualified to offer my views. In due course, I contributed my first post; quickly followed by the second, and the third. Within a relatively short period of time, I had become a regular subscriber to several different forums, spending hours each day at the keyboard.
Before long, I wasn't content to merely comment upon topics generated by other members. There were additional subjects that I wished to initiate. I should explain that my introduction to the Internet (and discussion groups) coincided with the commencement of another significant chapter in my life. I refer to my decision to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards all avoidance strategies, as well as choosing to expand my comfort zones at every opportunity.
STICKING YOUR NECK OUT
We don't change behaviours by retaining the status quo -- I knew that I needed to confront my fears in order to challenge my self-limiting beliefs. Like the turtle, we can only move forward when we stick our neck out. My efforts to live a more expansive lifestyle were incredibly stimulating; I approached each day with excitement and zest. I grew progressively in confidence and stature as I accepted and fulfilled new roles. But, although I felt considerable personal inner satisfaction, I recognised the value of sharing those experiences with others. So, whenever I accomplished a specific breakthrough, or completed a fresh venture, I didn't keep it to myself. I used the appropriate group as a vehicle to acquaint everyone else.
Relating those incidents had a very powerful impact upon me. Each time I relived a successful occurrence, it reaffirmed what I had achieved. I genuinely believe that my progress during recent years has been helped considerably by the fact that I have told myself (and others) about the positive experiences I have enjoyed. Some people may be of the opinion (and it's their prerogative to think whatever they choose) that speaking about one's successes is egotistical. Well, I happen to hold an opposing view. That was certainly not my motivation for sharing. Re-living the episodes strengthened my memories of those events. (I didn't feel too guilty because I knew that the delete button was readily available to those who did not wish to read my posts).
ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE
Since early childhood, my stuttering was fuelled and perpetuated by the difficulties, setbacks, pain and catalogue of lost opportunities that I encountered. I had constantly reminded myself of what I could NOT do, and/or the dire consequences of attempting to speak in certain situations. I spent a lifetime accumulating, recounting and giving far too much prominence to the memories of negative speaking experiences. As a result, my stutter flourished and thrived. I make no excuse for having reversed that trait. In direct contrast, I now constantly remind myself of my successes. You should never shirk from telling yourself how much you have achieved. When we savour and foster positive experiences, it intensifies our responses to them. The longer those images are held in our awareness, the more emotionally stimulating they become. When we focus on positive happenings, it lifts our mood and increases optimism, resilience and resourcefulness.
Another spin-off (of speaking about our successes) is that it can encourage others to emulate our actions and confront obstacles in their own lives. Learning about a PWS who successfully embraced public speaking had a huge impact upon my self-concept. Until that moment (in 2000), I truly believed that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. I was inspired by his activities and wanted to follow his example. That fortuitous occurrence sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life. After many years of restrictive behaviour and holding back, I finally allowed myself to entertain the thought that I could do something meaningful about my communication difficulties. The rest is history, as they say.
Fear and self-doubt figure prominently in the lives of many people, not just those who stutter. They can sabotage hopes and aspirations. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to face the issues that impede our progress. However, as members of an online forum, some people gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge, camaraderie and collective support that are present within that group. I have witnessed this on many occasions. Those who receive guidance, and/or morale-boosting reassurance, from others in advance of an upcoming event (maybe a job interview or public speaking engagement) frequently report positive outcomes.
Online discussion groups represent different things to different people. We are all unique. We originate from different backgrounds; are subjected to different life experiences; and accumulate different degrees of emotional baggage. We commence from different starting lines; operate in accordance with different beliefs, self-concepts and values; and possess different aspirations. The desired aim of one person is likely to differ appreciably from the expectations of another. Members who seek a more expansive lifestyle will, undoubtedly, welcome tips on how to achieve that goal, whereas others might be content to continue following a less-risky existence.
GROUPS HAVE THEIR OWN ORIENTATIONS
The English-speaking online groups (with which I am familiar) vary considerably in their composition, objective, format and content of discussion. Some forums tend to fulfil the general role of a support group, while others adhere to more specific agendas (such as cognitive issues; covert stuttering; assisting parents etc). Several provide resources, including articles, podcasts, videos etc.
The role of individual stuttering organisations differs from country to country. In the USA, for example, the NSA offers a network of online meeting places to facilitate interaction between members of its local chapters (self-help groups). There is also a separate group dedicated to those who attend the annual conference. Whereas the majority of online discussion groups restrict access to members only, some allow the written exchanges to be viewed by anyone. I add this cautionary note because there may be occasions when a subscriber might unwittingly furnish personal details that he/she would not wish to be placed within the public domain.
Another point to be considered is that interaction may, occasionally, become a little heated. Freed from their customary oral struggles, some PWS adopt a more assertive (or even aggressive) demeanour. They communicate with passion, plucking words of their choice from the extremities of their vocabulary without the usual anticipatory fear. For so many years, transferring my thoughts to paper was the only effective way in which I could meaningfully express myself. Whilst it is heartening to see members letting go and giving vent to their feelings, it is important to observe the rules of netiquette. We can be assertive and respectful at the same time. Thankfully, personal attacks are infrequent and can be quickly nipped in the bud by the sensible intervention of the moderator(s).
There are forums to suit everyone. If a particular group fails to satisfy your individual needs, then simply transfer attention elsewhere. That's exactly what I've done. At one time, I held simultaneous membership of no fewer than 11 groups but, today, I am far more selective. Now that stuttering has ceased to be an issue in my life, I have greatly reduced the extent of my participation.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS
I have gained varying degrees of benefit from virtually every forum to which I have subscribed. We can all learn something (however small) from each other's stories. Reading about the lives of other PWS can provide an interesting insight into how they deal (or have dealt) with their respective difficulties, as well as offering reciprocal inspiration. It can alert us to possibilities of which we were previously unaware -- in relation to therapies, techniques and opportunities that allow us to unearth our true potential. It can also open our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined, igniting belief in our own capabilities.
As a result of these online interactions, and the revealing evaluations that we have retrospectively conducted in relation to past (and more recent) events, many of us now possess a far greater understanding of the issues that shape our lives. We are also better informed about how we (and others) react to the diverse challenges that confront us, and have discovered that there are exciting paths available for us to tread. But, perhaps, most importantly, we know that we need never again experience the isolation of facing those challenges alone.
Many PWS find it difficult to talk about the issues that affect their lives, even with friends and family members. Yet, many who subscribe to online support groups confide that they are far more at ease when discussing such matters within that environment. Divulging even the most intimate details to "total strangers" can sometimes be less challenging than revealing them to someone you know. Greater openness about my life-time struggles has proved invaluable in helping me to overcome my previous embarrassment. Revealing my "darkest secrets" has greatly aided the desensitization process.
In conclusion, I have no hesitation in declaring that, without participation in Internet discussion groups, I would not now be at such a favourable position in my life. I cannot overemphasize the immense benefits that I have derived. It has played a significant part in assisting me to complete yet another important piece in this complex jigsaw puzzle that we know as stuttering.