Blog by Brittany Rodriguez

I have been a PWS (Person who stutters) for my entire life. It is a part of who I am, it always has been. I am lucky enough, in this exact moment of my life, that it is more manageable. On some days, to the untrained ear, you might never hear it. Those of us who have learned masking techniques know how exhausting it can be to have to carefully choose your words or change the flow of your speech to avoid getting stuck in a repetitive pattern or experiencing a sound block that doesn't allow you to speak at all.

For many who stutter, there is no masking. This has been my reality throughout many stages of my life. Dealing with the repetitions and sound blocks are just a part of speech. You learn to deal with it. Stuttering is still not understood by many. As a result, throughout my 30+ years struggling to communicate I have heard a lot of well-meaning advice that was very counterproductive. I know I am not alone in this.

The two phrases I have always found the most frustrating (although well meaning) are "Slow down" and "Just take a deep breath."

Just hearing these phrases makes my skin crawl. Imagine being a child who is very excited and cannot wait to come home and communicate your excitement with your family. Extreme emotions can exacerbate stuttering (as well as stress and fatigue) so you really struggle to get out the words. You get stuck in a repetitive pattern that yes, is frustrating, but you will get through it. Your well-meaning relative immediately tells you to "just slow down" or "just take a deep breath."

You are now so focused on the fact that your family member cares more about how you are speaking then what you actually have to say. You think to yourself "I am breathing...” As you try to slow down and focus on your speech to ease the discomfort of the other person, you feel defeated and lose the excitement you came into the room with. Now imagine this same scenario happening over and over again for YEARS.

I am now a mother of two beautiful children. My son is like me in so many ways. He inherited many of my personality traits, my neurodivergence and my stutter. I have never done any research into whether stuttering is genetic so it had never occurred to me that my children could have a fluency disorder as well.

When my son was in the third grade, his stutter was so strong that he was referred to a speech pathologist. I remember the very first time he came home so excited to tell us something and got stuck in a repetitive speech pattern. In an effort to help, he immediately was told by a family member, "Just slow down ... take a deep breath."

My heart sank. It was such a weird experience because I could see why someone might think this would help. He stopped...tried to slow down...took a deep breath and did, eventually, say what he was trying to say. The excitement about what he was sharing was gone and the conversation was now focused on his speech. My heart hurt as the 8-year-old me felt what he was feeling at that moment...deflated.

I pulled that family member aside and kindly let them know that it would be easier for him if we just gave him the time and patience to get his words out. Although breathing or slowing down might help, it might not. It also was not going to "cure" his stutter. Just the act of allowing someone to speak without being self-conscious of how they speak can make all the difference in the world. What we have to say is so much more important than how we say it.

For those of you who love a person who stutters, we appreciate your help. We appreciate your empathy. We know you are worried for us, and you don't want to see us struggle. All we need is patience and acceptance. We need a safe space. We will go out into the world and encounter uncomfortable situations with other people who don't understand it. All we need is a place where we can truly be ourselves.

Posted May 17, 2024