I have been stuttering since I started talking. It bothers me a lot. In the beginning it was not as severe so I was able to hide it (I learned a couple of tricks, for instance getting all the air out and then saying a word which was for me hard to say). That was the reason for my becoming extremely sensitive towards my stutter. Everybody knew me as a perfectly fluent boy so even a thought of me stuttering was completely unacceptable for me. The older I became the harder it was to hide my stutter and pretend I was "normal" and totally fluent.
At the age of 13 I grew rapidly taller. It was during this time that my speech grew suddenly worse. I realised I was not able to hide my stutter any longer and it changed me completely. From that point I started creating my own world of silence. When I did not talk I did not stutter. A couple of my classmates had negative attitude towards my speech difficulty. Many teachers also did not behave appropriately.I had several therapies, with no success, because I had exactly the same attitude and approach as described below.
After finishing secondary grammar school I decided to go to England and spend there a year as an au-pair. I stuttered in English as well, exactly in the same way like in Slovak. I believe that stuttering is for me a psychological, not a physical problem. I contacted the British Stammering Association there and for the first time in my life I realised that I am not the only person who stutters. I attended a self-help group there as well. It helped me a lot. It was amazing to share feelings with others, because their feelings were similar to mine. I started thinking positively and I became aware of a very important fact - I do not need to overcome stuttering in order to become happy, but desensitise myself towards it.
When I came back home I decided to establish a self-help group in Slovakia. I knew what the group should look like as I had seen it in England. I found the English group very well organized.
When I started my studies in Bratislava I contacted several competent people from Pedagogical faculty and several teachers from a school for children with speech difficulties. They helped me find about 10 stutterers, potential members of the group and they even offered me a classroom in above mentioned school as a suitable place for our meetings.
In September 1998 we had our first meeting. Almost every stutterer I contacted, came. Some of them came just because of their curiosity. Because no one had suggestions what to do during the meeting, I explained to them how it worked in England and suggested it as a good example to follow. They agreed. From that point our meetings were split into two parts. During the first part everybody tells how his/her speech has changed since last meeting. This part sometimes lasts very long as some of us stutter severely and have so much to say. In the second part one topic is chosen, which we discuss. Often our attitudes and opinions are similar. We meet every other week for 1 1/2 hours. Some people did not return after the first meeting. Probably they did not like it. But about 5-6 of us tend to come each time, others come occasionally. There is just one woman coming to our meetings. All others are men. All of us are relatively young, from 18-25 years old. People in the group have different levels of education and different levels of dysfluency.
After a couple of meetings I felt how was atmosphere getting warmer, people were getting less tense and more open. They started to talk more about their problems, what they tried, what helped them and what did not. But no one was talking about the future. It seemed to me like all of them had put up with their problem and they did not want to work on themselves, because according to them they had tried everything. I was getting a feeling that we could do more then just talk about our problems. Of course it is also important, it makes people happier, when they are understood by others. But it does not solve the problem. Therefore I brought to one meeting Miro, a student of speech pathology. I wanted him to make our meetings more alive, to make people be more active. He was young. I thought it would have been better to have there somebody who is of our age so that we did not have to take him as an authority. And it worked. Since then I have been feeling satisfied, because the group fulfils my expectations. I am sure the same can be said about others. Our favourite activities in the group are pretending that we call each other, reading in front of others, discussing various topics. We also tried Speaking Circles, but it was too early. More of us felt awkward about that. There are two of us there who are in therapy, so it is a great opportunity to practise what we are working on in therapy in a group setting and a "safe" place.
During the spring and summer we had our meetings outside in a park. Once one member of the group brought his friend to the meeting. It was middle-aged married man. He had very mild stutter. Sometimes it was very hard to notice that he stuttered. He spoke very fast and most of the time it was him who was talking. He had a very negative influence on others. All his thoughts were negative. He spoke a lot about the problems caused by his stuttering, what he had done trying to get rid of this burden, that his relatives felt ashamed of him and so on. He appears totally resigned to his stuttering. He has kept his feelings inside his entire life. He did not talk about stuttering even with his wife. He came four or five times to our meetings and we have not seen him again. Probably he had said everything he had wanted to and vanished. I wish this guy all the best. I hope he will find the right way to become happy, but his presence in the group was very disturbing. These kinds of people are a real danger for self-help groups. Not because they have problems or because they need to talk a lot or because they need somebody who understands them, but because they are resigned and they do not want to try again to solve their problem. Then I believe there is no point in attending such groups.
At the moment about 6 people attend the group regularly. I think it is very important to see people regularly, because it gives an opportunity to get to know each other deeply and it results in better cooperation between people. During one meeting Miro spoke about several therapies and explained to us how each of them works. We tried them all in the group. This helped everybody explore which therapy might be most suitable for him/her. And during our meetings it is a suitable time to practise with various therapy ideas. In my opinion a self-help group is particularly useful for those who work on themselves. They can practise there, gain self-confidence and then go outside and work on maintaining it.
I would be glad if our group carries on. Perhaps we could meet more often, like once a week. Meetings could be longer as well, 2 hours or even longer, but at this moment it is not possible. I think that because our group is for us, stutterers, we should also know what we want to do. It is fine that Miro is there and leads us, but even we ourselves should make our meetings even better, because we in particular know what we need.
In my opinion one of the most important things is transition between the classroom where we hold our meetings where everyone stutters and the world outside where almost no one stutters. This is very difficult. I know it from my own experience. Therefore I would prefer not being inside the classroom all the time, but in pairs going outside, for instance to the shop and asking for things which are difficult to utter or stopping people on the street and asking them, where the railway station is. But before doing so we need to get ready for that. In the future I will be also pleased if everyone of us is capable of standing up in front of others and talking for couple of minutes with no fear and no shame. I do not say without stuttering, because probably we will never get rid of dysfluency.
Stuttering in Slovakia
Besides our self-help group stutterers have no other activities in Slovakia. We do not even have an stuttering association. It is a little bit unbelievable, because all the other countries around us do. Slovaks are people who do not talk much about their problems to others. It seems like stuttering does not exist in our country, because no one talks about it. But it is not true. There are stutterers here like everywhere else. People just do not want to see them. Stutterers feel very often ashamed for their unnatural speech and isolate themselves. Even if they want to get help from speech therapists they mostly do not get any as our speech therapists are not well educated. They use old incorrect methods and whole approach in treatment is wrong. It works like this - the stutterer comes to a speech therapist expecting him to cure him. The stutterer does not think he is supposed to do major work and that speech therapist or pathologist can just show him the right direction. The stutterer thinks the therapist is one who is capable of curing him, because he is educated in this field and even paid for that. The stutterer puts all responsibilty on the therapist. On he other hand the therapist works with stutterer using one of his unpractical methods and taking it as a routine. He is not personally involved in it. He does his work and does not care whether therapy will be successful or not. At the end both of them are satisfied -- the therapist because he thinks he has done his best and the stutterer because he is resigned thinking that he has tried to cure himself but stuttering cannot be cured.
Of course this example is a bit exaggerated, but a lot of parts of it are true. In my opinion Slovak logopedists really should expand their palette of methods. There are many resources they can use, especially well written American books published by Stuttering Foundation of America or National Stuttering Association.
Because I am a student I do not have much spare time. I think I need to find more people, stutterers, who want to change the current situation in Slovakia. If I manage this we will set up Slovak stuttering association which will be independent of the association of logopedists, but will cooperate with it. Then it will be very important to raise money. After that it would be great to translate some of the above mentioned books and publish them in Slovak. Also it will be important to set up new self-help groups in different areas, so that the association has its members spread all over Slovakia. I see an advantage in cooperation with the Czech republic. Our languages and cultures are very close, and they already have an national association. For instance, books published in the Czech republic could be distributed also in Slovakia and other way round.
To summarize, I hope the situation in Slovakia will change soon. Perhaps some of the ideas mentioned above will become true and my next paper will be much more positive and I will be able to describe our successes and the progress we have made.