About the presenter: Marko Knez from Slovenia shares, "I am 29 years old and I stutter. I have a BA in Public Administration. Seven years ago I stuttered a lot. Through speech therapy my stuttering almost disappeared. Speaking doesn't present any trouble anymore. Now I work in an online webshop. I am in direct contact with a lot of people every day. I am a positive, hard working man trying to educate people about stuttering through appearances on the radio, TV, and the social media."

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

Speaking is beautiful

by Marko Knez
from Slovenia

My name is Marko Knez and I stutter. This is my life story about stuttering - from the time I came to the realization that I stutter to present time.

I came to the realization that I stutter -- and that this is a difficulty to be overcome -- sometime during the sixth grade of primary school. I recall little of my primary school years, but I do remember that already then there was a fair amount of teasing from my classmates.

My parents took me to a speech therapist in the health centre but that didn't work at all. My self-esteem and confidence were not at high-level. This was reflected in little communication with other people outside of my family. I was a quiet person who didn't actively participate in discussions. Speaking on telephone was not an option at all because I was so afraid and ashamed of my stuttering. Because my speech wasn't getting any better, teasing from my classmates grew day by day.

This sort of impatience, or rather lack of understanding, towards people who stutter only intensified as I grew older, and was at its worst during secondary school. At that time we were all still young, and as young people we do not pay any regard to what is said, let alone to the power and effect of those words. Every day I was the "target" of teasing -- which I didn't listen to, keeping my thoughts to myself. Eventually I became immune to the teasing.

But teasing wasn't my biggest problem. The problem was some of my teachers who understood my stuttering as some kind of ignorance towards teaching material. Sometimes I would need a minute to normally pronounce words. But teachers didn't have sympathy for my problem. Often I knew the answer to the question but I didn't answer it because I was afraid of teasing. I think one teacher asked me questions more frequently than my other classmates because he thought I didn't know the answers. At that time I also didn't have any courage to speak to girls, especially to ones who I liked.

And then came time for college. I was very surprised at that time because my teachers and classmates understood and had sympathy towards my stuttering. My speech wasn't good at all but I somehow managed to speak quite well. Sometimes I gathered enough courage to talk to a girl. My father also payed for a hypnotist who told him that stuttering wasn't that big of a problem to fix. The hypnotist didn't help me at all. One day I was told that I must go to the Vilko Mazi Association. I said to myself let's give it a try, because nothing else worked for me. I didn't call the association, it was my aunt who did. Speaking on telephone was still a big problem for me.

Still today I remember the first time I walked into the Vilko Mazi Association, the first and only organization in Slovenia that offers professional aid to people with speech impediments. Before I went there, I had no idea what the organization could do for me, but it ended up offering me a great deal.

From the very first day I started to do the exercises involved in the First Level of the "Conscious Synthesis Development" and "Vlaja" system, my speech only got better. In the First Level of the therapy, I learned proper breathing techniques, focusing attention and specialized targeted muscle movements. I developed courage to speak on the telephone if I prepared for it beforehand. My progress was very rapid.

Soon I advanced to the Second Level, where I added reading exercises and text summaries. One day, after about a year in the Second Level, I simply changed. I became extremely self-confident and my speech improved. Conversations didn't present problems for me, neither direct personal communication nor telephone conversations.

Right now I am in the Third Level of therapy, where I serve as a model for new members and also lead a self-help group. In this group, those of us who are in the Third Level and have mastered all the techniques for proper speaking help those members who are in the First or Second Levels of therapy. This is very important for their self-confidence. In addition to all the exercises found in the First and Second Levels, the Third Level features exercises in dramatization, public speaking, speech and behavior exercises outside of the clinic, and spontaneous speaking.

Some may say that the Vilko Mazi Association main goal is to organize events and trips with the purpose of gathering persons who stutter together. This is wrong thinking because in my case and many other cases these speech exercises in a natural environment helped me to gain enormous self-confidence.

The first exercise outside of the premises of the association was to speak on a bus, using a microphone in front of the camera and in front of about fifty other persons who also stutter. This was a very stressful situation for everybody but there was comfort in knowing it was before one's colleagues. Even today when I go to these speech exercises in a natural environment the only persons who speak are persons who stutter. Most so-called normal people (people who do not stutter) don't have the courage to perform in front of a camera and the public.

It took me quite long time to participate in one of these speech exercises. At first I was questioning myself how could these exercises help me? I didn't see any benefits for my speech. But one day I decided that I would go to one of these exercises and it changed my perspective of myself and my stuttering. I wasn't the only one who stuttered. And I also met a lot of new friends. I opened up to them which was quite an accomplishment for me.

When I look back at that moment I see it as the first of many steps towards improving my speech. From that moment on I have built up my confidence day by day. It wasn't a quick build up as I had hoped but it was a gradual build up, and I made progress.

The second big step in my life and which was an enormous positive step in improving my speech was participating in a live radio show. My speech therapist was very surprised and very delighted that I had the courage to go live on a radio show. At first we didn't know if I could participate in a show. But to my delight and also the delight of my speech therapist the moderator of the program gladly accepted both of us. On the show we talked about stuttering. I am very proud of this accomplishment. I joked that I became a radio star.

You can imagine how much my confidence and self-esteem grew. What was wonderful, as my confidence and self-esteem grew, my speech improved visibly.

My performance in the media world didn't stopped with that radio appearance. Since then, I have been a guest on two TV shows. On one of them they only showed methods of The Vilko Mazi association. On the second TV show which is highly popular in our country I gave two statements. The show talked about stuttering where there were many guests including me, my speech therapist and other members of the Vilko Mazi association. It turned out that major part of the show belonged to some famous people in my country who stutter, my speech therapist and me. I am extremely proud of myself and of my speech in this show.

I also participated in another live radio show which talked about stuttering and the importance of self-esteem and positive thinking about stuttering. In all of my appearances in the media world I have gotten only positive and encouraging feedback.

Another big step in my life was my participation in the 9th World Congress of Stuttering in Buenos Aires, Argentina held in May 2011 where I presented my life story about stuttering. I've met many people from around the world. This experience has made me humble and grateful as I saw that we are not afraid to talk about stuttering.

The last large public event in which I have participated was in March 2012 when I was co-host in The Vilko Mazi Association 25th anniversary of operations and support for people who stutter.

Now I am a changed man. At the beginning of this journey I was a shy boy who has now grown up to a man through speech therapy. I am a happy and optimistic person who loves to perform, especially on the big stage.

If people once said to me that I would perform in events in front of many people I would told them that they were crazy and out of their mind! Don't be ashamed of your speech and yourself because you stutter. Be proud of yourself and who you are. Talk about stuttering. It helps people around you and especially it helps you! Stay positive.Your speech can get better!

Speaking is beautiful, speech is a gift we must value.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

SUBMITTED: July 23, 2012
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