Like many people, I stuttered from an early age. I remember my mother and sisters completing my sentences when I was in elementary school in Massachusetts. In second grade we moved to Staten Island, N.Y., and my teacher sent me to a school specialist who formally diagnosed the problem. I know now he was a speech pathologist. He would point to symbols on a wall chart and teach me how to say certain sounds. He also had me slur some consonants or consonant blends so I'd say them more slowly and not stammer. As I got older I learned not to use words or interjections like "ah," "um," or "er," but to simply pause until I could say the word I was trying to pronounce.
It's important to remain calm
I also have to stay on top of my speech. Occasionally I'm called on to substitute for a minister, and I know I shouldn't attempt expository preaching. In this type of preaching, ministers have a general plan for their sermon. They may begin talking about a biblical verse and then discuss how to apply it to daily life. It's mostly extemporaneous speaking. I've always written each sermon beforehand and I practice it, which has worked well for me. People have told me my sermons don't seem practiced, which is nice to hear.
Being interrupted is a problem. I don't do well if I'm in mid-sentence and someone asks me for an example or details about something I've said. My mind freezes and I start to stammer. I know not to say anything until I'm fairly confident I can get the words out. However, that can be misinterpreted as my using guarded language or somehow being secretive.
I have found that it's important to remain calm. One of the techniques I use is to draw out a word perhaps a microsecond longer than I normally would if I think the next word might give me a problem. I don't do it so that it's noticeable.
Occasionally I'll have a problem in a social situation. Recently my wife and I were at a coed baby shower where the guests were playing a circle game. When the leader called someone's name, that person had to say a baby name that started with the next letter of the alphabet. It wasn't a perfect circle, however, so I couldn't tell when I'd be called on. Had I known, I could have practiced silently and I would have been fine. However, when it was my turn, I couldn't speak. My wife saw what was happening and rescued me. She told the group, "Blair's not comfortable with this game," and the leader went on to the next person. No one made a big deal about it.
I've always been an extrovert. My family told me that when I was a little kid, I liked nothing better than being in front of a group. My stuttering has always been at odds with that, but I do very well. Stuttering has not held me back from what I wanted to do, but it does affect my life.
Blair Hearth, 60, lives in Monmouth County, N.J. Pat Olsen is a regular contributor to the New York Times business section. She lives in New Jersey.