The Way We Talk
On October 16, a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the peak of fall, more than 70 people spent the afternoon in the basement of Shevlin Hall, viewing the The Way We Talk, a documentary about living with stuttering by Michael Turner. The documentary was followed by a panel discussion by eight members of the Twin Cities chapter of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). Attendees included grad and undergrad students, and members and significant others from the following groups: the adult NSA chapter, college students who stutter, Teens Who Stutter, and the University of Minnesota Kids Who Stutter camp.
This event fostered an environment of conversation, education, and acceptance. The documentary provided an introspective, first-person perspective on what it is like to live with stuttering, and stressed the importance of making stuttering an open conversation rather than a social and conversational taboo. The panel discussion led to meaningful conversation, answering questions, and giving advice to people who may be going through discomfort or shame due to their stutter. The event was especially informative for all graduate and undergraduate SLHS students in attendance as it provided a new perspective on something that they will regularly encounter in their professional lives.
In the documentary, there was a certain metaphor that resonated with the panel and the audience. One of the people who Michael Turner interviewed explained how he viewed himself as a ladder. He imagined that every part of him belonged someplace on that ladder: a father, an engineer, a stutterer, and so on. The higher up the part was on that ladder, the more important it was to him. He realized that he was viewing himself, first and foremost, as a stutterer rather than as a father or engineer or any of the other things that made him who he was. He decided that he needed to focus on the other things in his life and move them further up the ladder. In this way, his perception of himself as a “stutterer” fell lower on his ladder. He observed that when he focused on himself as a father, his stutter was so much less important to him and didn’t affect his life as much as it had previously. “It will always be part of who you are, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing,” he says.
People were moved to tears during this event. They related to the documentary and the conversation that followed, either personally through their own experience as people who stutter or by watching someone who is close to them deal with the effect of stuttering on their lives. Those who stutter mentioned how, as children, they didn’t have role models who stuttered, and they didn’t know how their stutter would affect their adult lives. The documentary and panel discussion addressed this and described the many support systems available, such as the NSA, the local groups of college students and teens who stutter, and the University of Minnesota Kids Who Stutter camp.
This event was a great conversation starter and enabled an open and honest discussion regarding stuttering. Stuttering is not caused by anxiety; however, dealing with stuttering can result in anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, and shame. It is important that we are able to talk about this openly. It is important that speech-language pathologists realize that helping people who stutter is more than working on speech skills. It means addressing the emotions that may lie under the surface. Events like these enable us to start talking, so let’s make sure we keep the conversation going.
Sarah Angerman, NSSLHA advisor, and Linda Hinderscheit, a co-leader of the groups for people who stutter listed above, were organizers of the event. Sarah and Linda would like to extend thanks to all those who attended, especially the panel members. They would also like to thank the Gerald M. Siegel Student Initiative Fund, for funding the licenses required to show the film, and our chapter of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association, for funding the snacks and welcoming our guests.