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My Stuttering Life
I bet you didn't know I stutter
G'day, my name is Susanna, and I stutter. I bet you didn't know that.
Not many people do. I've been faking clear speech for some time. It's not easy and takes fierce concentration. When I get home and kick off my shoes I relax and stutter away the evening with family and friends.
So what am I doing on stage in local theatre productions? Why have I been a radio broadcaster for over 20 years? How come my daily life revolves around Public Speaking?
I pretend that I don't stutter and almost always get away with it. I use a combined approach of mental strategies and breathing techniques. Because anyone, even a stutterer, can fake it.
How many people stutter?
For some reason that's not known, about five percent of children go through a phase of stuttering which can last up to a year. Of those children, there will be four times as many boys than girls.
Most of these children will pull out of the phase before becoming teenagers while 1% will continue to stutter long term.
The numbers world-wide may seem high but it's really no fun being the one person out of a hundred who has difficulty talking.
What causes stuttering?
The main factors most likely to contribute to people stuttering:
Gender It's usually boys. (80% of stuttering children).
Child Development Developmental delays in children
Genetics A family member stutters.
Neurophysiology People who stutter process speech and language in different areas of the brain than those who don't
Family Dynamics High expectations and fast-paced lifestyles
(Looks like I must process speech and language in different parts of my brain than you do).
Living with a stutter
You may not know anything about stuttering at all, but the one thing you should know is that this affliction makes the world seem a cruel place for a child and absolute torment for a teenager.
I can't remember a time when I didn't stutter. And I can't remember a time when people weren't cruel.
My parents took me everywhere. I was hauled along to sessions with psychologists, speech therapists, hypnotherapists, elocution teachers and, just for something different, childrens' theatre schools.
Emily says that she "had a lot to say, but couldn't say it. It would just haunt me."
I know exactly what she means!
To this day I pretend to be someone else in situations where I have to talk. Offstage I'm still playing a part. To put it another way, I pretend to be a different and smarter version of myself.
I still stutter ...
When I undertake a simple task like popping round the corner to buy some milk I play the role of a woman shopping. I prepare myself before I leave, assume a particular posture and walk, and practice with a few bars of song to loosen up my voice. (Fortunately no one hears the singing except for my cat who forgives a great deal of things).
Along the way to the shop I can always find a neighbour who wants to exchange some pleasantries about the weather. Ah, my first rehearsal. There's a particular dog behind a fence who enjoys a chat with me and plenty of times I've initiated a conversation with a startled possum up a tree. By the time I've reached my destination I'm right into my role. I'm acting. And I'm in control of my voice.
On Stage - No Stutter
This is a tape of a comedy skit a few years ago. No stuttering here - those words aren't mine, it's a script.
Some practice tips for stutterers
Just on the off-chance that someone else who stutters happens to read this - there are some steps you can take to get some control over your voice. I do these exercises every day of my life. I can't guarantee they'll work for you but they carry me through with only a rare slip-up.
I pick up some text, like the morning news, and read it out aloud in these different ways.
Alternating between speaking with full volume and whispering. Its quite hard to stutter when you're speaking very loudly or very softly.
Chewing some gum while I read aloud to exercise the muscles in my jaw
Speaking slowing and deliberately and then stepping up to a more natural pace and tempo.
Singing the words. Everyone, including stutterers, can sing.
Practice makes (almost) perfect
I produce a popular radio programme in my hometown. I'm sure my listeners have no idea I have such a speech impediment.
The wonderful thing about radio is that no one can see me as I gesticulate wildly. I hum very loudly up and down the scale before I turn on the microphone too. That's an excellent way to get the throat muscles working smoothly.
Frequently I have to face a real, live audience. The way I get around this is by writing down what I am going to say and memorising it.
I write my speech, my lecture or my eulogy the day before, and I practice reading it aloud. This way I'm sure to find a word that's going to give me hell and I can substitute another in its place.
I practice it, then I memorise it. Then I practice it again. And again. When I finally stand up and face everyone, it's like being on stage and playing a part. No worries!
The major problem, as I see it, with stuttering is how others react to my stutter and how I respond to their reaction. It's not so bad these days, my speech is almost always controlled and my maturity has inured me to being hurt by strangers. To be truthful, I really don't care anymore.
It's all to do with how I feel about myself. My own self perception.
Redefining Stuttering: What the struggle to speak is really all about
Stuttering is not just a speech problem but part of our self-perception
John Harrison spent his early life struggling with stuttering. He overcame it.
There's no time to waste. Get control of your own voice now.
Is there a Cure for Stuttering?
Is there a known cure for stuttering?
It's a logical enough question, one mouse click will pull up heaps of advertising for courses, gadgets and gimmicks which offer a complete and final cure for stuttering. But there's no cure, no magic pill.
Not very surprising when you consider that no one knows why anyone stutters in the first place.
Two Role Models
Demosthenes was a prominent orator in ancient Athens and worked hard to get his stuttering under control. He practiced speaking with pebbles in his mouth, and shouted above the ocean waves.
I took a tip from Demosthenes (who must have tried extremely hard just to articulate his own name) and practiced speeches over music. Strangely, having to speak more loudly to hear myself produced a high rate of success.
My next model was Marilyn, who was coached to use exaggerated mouth movements and a breathy and affected speaking style to control her stuttering.
This one works for me! I landed a number of jobs as Voice-Over for television commercials and it's because my voice came out as husky and breathy in the Monroe style.
In my own experience stuttering can be, if not cured, then disguised. It takes a lot of hard work, a strongly positive outlook and a very real determination, but it can be done. You need patience too - for dealing with other people.
Some years back, at a Theatre Summer School, I was introduced to the Alexander Technique to help actors in performing at full potential. It excited me so much that I signed up with a singing teacher who used this method of training people with great voices. He didn't want to teach me at all until I explained my reasons for the lessons - then he was more than happy to have me as a pupil.
Believe me, I am no singer. But full potential is right! I took a tremendous leap forward in speaking well with those lessons using the Alexander Technique.
Voice and the Alexander Technique
This is an excellent way to discover the full potential of your voice.
Author Jane Heirich tells us the first factor in the process of changing a habit is that we must want to change and the second is that "we must begin where we are".
Reading this book is a perfect place to begin.
So that's how I've managed to fool a lot of people.
When I do slip up and get stuck on a word, and start to repeat it, I'll quickly begin another sentence. If you really listen to how people speak, they chop and change their sentences in midstream frequently.
On those bloody awful occasions when the word refuses to emerge, when it won't come out at all, then I'll wave my arm in the air (just like I'm doing in my introductory photo) and - voila- the word is forcibly expelled.
And I always speak on the out breath.