National Stuttering Awareness Week is May 12-18, 2014.
This is my blog from last year. Hope you enjoy. Hope you learn something. Hope you become more aware. Thanks for reading.
May 13-19 is Stuttering Awareness Week and is intended to bring attention to the challenges of stuttering.
For the first decade or so of my life, my older brother and I were the only two kids I knew who suffered from the speech disorder known as stuttering. Miraculously, around the age of 12, my brother’s stutter ceased to exist. I was very happy for him and equally as excited for my future. I was thinking “two more years.” Thirty years later, my stutter is still going strong and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
If I had a nickel for every time I was made fun of, I could have potentially retired at 12. It’s not easy being a kid, and it’s especially difficult when you’re different. The biggest fear for most Americans is public speaking, so imagine being a stuttering child having to read aloud a paragraph from “Charlotte’s Web” as the whole class looks, listens, and laughs. It’s not easy. Imagine sitting at your desk with your palms sweating, pulse racing, and heart pounding like you’re about to testify against the mafia, when, in fact, you’re simply sitting there in anticipation of having to read a paragraph from “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Again, it’s not easy.
That all changed for me in the 8th grade when I decided to ease the anxiety by volunteering to read each and every time. My hand was always the first to go up and stayed up for most of the class. I chose to be in complete control of what and when to read. If kids laughed, they laughed. I’d usually have a witty one liner to shoot back at them which would ultimately shut them up. From that point on, I never again looked at my stuttering as a significant challenge.
Fast forward to 2012 and I’m a comic, a speaker, and a soldier with 3 tours of duty in Iraq. I currently hold the rank of Captain in the Alabama National Guard. (Update, I’m now a Major in the IRR/Reserves)
When I initially started out in comedy, my goal was to simply make the audience laugh and nothing else. After each show or online video, I’d get feedback on how my comedy helped educate them with respect to their family and friends who also suffered from this speech disorder. I was blown away by this. Until seeing my routine, they’d never considered the challenges a person who stutters faces on a daily basis. Imagine the fear of talking on a telephone. Imagine the fear of ordering food at a restaurant. Imagine the fear of not being able to say your child’s name.
I also get random messages from young men and women who aspire to serve in the military but feel they are disqualified due to their speech disorder. Being able to inspire them to follow their dreams might be the highlight of what I do. Stuttering is no joke but having the ability to inspire and bring awareness to stuttering through humor has truly been a gift from God.
Stuttering is still one of the great unknowns. I’ve been stuttering for 40 years and still can’t explain it. I can probably do a better job of explaining the Pythagorean Theorem. I do know, however, that 4 out of 5 people who stutter are male and that only around 1% of the world’s population will ever know what it’s like to get “stuck” on the simplest of sounds. I, just like any person who stutters, have my good days and bad days and everything in between. Additionally, we don’t always get hung up on the same sounds, words, or sentences. And finally, the number one pet peeve for most of us is having people finish our words or sentences. We have something to say, so let us say it.
I’ve had the great fortune of attending the last two National Stuttering Association (NSA) annual conventions. The convention is not a pity party. It’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance & empowerment. Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been and adapt and overcome kind of guy but attending the NSA convention has even opened up my eyes to the difficulty many of my fellow stutterers face each and every day. I’ve even met people who do indeed stutter when they sing.
(Update, I’ve now been to the last three conferences and even have the extreme honor of giving the keynote at this year’s conference.)
The NSA convention is a four day conference but would likely be a two day conference for any other group; however, since they are usually held in very nice locations such as Florida and Arizona, four days work out just fine. In 2011, we had the writer for the Academy Award winning film “The King’s Speech” as the keynote speaker. I may be the only person who stutters who has not seen the film. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of a 40 year old guy from the south not having seen “Smokey and the Bandit.” I understand it’s a great film. (Update: My wife bought be “The King’s Speech” on DVD just last week. I still haven’t watched it…but I will.)
Another great film featuring a person who stutters is “Star Wars.” James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, endured severe stuttering during his childhood but has gone on to have one of the greatest voices of our time. He truly beat the odds. Of course he did have one slight advantage; he was a Jedi.