Thursday, January 20, 2011

Role models for people who stutter - good or bad?

On occasion one hears about courageous people who stutter (PWS) who tackle their dysfluency head-on, taking on challenging jobs requiring sophisticated speaking skills.  An example is the Autumn 2010 issue of Speaking Out, the magazine of the British Stammering Association ( ), in which a determined 2nd year law student wrote about his decision to become a barrister (known as a trial lawyer in the USA, and an advocate in some other countries) - a job requiring excellent public speaking skills and the ability to speak when under stress.

In the same issue of Speaking Out, the editor wrote: " ... people who stammer may also limit themselves in terms of what careers they think are possible ... I hope one thing Speaking Out and the BSA website can do is help get over the message that there are people who stammer successfully doing jobs that many would think they are excluded from, and if you really want to do something then seriously consider going for it, stammer or not."

The above comments may contain some truth. However, these successful PWS's should not be regarded as role models for other PWS's. My own view:
  • Firstly, I take my hat off to PWS's who take on challenging jobs requiring excellent speaking skills. But this does not mean that I should follow in their footsteps, and I should not feel pressurised to do so or feel inadequate or guilty because I haven't done so. PWS's differ from each other. We have different personalities, different forms of stuttering and stuttering severity, and different stress and tension patterns. 
  • It follows that some PWS's may never really improve their fluency, so that the progress made by some will be out of reach for others. Real progress depends on many, many factors.
  • It is always interesting and fruitful to hear about other PWS's who have succeeded in overcoming or successfully managing the disorder, and certainly much may be learnt from them. Their success, however, should not tempt us to compare ourselves with them. There is a fine line here which should not be crossed.
Actively tackling stuttering is a personal choice WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT lead to progress and improved fluency, depending on many factors and circumstances. Sure, if you feel that you can handle it, by all means pursue the challenging, fluency-demanding job you crave - remembering, however, that stuttering, for many people, is stress-related, that some jobs are more stressful than others, and that the choice of job is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make.

When I was still involved in self-help groups for PWS's I met so many people who had major problems at work because of their dysfluency - and many of them were in speaking-intensive jobs BECAUSE WHEN YOUNG AND LOOKING FOR A JOB, THEY CHOSE TO IGNORE THEIR OWN LIMITED FLUENCY LEVELS. Don't let it happen to you!


  1. Now that's a practical, sane approach.
    Some would disagree, as you know :)
    I do not stutter any more, but my life was completely disfluent for fifty years.
    Even so, I know that indestructible stutter is still in me, somewhere.
    Finding one's niche is very important, as opposed to imagining one has a "right" to do, or be, anything.
    You're doing a fine job, here.
    A big Thank You, from all the disfluent people who will never thank you, themselves.

  2. Much appreciated, Crow - thank you for the kind words. We live in a postmodern age where people put too much emphasis on "rights", and ignore the "obligations" which are the natural counterparts of "rights" ...

  3. Does it means PWS have to realize that they are weak and special than non-stutter? I don't think this is the good idea. When i thinks about that I'm stutterer, I stutter. But when i thinks that i'm confidence man who have the ability to speak fluently and have a motto in life then believe me i doesn't stutter. It's related to psychological aspects of stuttering.

  4. No, I definitely don't think that PWSs should feel weak and special. I just think that there should be a balance between realism and optimism. Stuttering is a communication disorder, and can be a real disability in life and in a career. Also: people who stutter differ. Some are able to have speaking-intensive jobs and others are not. I agree with you that you should not see yourself as a "stutterer". A better approach could be to see yourself as a "person who occasionally stutters if stressed". If you use a fluency technique such as airflow, you should see yourself as an "airflower" or "airflow speaker". This will reinforce your self-image as a technique user rather than a "stutterer". To see yourself as a confident person, is an excellent idea. That will shape your self-image, improve confidence and reduce speaking stress.