by Stephen Goedhart
I have been a person who stutters my whole life. Many people who know me will probably be surprised to learn about this. It is because I use my speech targets – also known as skills – while I speak and thus will come across as speaking fluently. I went through a few stages in my life. A stage when I was covert about my stuttering I would change words, change topics, and avoid people. In the next stage I received therapy, joined a speech group and focused on applying my targets and learned to deal with my speech in all situations. At the current stage, I have accepted myself and wish to help those who are in need of support.
It was very difficult dealing with my speech through elementary school. I would change words, change topics and be reluctant to go to school on days when we had oral reading. Those days terrified me. I was so concerned about how everyone perceived me when I read aloud. I was so self-conscious.
My speech would go up and down through my years in school. From junior high to high school, my speech didn’t seem to be as much of a challenge as in my early years. I did not experience that many blocks so I became more confident with verbally communicating with others. I would still change words and topics but didn’t have to do it as much as when I was younger. Public speaking no longer became an issue. I really enjoyed it, whether it was at school or at my part-time job at the movie theater. I loved audiences. I loved speaking in front of people so much that I pursued acting.
However, it was during college when my speech became overwhelming to deal with. I started to change words and avoid people a lot more. I felt that some power-that-be was grabbing my throat. It was especially frustrating when I ordered food, so to avoid blocking I preferred not to eat. My family believed that it was “all in my head.” They were not keen on learning about the issue.
I knew that life had to go on and I wanted a solution to this. First, I looked in the yellow pages – those were the days before the search engine was popular – and found a speech therapist in the area. I did one session for one hour. It was expensive. I was a student and needed to find support that was affordable, so I spoke to my family doctor. He referred me to the speech clinic at the Ottawa hospital. Fortunately, I was provided funding through the Mary Poulas Foundation and did the three week intensive program with follow-ups. This program was the starting point of my new life. It gave me the skills I needed to deal with my stutter.
At one of the follow up sessions, I met a man who informed us about a self-help speech group in Ottawa: Speech Masters that would later become Ottawa Association of People Who Stutter. His name was Norm McEwen and he became a great friend of mine. I joined the group and attended the weekly meetings. This group established a foundation for me to build on. It was not just about using my targets. It was about gaining confidence and inspiration from sharing ideas, sharing stories and supporting each other. This empowerment gave me the strength to go back to school and live abroad where I embarked on a career that required speaking in front of groups of people.
As time progresses, I realize that the issue is not just my stutter; it is about how I deal with my stutter; how I deal with myself. The reality is that there are going to be good days and there are going to be those stressful days when it will be difficult to apply my targets, so it is about preparing myself to deal with those challenging moments. The best way for me is to accept who I am and to not define myself through others, but to define myself from within. I know that if I want to take my life to the next level I have to take control of myself. When I have a block, I tell myself to “focus on the target; when it’s difficult to apply, try again and do the best I can. If I block-stutter, so what. I do not focus on what is running in the minds of others because what is on their minds is not what is in mine.”
There is nothing wrong with stuttering. It is non-threatening. Yes, it is difficult to have blocks; however, I feel that there is no need to make it more difficult. I have gained strength from my experiences and from the people whom I have met. Now I wish to do what I can to support people in need. I understand. I have been there and I will always be on this journey. It is important for others to know that they are not alone. The journey continues.
At the time of this article, changes to the speech clinic and to the Mary Poulous Fund are being implemented.