APRIL 2008

25 April 2008 - P-piece of the P-puzzle - A report by Richard Bourgondiën on ELSA Vice-chair Anita Blom’s presentation at the European Symposium of Fluency Disorders

April 08 - Anita Blom, Vice-chair of ELSA, gives a presentation at the European Symposium of Fluency Disorders

Anita blom speaking

During the European Symposium of Fluency Disorders at Antwerp 18 & 19 April, 2008 which was based on stuttering, there was one lecture that was totally different from the others.

Where other lectures focused on the ‘cause’ and ‘cure’ of stuttering and were presented by researchers and therapists, this one was about stuttering itself told by a real stuttering-expert, Anita Blom, a woman who stutters.

Anita is Vice Chair of ELSA and Chair of the Swedish Stuttering Association (Stamningsförbundet) and was invited by the Belgian organisers to present on her work, the work of ELSA and stuttering in general to an audience of Speech and Language Therapists, Researchers, Clinicians and students.

The lecture started with a small introduction which I’d like to quote here.

I am grateful I was invited here to tell my story. Over two days you will be talking about stuttering and about the clients you meet. Well, I am one of them and I’m here to learn about the latest research and the outcome of therapies. But I’m also here to share my side of the story with you and to tell you what I want from YOU!  As we are all a part of this mysterious puzzle called Stuttering.

And that was exactly what she did, she made clear there’s more then the ‘technical’ part of stuttering.  She told the listeners, 95 percent of which had a profession in stuttering or speech disorders or were logepedics students, what stuttering was about in addition to the facts which they study.  She made clear stuttering isn’t just about vocal problems, but it’s something that impacts on the whole life of the person.  She suggested that most people know there is more to a person who stutters, but they don't realise how big that part is.

During the lecture Anita took us through her youth, in which the stuttering started after moving to another part of Holland with a local dialect and where she got bullied, excluded at school and got no support from her teachers or her parents. It was her problem, and she had to cope with it, which she did by shutting her mouth. The beginning of a long journey called stuttering in which many people who stutter will recognise from their own life.

I will not write down her complete life story here, the lecture took about an hour (without stuttering!) and I think people should go to a meet Anita where ever she speaks and listen to what she has to say. It’s well worth listening to!

After years of putting herself down, she stood up and started living again. She found herself in music, joined five bands at the same time and got out of her shell. She found friends again and realised life had a purpose.  She found love which ended up in marriage and started a new life in Sweden with her husband and his two kids.
There she found out there were local groups for people who stutter.  She discovered there were more people with the same problem, and soon got involved in the organisation of stuttering self help groups.  During this time she had finally found her goal.  She became board member and later was involved in stuttering associations worldwide, and is now the Chair of the Swedish Stuttering Association and Vice Chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations.

During the lecture Anita advised researchers and therapists to get more involved with the 'person' who stutters and not hang on to the "fact's" they’ve learned at college or university. Get to know more about the person’s life, feelings and worries, and also work on that part. It might be easier to cope with any relapse during or after therapy when you first have learned to cope with stuttering.

She also gave her views and thoughts about better cooperation between, SLP's, psychologists, researchers AND the people who stutter.  Together we can work on a better future in understanding and dealing with stuttering. The fact that self-help groups can be an addition to therapy and not to be seen as a thread was one of the important issues that came forward.

After the presentation and the next conference day, lots of people approached Anita to talk about her speech and ask questions. This once again made clear to me that if we want to be heard by the rest of the world, it's OUR job, the person who stutters, to spread the word.

I’d like to quote one girl who came to Anita after the speech and stutters herself: "Thank you for this speech, finally I hear someone who really understands what stuttering is all about."

Anita, once again thank you for being there and for bridging the gap between the two worlds.

Richard Bourgondiën
Board member of the Dutch Stuttering Association.

The International Stuttering Association
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