I am thrilled to have the opportunity to write a guest blog post for Redefining Stammering. I am an assistant professor and researcher at Western Michigan University in the United States. I also work with people who stutter in my day-to-day life as a supervisor for budding speech therapists and as a co-leader for a stuttering support group here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In this blog post, I will be discussing the value of social support between people who stutter, specifically through involvement in stuttering support organizations. I will discuss my recent research to elucidate ways in which connection between people who stutter can bolster resilience and empowerment.
There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence that connecting with other people in the stuttering community can promote positive changes in the lives of people who stutter. In her blog post titled “Recharge,” Elizabeth Wislar provides a visual of the sense of fulfilment and restoration that can accompany connecting with other people who stutter (https://thestutteringteacher.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/recharge/).
Note: NSA refers to the “National Stuttering Association” which is a support organization for people who stutter based in the United States.
Research with other groups has shown that people who share stigmatized identities can provide unique and important types of support to one another based on their shared experiences. Specifically, people with shared identities can provide emotional sustenance through empathetic understanding and by validating hardships that can accompany living with the identity that they share. People with shared identities can also provide active coping assistance to one another by helping each other realize new and healthier ways of coping. Finally, people with shared identities can socially influence one another through role-modeling, which can spark feelings of hope for the future. We wanted to know if social support and connection between people who stutter was associated with similar benefits.
In our study, we sought to explore the experiences of young people who stutter who participated in a stuttering support organization conference. We wanted to learn if these young people experienced similar unique benefits from connecting with other people who stutter. We tracked outcomes for 22 young people who stutter who attended a three-day stuttering support organization conference – the 2017 FRIENDS Annual Convention. If you are not already familiar, FRIENDS is an organization in the United States that is “solely dedicated to empowering young people who stutter and their families” (see https://www.friendswhostutter.org/ for more information). The overarching goal of conference activities is to foster connections between people who stutter and build networks of social support.
The participating young people who stutter completed surveys about their experiences with stuttering immediately before, immediately after, and three months following the conference. The data we collected indicated that participating in the conference significantly decreased the negative impact of stuttering on their lives. After the conference, we interviewed 7 young people who stutter about their experiences at the 2017 FRIENDS conference to better understand how connecting with other people who stutter impacted their lives. After speaking with the young people who stutter, five themes emerged from our conversations. The themes are listed below along with examples of supporting quotes.
- Children and teenagers built strong relationships and a sense of community in a safe environment.
- “Stuttering can bring people together and I notice how much I really love people and kids just embracing their stuttering.”
- Collaborative learning facilitated personal growth.
- It’s a lot easier to notice on someone else who stutters how little [stuttering] matters, so I think [the conference] is really great for that reason.”
- Communicative and cognitive changes persisted beyond the convention.
- “Remembering how well received I was at [the conference] made me less self-conscious about my stutter. Because I realized if I care about how fluent I sound, then other people will.”
- Hearing and sharing personal stories increased self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
- “Basically hearing the other girls talk like in public places, like at a restaurant and stuff, just taught me to think differently about my stutter and not try to hide it so much and to talk more.”
- Living with stuttering can be hard, but the convention helped normalize stuttering.
- “[Stuttering] is okay. I don’t have to be scared of it or hide it. It’s just a part of who you are.”
Although more research is certainly needed, the results of our study provide strong evidence that connecting with other people who stutter through support organizations can be a powerful way to promote peace and acceptance in living with stuttering. What are your experiences with social support and self-help within the stuttering community?
If you liked this article, please check out some of our other work:
*This blog post is based on the following article:
Gerlach, H., Hollister, J., Caggiano, L., & Zebrowski, P. M. (2019). The utility of stuttering support organization conventions for young people who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 62, 105724.
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