According to the ADA, stuttering is considered a disability that may impair one’s ability to speak, communicate and work. Rachel Ferguson, student of Asbury University KY, is living proof that with God, we can defy the odds. Rachel and the Asbury Tumbling team visited Birmingham nd served with Grace Klein Community during their 2022 tour, and she publicly shared the below speech with our staff, volunteers and fellow classmates, declaring the faithfulness of God and testifying the truth… with HIM all things are possible.
“Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” – Exodus 4:10,11. During Moses’ conversation with God in the burning bush, Moses comes up with all manner of excuses not to lead the nation of Israel. One of these is his lack of eloquence or slowness of speech. Many people believe he had a stutter.
Moses is far from the only person to struggle in this way. Many people, including myself, have speech disfluencies of some sort. According to the article “Stuttering 101”, from the website Friends Who Stutter, copyright 2018, one percent of the population world-wide stutters today, including three million in the U.S. It is debilitating for many people. As a person who stutters, I know first-hand how the fear and anxiety of speaking can hold you back from even a simple conversation.
Stuttering does not hinder everyone, however. There have been numerous people who have accomplished much despite a stammer, including political figures such as Winston Churchill and Joe Biden and actors such as James Earl Jones and Emily Blunt, as listed in the article “Famous People Who Stutter”, from The Stuttering Foundation’s website Stuttering Help. It is important for us to understand this commonly misunderstood struggle and how it can develop a person’s character, because these people have voices that need to be heard. We will do this by debunking myths that surround stuttering, looking into the reality of a person who stutters, and examining the character traits and skills that result from such a life.
There are many myths surrounding stuttering, from what causes stuttering to its treatments and cures. Many of these are listed in the book Understanding Stammering or Stuttering, published 2012, by Elaine Kelman and Alison Whyte. Here are just a few.
Often stutterers are told to relax and slow down when they are speaking in the belief that they are talking too fast. However, a person’s rate of speed when speaking is not the cause of a stutter. In fact, the person may be speaking more quickly to avoid getting caught in a stutter.
A common myth is that a person only stutters because he is shy and/or lacks confidence. This is simply not true. There is a wide range of personality types among stutterers, and often it is the reaction of the listeners that affects the speaker’s confidence.
Nerves have often been blamed, but the stutter itself may cause the person to become nervous.
Some think people who stutter are not as smart as people who speak fluidly, when in reality they have the same range of intelligence as non-stutterers.
Lastly, many people believe that a stammer can be cured with the right treatment. However, stammering is not an illness. Although courses and techniques can help decrease its frequency and severity, at present there is no known cure.
So, what is the reality of stutterers? For one thing, they do not stutter or stutter severely all the time. Like an ocean wave, it undulates in severity and frequency. Often the stammer becomes worse when the person is stressed, nervous, or tired. People do not stammer when they sing, and at times they are able to speak fluently when reciting a memorized piece or lines in a play.
Each person has their own unique stutter. Some tend to repeat sounds, syllables, or words. Stutterers like me block on consonants, and no sound comes out for the duration of the block. Some disfluencys manifest themselves in physical form such as seizure-like head movements. Some people may have a combination of these patterns.
Stammerers generally know when they are going to stammer, so they may substitute the word they were going to say for a different word or phrase, such as “outfit” for “constume” or “door in the fence” for “gate”.
Stutterers constantly need to have their a-game on when they are speaking, especially when talking on the phone and ordering at a restaurant.
Talking on the phone can be a nightmare for stutterers, because the person on the other end cannot see what is happening. Stutterers fear that if they begin to stutter, they will never get their message across and the person they are speaking to will hang up on them. On one occasion when I was in elementary school, I decided to call my grandparents. When my grandpa answered the phone, I could not reply to his hello. Eventually he hung up, believing no one was on the other end of the line.
Ordering at a restaurant can be just as trying. In fear that he will begin to stammer, the person may change his order from one that is harder to say, such as “steak”, to an easier word such as “ham”. Last fall I ate lunch at a Culver’s. When it was my turn to order, I asked for a supreme chili. Every time I began to say “supreme”, I would block. Finally, I gave up and just asked for a regular chili. Sadly, I did not get my cheese and sour cream that day.
Yet stutterers are not left to deal with their speech impediment alone. There are several organizations committed to helping people succeed despite having a stutter, such as the National Stuttering Association and Friends: The National Association for Young People who Stutter. These groups host conferences that gather stutterers from around the nation to hear speakers and be encouraged by one another.
A disfluency’s negative effect can only go as far as the person allows. In her article “The Benefits of Stuttering” published September 8, 2015, Pamela Mertz says, “People who stutter often have more… empathy for others with differences. . .and [are] also good listeners. These are benefits that we often don’t think of because we get caught up in what’s wrong with stuttering.” Once a stutterer chooses to see his speech impediment as a blessing instead of a curse, he can begin to glean the positive character traits that come from it.
On days when a stammer is severe, the person has to work harder to get his sentences out. This makes the stutterer more apt to listen in conversations, and he is subconsciously practicing the art of listening. Not just listening to form a reply, but truly listening to what the other person has to say.
Stutterers are often able to empathize with those around them because they realize everyone has their own problems, whether outward disabilities or inward struggles. This can give them a compassion and patience for people.
Often stammerers have a drive to do hard things. They are willing to push themselves in difficult speaking situations, knowing that the end result far outweighs the temporary struggle. This gives them a determination to go beyond their comfort zones in other areas of life.
Last summer I attended a Friends conference in Omaha, Nebraska. While I was there I met a woman named Claire Weber who had just graduated from Air Force basic training. Claire described her life during training, including her pursuit of a position that involved making announcements to her unit. She shared how her supervising officer would yell at her to spit out her words when she was responding to his commands. Claire admitted that those weeks were often difficult, but she always had the end goal in mind, and that kept her moving forward.
We have uncovered falsehoods about stuttering, considered the life of the stutterer, and discovered the positive character developments that a stutter brings to a person. These will help us to better comprehend the stammerer and what they have to offer our world. As a stutterer myself, I have begun to see the blessings that come with my disfluency, and I can truly thank God for how he has used it for good. Although we may never have all the answers, we can rest assured that God sees stutterers, and that he has a plan and a purpose for these people.
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” God doesn’t promise fluency. What He does promise is His ever-present help. He does not promise that it will be painless, but He does promise to use it to further His kingdom and his purposes. Because this is true, stutterers can live confidently and claim His promises.
In Exodus 4:12, the LORD said to Moses, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
– Rachel Ferguson, Asbury Tumbling Team, KY