Category Archives: teaching

How Will You Celebrate Stuttering Awareness?

As a stand up comedian and Disability educator, I aim to make the world more aware of aspects of the disability experience.  As a person who stutters, who loves her community, I make a special point to share my experience and educate people about stuttering and stuttering etiquette.  In everything I do, I hope to go beyond stuttering awareness to place where we can celebrate our community and have a more inclusive world where we are able to be more integrated in our identities as people who stutter and however else we identify (culture, talents, hobbies, etc…).  We just aren’t our speech, but I personally don’t want people to overlook my experiences as a Stutterer because those experiences are an important part of what has created me.

Sometimes I get a little stuck on how I want to raise awareness.  I am just one individual, so how will I make an impact in raising awareness in my personal and professional lives, not to mention the world?  I have some ideas that I wanted to share with you.  And in no particular order….

Ain’t No Party Like A Stuttering Party

You know what?  People don’t equate stuttering or disability with fun!  I know, I don’t get it either.  Whenever I am around people who share my experiences I have hella fun.  I feel like I am at home.  People without disabilities or who don’t stutter can’t even imagine us getting together and partying.  Why not get together with your local stuttering community and go out to eat, picnic, sing karaoke, go out dancing, or whatever would be fun.  Make it an open invitation so people can meet up (you can even use meetup.com to do outreach), meet each other and find a community where they can not only share their gripes about stuttering in a fluent world, but also share their joys, successes and laughter.  Making space for us to have fun is so important and is a great bonding experience.  If you want to wear matching shirts or stuttering awareness sashes, that is great, but just getting together is a big deal for us.

Fun+food+stuttering=awareness

As an Italian-American, I tend to overdo it with the food, so I think I have some expertise in this area.  My plan is to bring stuttering awareness cupcakes to my office to share this year.  They will eat sea-green colored cupcakes but also get information about how to talk to a person who stutters.  There is plenty of information online about stuttering (just make sure it is the good stuff—please don’t send them that BS of Tony Robbins curing a person who stutters in 7 minutes because he was traumatized by Rocky and Bulwrinkle–no joke!  There is a lot of information about stuttering.  There are many organizations that produce materials such as the National Stuttering Association (NSA), Friends who Stutter, and Say.  Both organizations stress self-acceptance, community, and treatment options for people who stutter.  Not everyone is looking to be fluent and it is important for people outside of our community to know that we don’t need to be fixed.  Why not provide this type of information with decorated cookies or cupcakes?!

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Providing resources

Whatever you do, remember to provide resources to people you outreach too.  You might want to make a list of your top ten links, organizations, or videos.  Sometimes people are too shy to ask questions so providing resources can help them to find information on their own and digest it in their own time.  There are also some great podcasts like Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Stutter Talk and Stuttering is Cool that you can promote as resources where real life experiences are explored.  Also, there are wonderful communities that can be found online.  One of my favorites is Stutter Social where you can communicate with people who stutter from all around the world in real time.  Because it is a Google Circle, you are able to see and hear people and is open to everyone.

Donating/Fundraising

There are large and small ways to fundraise or donate.  The most obvious is to just do it.  Send money to your favorite stuttering organization.  Many of us can’t afford to do this, but we might be able to organize an event to raise money.  There are some amazing organizations that help individuals who stutter to find their identity and advocate against discrimination.  Find out what stuttering organizations fit your own passions.  Besides raising money, your personal campaign funding is also raising awareness too because you are profiling an organization that you are passionate about.

Extra-Extra: Stutter all about it!

Did you know that radio stations NEED to do public service announcements (PSAs) as part of their community outreach?  Why not one about stuttering? I found the National Stuttering Association when I was a teenager because of a late night PSA and it changed my life.  Why not network to see how you can bring stuttering to a bigger audience?  Contacting your local news outlets is another great way to get the word out.  National Stuttering Awareness week is a great hook for a news outlet to cover.

Social Media

Social media is a blog entry in and of itself!  Lots of great activism goes on in social media.  Between tweeting, facebooking, blogging/vlogging, pinning and whatever else Silicon Valley has introduced this week, there is a ton of stuff that you can do to raise awareness and celebrate the Stuttering community.  Here are a few ideas.

Memes

For my purposes, I am talking about the little pictures that you can post to your social media.  Memes have a more broad definition, but let’s stick to the images for now.  Memes are a great way to give a visual image to a sound bite that you want to convey.  You can create your own to share or you can re-share others.  I have some of the ones that I have created at, please feel free to steal them: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.918396334847879.1073741833.123746114312909&type=1

Whether you create your own or share other’s, you might want to include a message about what the meme means to you and why you are sharing it.  We don’t always get to share our experience of stuttering, so saying a bit about it’s significance in your life will help to educate others.

Vlogs/Blogs

One of my biggest pet peeves, whether we are talking about entertainment or the academic/research realms, is that we, as people who stutter, have often had our voices blunted by the dominant/fluent perspective.  Traditionally, we have not had control over our images in the media or elsewhere.  The Disability community has adopted the slogan, “nothing about us without us” meaning that we should have say over all aspects of our Disability experience.  For the first time in our history, we have a direct line for representing who we are.  Why not share your experiences to the world?  Of course you should consider what you are sharing and take precautions.  If you are a young person, check with your family and friends to see if what you are thinking is a good idea and if you are prepared for any backlash.  Just assume that someone will have a problem with what you are saying, but also know that if you speak from a place that is authentic and true to yourself, you will touch people.  Other videos, like skits or slide shows, can also contribute to the library of images and diversity of content about stuttering.

One of my favorite videos I have worked on was with Gina Davis.  

Sharing videos

Sometimes you just can’t get around to creating a video or a blog but you might want to share other videos/blogs that represent your views.  There is a lot of great stuff out there and losing yourself in a search can produce some great opportunities to educate people on your Twitter feed and Facebook.  When sharing, do take into consideration that over saturating your Facebook feed can water down your message.  People get overwhelmed.  It might be better for you to post twice a day over the week instead of all at once.  Marketing research says that the peak time for Facebook is 11AM.  Apparently you are all sneaking it at work!  Thinking strategically can make the most out of your own personal awareness campaign.  Also, instead of just posting videos, include comments or questions so that people interact with the video.  It might start some great conversations on your feed!

People you admire who also happen to stutter

If I see another meme or article about Tiger Woods overcoming his stuttering, I am going to hurl!  So many of the images of people who stutter are people who don’t stutter openly.  Look beyond the awareness posters and images of “people who overcame” and look toward the athletes, professors, reporters, podcast hosts, authors and people YOU identify with.  Post these pictures and bios to your social media outlets and let people know why they are important to you.

The following is a list of some of the stuttering awareness material I have produced over the years.  Please include additional links in the comments section.  I hope something touches you and motivates you to tell others about stuttering:

BLOGS

Don’t Be That Person Who Stutters

The Stuttering Iceberg Gets A Make Over

License to Stutter: What the Stuttering Community Has Meant to Me

VIDEOS

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An Open letter to NPR and Unlocking Dyslexia

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Picture symbolizing dyslexia from NPR’s page.

*This blog is written in my dyslexicon.  I specifically didn’t proof this for edits to demonstrate what my writing is without the standard edits.  

NPR went dyslexic this week for a series on different aspects of dyslexia.  They offered some great information.  My main critique is that the programing didn’t include discussion of civil rights as they relate to individuals with Learning Disabilities.  As someone with dyslexia, who experienced early intervention yet struggled through school, one of the key components for me was advocacy.

I remember the first time that I received an accommodation on a test.  My third grade teacher gave me the test orally.  I told her the answers to her questions.  I was the first one to finish the test and the first one to get an A, likely my first A on a test for that year.  Unfortunately, that was one of the last accommodations I remember from my third grade Catholic School teacher.  Back in the 1980s many private schools didn’t accommodate students with disabilities, this has gotten better since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Because of the lack of access, I saw my parents advocate for me year after year, often resulting in my father kicking my mother under the table in fear that she was coming on “too strong” to the teachers.

I eventually went to public school where I had better access to my education and teachers who had my back.  Consequently, my parents let me pick up the advocacy slack.  It was my turn to advocate for what I needed from teachers.  This helped to prepare me for college where the responsibility lies on student to speak up and ask for accommodations from the school and their individual teachers.  These skills are what helped me graduate from Berkeley and go onto a doctoral program at a small private school that didn’t offer the array of accommodations that my Berkeley and my community colleges offered.

NPR, thank you for featuring dyslexia.  Thank you for having a report with dyslexia who brought the experiences of individuals with dyslexia into the forefront.  It was wonderful to hear my experiences reflected on the radio show.  Thank you for letting parents know that there are options for their kids and that they can grow up to be successful.  Just please remember that in the United States there were a lot of Disability rights activists who fought for our rights to get access to school, the work place and just about every other part of life. Knowing these rights and how to advocate is key to our success.

In addition to the links to the NPR stories, I have included my own Huffington Post blog that I wrote on tips to graduating seniors with dyslexia on advocacy in college.

Beyond IEPs: Learning Disabilities Go To College

Download of the free workbook to guide students on how to advocate for their dyslexia from my book, Once Upon An Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities.

From NPR:

Millions Have Dyslexia, Few Understand It

How Science Is Rewiring The Dyslexic Brain

‘B’ And ‘D’ Learning Process Debunks Dyslexia Jumbled-Letters Myth

Raising A Child With Dyslexia: 3 Things Parents Can Do

Dyslexia: The Learning Disability That Must Not Be Named

What every parent of a kid with learning issues needs to hear

This blog post is dedicated to every parent or ally of a kid with a disability who didn’t think their advocacy was working.  Watch the video or read the transcript below.

what-ever-needs

Watch the video here!

The schools oftentimes told my  parents that Catholic school was not for me, that it wasn’t a place that I belonged and that they only served the “typical” kids. And the one story that I really wanted to share with you was when I first got diagnosed, the schools kinda tried to push me out. My mom tried to educate them about what a learning disability was.

And so she called up Cal at the time, and they had a disability office. And they specifically had a program for students who had LD. And she got a letter from the school and presented it to the teachers and said, “Look at  this! You think she’s only gonna fry French fries. I think that  was your exact term, McDonalds.”

So she said, “She’s only gonna work there,” which by the way, if they increase the minimum wage, that would be awesome. [ laughs ] You wouldn’t have any loans. And showed that letter to the teachers. And the teachers just kind of ignored it, and it didn’t really work.

But she folded it up and put it in the drawer next to my savings bonds from my first Communion and a lot of other really important things like my Social Security card. And it sat there, and for me, even though it didn’t help with the teacher, it helped that I saw her actually do that.

And I eventually went to Cal, and I think it was a big part because I knew that that was a school that they had accommodations.

And so sometimes the interventions and the activism and the advocacy that you do as  a parent, it may not work on the person that you’re trying to direct it at. But it may work because of the impact on your kid.

#activism #advocacy #specialed #catholicschool #disability #dyslexia

 

What counting cards in math class taught me about learned helplessness

My relationship with math was pretty complicated in my public high school.  They placed me in the most basic math class because of my test scores, even though I had pre-algebra two years prior in seventh grade (I don’t test well and test even less well when I don’t receive accommodations).  I was kind of scared of the kids in my Math Skills 1 class, some of whom would come to school with their juvenile hall sweatshirt that they acquired the weekend before.  This was a change from my Catholic school the year previously.  Juvinelle hall shirts would only be allowed on free dress days, and only if worn with a collared shirt.  Needless to say I felt out of place although I did feed the Middle Eastern kid I sat next to, Italian swear words to ask the teacher who had an Italian surname and bushy eyebrows so I wasn’t completely alone.

Somehow I managed to get out of the track of classes I was in and in junior year found myself in geometry.  When I asked my school counselor if I could skip Math Skills 2 to advance math classes she explained, “yes you can because there is a law called the ‘right to fail’ law.  It says that you can take a class if you want to because you have the right to fail it.”  Subsequently, she added to Geometry.  Luckily, I had seven and a half years of Catholic school education where most of the teachers reflected the same attitude so I knew she was full of shit.

With my counselor’s vote of nonconfidence, I entered the class.  On the first day the teacher had us sit in alphabetical order which meant that my desk was in the last row.  I knew that because of my language based Learning Disability I needed to sit in the front of the class.  One of the many features of my LD is auditory processing problems.  Sometimes my language processing is much like Charlie Brown’s when his teacher talks to him ( I hear “wa-wa-wawawa”).  It helps to be in the front so that I can focus on the person’s speech, their intonation, body gestures, what they are writing on the board and screen out the cute boy three rows away or the horrible outfit that the girl in the front row is wearing.  It is common for students with auditory processing issues to request that they sit in the front row as an accommodation.  Knowing that this has been recommended by my educational specialists and special ed teachers for as long as I had been diagnosed, I requested a seat change from my teacher, Mr. Cooper.  He explained that my last name began with G and therefore I belonged in the back row of the class.  I protested and tried to advocate with no avail and remained in the last row.

Knowing that I would have a difficult time because of my seat placement and topic, I pursued other interests in class.  Geometry was right before lunch which meant I had the lunch money that my mom gave to buy my corn dog, Duritos and Diet Coke.  With $5 in hand, I engaged in a card game that we had most days in class.  The guys in the back row would sneak a card game of Blackjack and we would bet money.  Always a jinx, I lost my lunch money most of the days and would have to bum food off my friends.  That term I received a D on my report card but was introduced to counting cards.

The next school term students added and dropped the class, changing the seating arrangements.  I ended up sitting in the first row-exactly where I had previously advocated for.  I consciously made an effort that term.  I attentively listened, took notes and would go to my resource teacher to get extra help.  For those who don’t know, the resource room is where many students who have LD or other kinds of disabilities receive services as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  I actually worked pretty hard that term and my resource teacher, Ms. Rumsey knew I was putting in the effort.

In the weeks to come, Mr. Cooper was passing back our tests.  He would obnoxiously announce whoever got a B+ or higher–”Ethan got an A—Heather got an A-.”  Teachers, if you want to add a layer of stratification and intellectual snobbery in your class, be sure to do this technique!  This practice resulted in me was calling the A students nerds under my breath and manipulating it in my head that they were less cool.  That was all until one day.  Mr. Cooper was handing back tests and for the first time he announced “and Nina got an A-.” I was in disbelief!  And this wasn’t the kind of literary disbelief that read about in Jane Austen books.  It was not internally based–it was a very outward kind of disbelief.  I verbally protested, “are you sure it was my test?  What do you think of that Mr. Cooper?”  He seemed to quickly move onto the next A test.

I was so excited that I ran to the resource room as soon as class let out.  I found Ms. Ramsey and showed her the A-.  I explained, “I got an A- on the test!  I am pretty sure that it is because I prayed to God and he answered my prayers.”  Hey! I was coming out of Catholic school–what did you expect?!  This was when Ms. Ramsey went off on me.  She yelled at me.  It was probably the first time and only time a special education teacher ever yelled at me, “Listen! You worked really hard for this grade.  You have been coming to my classroom a lot and I know you know this material.  It wasn’t God, it was your hard work.”  I replied somewhat disappointed, “ya, I know.”

I could not think of a more better response from Ms. Ramsey (ya, I know that this is bad grammar, even for me, but this feels like the best way to say it).  I did something successfully and she rubbed my nose in it.  You have to understand something about having a Learning Disability.  Part of your experience having a LD is that there are so many times in your school life that you try and then fail.  This happens again and again that you eventually stop trying.  That is what I did when I was losing my lunch money in the back of class.  I gave up on trying to do well because it felt like there were too many factors against me.  Then when I did attempt and I succeeded, I attributed the success not to my own abilities but to something outside myself.  This is Special Ed Psychology 101 kind of shit.  What happened was I suffered from learned helplessness (trying and failing, so eventually stopped trying).  When I did succeed it was attributed to an external locus of control.  It was something outside of me–God (because my Geometry test is right up there on God’s to-do-list).  It might also be attributed to luck or “that test is easy” kind of thinking.  What Ms. Ramsey did was make sure that I knew that the test was attributed to my underdeveloped internal locus of control (I did it because I had the skills and knowledge).

When working with kids and even adults with Learning and Attentional Disabilities it is good to keep learned helplessness in mind.  When training teachers I will often ask them, “if you worked at a job where most of the day capitalized on things that were challenging for you, would you stay in that job?  Then what do you think the experience is for your students with Learning Disabilities?”  Structuring classrooms or other learning environments so that success can be felt in very real ways is important.  I am not advocating to just give the kid an A because they showed up.  They will know you are full of shit and this adds to no ones self-esteem.  Instead work with individuals with LD to figure out the best ways to reach them and accommodate them.  It is also important that students feel that they have something they are invested in.  Taking a kid out or sports or drama because their GPA slips under a 2.0 can often be classified as bullshit.  If the kid is trying, making improvements, and attempting to the address the issue, then why take away the one thing that they enjoy and feel invested in.  Parents and teachers might consider advocating for a waiver as part of a 504 plan or IEP.  Having something you are invested in that you do well will help to break down the learned helplessness and hopefully be generalized to other aspects of the students life.

Picture from Once Upon an Accommodation: A Book about Learning Disabilities (I wrote it!).  Here the character Matt reflects on all the things he is good at.
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