After my exciting venture into Taboo, I went home with a new sense of accomplishment. In a way, using voluntary stuttering made me appreciate AIS in a new way. I was aware, through watching videos of client testimonials and reading letters, of the countless ways that this program has helped so many people, but being forced to do an exercise firsthand really put things in perspective. I felt lucky to have gotten in a peek into the intensive, but I knew that forty minutes with this group would not cut it; I needed to learn more.
My next opportunity came after I expressed to Heather how much I enjoyed hanging out with the group. She suggested that I do mock interviews with each of the clients, both for my benefit and theirs. From this exercise, I would get to learn about stuttering from those who experience it firsthand, and they would be able to gain experience talking to new people, and, as I have learned from working at AIS, they would need to introduce themselves, which can be very difficult for a stutterer. Although I was excited to try something new for the day, I again felt the same concerns come back: what if I make the clients feel uncomfortable? What if it seems like I’m prying? Or being insensitive? I told myself that I would go with the flow, pick up on the vibes of the clients, and take it from there.
Turns out, the shy, uncomfortable people I had been picturing interviewing were nowhere to be found. Each of the four men, ranging from ages 18-21, was outgoing, kind, and extremely talkative (the interviews took about triple the time I had expected!). Yes, each of them stuttered, but within ten seconds of the conversation I was too focused on how interesting the content was to pay attention to anything else.
The interviews each began with basic questions such as name, age, and hometown, but before I knew it I was discussing topics like religion, sports, school, music, and travel with each client. Each of the clients came from different backgrounds and had different dispositions, and I was both surprised and impressed that these 4 people became so close. It was immediately evident how beneficial the program had been for them. As I mentioned, I have no education or experience with stuttering, but from an outsider’s perspective, I could not believe how comfortable each client seemed during our interviews. I felt so lucky that the weeks I chose to intern coincided with the intensive, and even luckier that those participating were so close to my age.
When it was time to discuss each client’s stuttering during the mock interview, my fears were completely assuaged; each of the men spoke eloquently and informatively about his stutter, sharing information such as when he first noticed it and whether or not he had previously been in therapy. It seemed no question I had was insensitive or off limits, and I immediately felt more at ease. Although, as mentioned before, each of the four men were extremely different in every possible way, there was one consistency: when asked about the most important thing he gained from the intensive, each produced the same answer. It was unanimous: each man gained the confidence he needed to communicate in a world where having a stutter can be both challenging and limiting.
I believe that a stutter, like many other things, can be an obvious setback in communicating with others. I also believe that if each of us treated our own personal setbacks and insecurities as these men do their stutters, we would be better people. Whether these clients want to advertise their stutters or not, they already have done something so brave by enrolling in the intensive. I feel I grew as a person by interviewing them, and I knew I would think of their strength and persistence when facing my own personal challenges.