How to create hope

acceptanceThe theme for our 2016 conference is ‘Courage, Support and Acceptance’. These three qualities define the Canadian Stuttering Association, giving hope to everyone affected by stuttering. Here are my thoughts on each of these qualities, that together create a deep sense of hope.

 Courage

Let's start with courage. Specifically, the courage to talk about stuttering and how it affects you. Whatever your approach to life, showing a weakness, a vulnerability, is not easy. However, it can lead to powerful and productive conversations. Speaking from the heart is at the root of the word ‘courage’ itself, as Iain Wilkie says in this excellent article . But is talking about stuttering – especially at work – exposing a weakness or does it free you to give your best and ask for some adjustments, if you feel these would improve your performance? Perhaps the courage to be open with yourself and others, about who you are what you need, is an asset that increases in value over time?

CSA's Alexandra D'Agostino gives a great example of courage in her article, How to Survive your First Conference.

Alexandra plucked up the courage to attend her first conference for people who stutter when she started university three years ago. I was particularly struck by the effect she described of being with people who were confident and stuttering openly. She arrived at the conference with concerns that her speech would get worse, and she left with a new confidence that has continued to grow. 

Support

Family and friends are part of our wider support networks, but support from other people who stutter is unique. It involves listening, sharing experiences, and offering encouragement. I used to be part of a self help group that met weekly to practice a fluency technique. We all had a common goal in mind and similar methods of achieving it. The group worked best when each of us was open about our difficulties and committed to improving our fluency as best we could. Crucially, we shared our successes and even a fleeting moment during the past week was turned into a larger success by the positive feedback of others. Meetings were a place where talking about stuttering was normal, and the more we talked, the more normal it felt.

Talking about stuttering is the first step towards support, and talking about it honestly and with a sense of hope, is one of the reasons CSA exists. I was struck by what Prince William said this May at the launch of a national mental health campaign in the UK. “The more we talk, the more we feel able to open up and seek support; by asking for help, by telling a friend we have a problem, we take the first step to changing the conversation to one of optimism and support”.

Having shared goals makes it easier to give support to others. There are many goals that don’t focus on fluency per se, such as a greater openness and acceptance of stuttering, developing empathy and listening skills, and developing greater self-confidence and leadership skills. This is what we want people to discover through CSA membership and if possible, by meeting other people who stutter. Supporting each other is a big part of what CSA does.

Acceptance 

Many people who have attended Canadian Stuttering Association conferences in the past have said how wonderful it was to meet other people who stutter, and sometimes for the first time. For them, they found that the freedom to talk without worrying about stuttering, or how others might react, was liberating. It opened up a new world of possibilities and changed many people's lives. I think this ethos of acceptance is remarkable. The Canadian Stuttering Association stands for acceptance, however much (or little) you stutter and however you manage it. 

However, I also think self acceptance can be difficult and even unwelcome. That is a sensitive topic and we all have our views. As Peter Louw, writes in his blog post entitled "To accept or not to accept stuttering",

...stuttering can be a very pliable disorder. He notes that people who stutter more severely may need to accept it more than those who are able to significantly reduce their stuttering. Does this make acceptance a last resort? One of the big changes in speech therapy I have seen in recent years is that accepting that you are a person who stutters, is widely seen as the starting point for change.

If I have learned anything during the 25 years I have been involved with stuttering support and advocacy, it is this: how I respond to others - how I listen and engage with other, is what matters most. And that is what our conferences are about. It's the presence of other people that makes acceptance real and creates hope. 

Andrew Harding is the National Coordinator for the CSA. He lives in Toronto.