By Audri Gundersen
For years I was looking for someone to understand the part of me that is my stutter. There is nothing quite like the feeling. It can take your breath away, make you feel small and awkward. If I could just find someone else who could relate to my feelings, then I knew that I would feel better about myself. I have gone to speech therapy all of my life, and I have only encountered a few people who stutter like me. But the game changes when you’re still stuttering as an adult. My stutter should have gone away by now, right? That is not the case for me. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to find someone, or something, that can make me feel like I am not alone with my rare condition.
As I was looking for something that could accurately depict how I am feeling, my speech therapist came across a book. “Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice” was exactly what I was looking for. This book is a true story and it is written from the perspective of a stutterer. Her writing is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest. Katherine Preston grew up in England and, like myself, she used to be very ashamed of her speech impediment. Instead of dealing with how stuttering made her feel, she hid from the world. As the years went on, she could not hide anymore. She was exhausted from pretending like everything was okay. She decided to quit the job that she hated, and travel around the United States to interview people from all walks of life that stutter. During this process, she finds love and companions who all share the struggles of being people who stutter. But what started as a quest for a “cure” to her stutter, became a journey of self-empowerment. The negative misconceptions about her speech, that first encompassed and crippled her, turned into the realization that her stutter is making her who she is. Without it, she would not be as courageous, as humble, as vulnerable or as understanding towards others as she is now.
She embraced the part of herself, that she used to hate the most, because she ultimately came to the conclusion that, “The people whom we want to spend our time around are the ones who laugh at themselves, the ones who are uncertain, the ones who can embrace those imperfect moments when they are recklessly human” (231).
Katherine Preston could not have described how having a stutter feels in a more accurate way. At times, I felt like she was writing my own thoughts on the page. One of the points that she touched on is that having a stutter is difficult because you always have to have your heart on your sleeve. No matter where you go, your impediment is showcased to the world. But on the other hand, there are fleeting moments of fluency. Living with a stutter means that you live in this gray area. Talking “normally” can happen or it cannot and it can be at times impossible to control. But after reading her book, I am inspired by her strength and resilience. I have come to understand that my stutter is not always a negative aspect of my life. In fact, it led me to where I am now. I would not have been so passionate about pursuing a career in speech therapy if it was not for my stutter. Once I become a speech therapist in a few years, I am going to help an immeasurable amount of people. My heart goes out to all of them because I understand how it feels to sit on the other side of the therapy chair. It has taken me many years to say this, but I am forever indebted to my stutter for giving me this sense of compassion towards others that share the same daily struggles as I do.
By Courtni Doherty
Reading aloud and stuttering therapy often go hand in hand. So, particularly with my adult and young adult patients, once they’ve learned their fluency techniques, reading aloud is a great semi-structured activity to practice fluency techniques. When Audri first came to my clinic, she was 19 years old, she had been receiving speech therapy since she was 3 years old, and she knew all the proper fluency techniques already. Audri had a mild to moderate stutter with some secondary behaviors. However, her biggest challenge was an issue with confidence. She had just finished her senior year in high school and wanted to go to college and graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist. But her biggest concern? If she hadn’t fixed her stutter, would anyone trust her to provide therapy to them?
After reviewing the basics, Audri and I started by reading segments from the Stuttering Foundation Newsletter's Letters to the Editor, in which children who stutter will write in and talk about how they feel about their stuttering. These conversations started with me encouraging Audri to tell me what she would say to these children or what she wished someone would say or have said to her--practicing her skills while reading and at the conversational level. We moved on to various other activities, games, articles, and books to encourage discussion, practice fluency techniques, reduce secondary behaviors, and continue to build her confidence. Audri was making excellent progress in reducing secondary behaviors and improving her overall fluency, but we continued to talk weekly about confidence. When Audri’s confidence was up, her stuttered was minimal, when she was nervous or stressed, she continued to have difficulties.
I searched for hours for just the right material or book to go through together to target confidence building. Finally, I found “Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice” by Katherine Preston. Preston’s book is beautiful, well written, and exactly what we needed. Since the ratio of men who stutter to women who stutter is approximately four to one, it is not easy to find literature written by a woman about stuttering, let alone something this perfect. I was happily surprised at the occasionally poignant and often humorous recount of Preston’s own personal journey and struggle with her stuttering and confidence. The opportunities present in this book for discussion, counseling, and teaching are often and consistent. Preston is brutally honest about her struggles and triumphs, throughout her journey to self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a crucial step for every person who stutters--one that happens every single day for many. As for Audri, I have never seen her so confident, and after taking some general studies classes last year, she started her first two speech-language pathology classes at the University of Washington this fall.
Both Katherine Preston’s life and book are powerful and practical. This book will forever stay on the bookshelf in my office for regular use. It has taught me so much about stuttering; information that I couldn’t learn from my fluency and stuttering coursework. Information that, given time and patience, my clients will also learn from.
To learn more about fluency and stuttering therapy, please contact Circle Creek Therapy at 253.237.3405.
To learn more about Katherine Preston and her book “Out With it: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice,” check out her website: http://katherinepreston.com/outwithitbook/.