I don't deserve to be mocked for my stammer

A woman looking at the camera and smiling

Alyia Phelps-Gardiner-Krumbiegel tells us about deciding to make a stand when someone laughed at her stammer. 

I'm Alyia and I would like to share a time when I didn't get the best reaction to my stammer. It was when I was trying to raise awareness with a healthcare professional who had no idea how to deal with a person who stammers.

It happened when I was visiting my granddaughter in hospital. Whilst trying to gain entry into the children's ward, the senior staff nurse asked who I was visiting. I stammered when saying my granddaughter's name. There were quite a few people behind me listening, who were also visiting relatives, which made me feel more anxious. The senior staff nurse burst out laughing. I said, "Please do not laugh at me" and told her my granddaughter's name. She allowed me entry.

...I didn't want her apologies, I just wanted her to understand how negative responses can make people feel. 

Afterwards, I was getting more and more angry about what happened. So, after I visited my granddaughter and made sure she was OK, I decided to seek out the senior staff nurse. When I found her she was in a meeting with other nurses. I just walked in and started speaking with all the young nurses staring at me. I asked the senior nurse if I could speak with her. I told her that I stammered and that lots of people like me experience others laughing at them all the time. She kept trying to butt in but I just kept on talking. I recall her trying to say sorry but I told her I didn't want her apologies, I just wanted her to understand how negative responses can make people feel. I wanted her to understand so that she acted better the next time she came across someone who stammers.

More open

This kind of thing has happened to me more as an adult than it did as a child. Why? Because I am more open with my stammering now that I’m an adult. I don't try and hide it as much as I did. When we stammer openly, we can feel vulnerable and exposed. We feel particularly vulnerable when we meet someone who's unfamiliar with stammering, especially when their first reaction is to laugh at us. It hurts when that happens!

I used to get really upset when people laughed at my stammer. I'd feel my eyes fill up with tears and struggle to compose myself. Then, when I was done with whatever I was doing, I would practically run out to my car and cry. I'd cry tears of embarrassment and anger. Anger at having been laughed at for something I can't help. But also anger at my own inability to stand up for myself. My shame would paralyse me to the point where I just froze and couldn't say anything.

I don't challenge people because I want them to feel bad or embarrassed. I do it for ME!

Sadly it still sometimes happens and I occasionally get laughed at or mocked when I stammer. It hurts. Sometimes my eyes fill up right away because it stings. But I am confident and comfortable most of the time (notice I say 'most') to say something nowadays. I usually come out with, "Just so you know, I stammer. I am OK with that, but I am not OK with someone laughing or making fun of me. It hurts my feelings".

People are usually surprised when I say that. Some get embarrassed and apologise profusely. Some turn red and don't say anything. Some say, "Oh, you do not" or "I stutter sometimes too", in an attempt to reassure me.

I don't challenge people because I want them to feel bad or embarrassed. I do it for ME! I don't deserve to be laughed at or mocked just because I stammer, because I might pause for a long time when a word gets stuck.

Not everyone feels comfortable addressing someone who laughs at their stammer. It takes courage. It involves taking a risk. It calls more attention to our stammers. It has taken a long time for me to use my voice and I do enjoy talking in public, even now at 62. I just need to prepare for a minute. 

Every person who stammers is unique. They must be given the tools to develop their own coping techniques. Hopefully, that healthcare professional will now look people who stammer squarely in the eyes, give them a minute and not burst out laughing.

Read more Your Voice articles. Would you like to write an article? See Submit Something For The Site or email editor@stamma.org for details.

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

Become a member

It's free

Join the movement to change how people understand and react to stammering.

Sign up

Campaign. Fundraise. Connect. Meet. Vote. Talk.