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Teen Podcaster Priya Isaacs Explores Hot-Button Stuttering Issues

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

“When you don’t see yourself accurately represented, it makes you feel different or isolated, especially when stuttering is currently portrayed in a more negative light… I would like to see this change! Stuttering is involuntary and isn’t due to being nervous or anxious. People who stutter aren’t naturally shy, weird, stupid, or the butt of someone’s joke, which is how the media likes to represent us." Priya Isaacs

Priya Isaacs (Photo by Yasmin Emma Photography)

Two weeks ago, I was having coffee with the executive director of Myspeech, Jenny Mcguire. She said something that struck me, especially because I was in the midst of planning this next blog post and it had also come up in conversation with Priya Isaacs (this post’s featured interviewee). Mcguire mentioned that so many of the celebrities highlighted on Famous People Who Stutter posters are individuals who don’t openly stutter. Celebrities such as Joe Biden, Emily Blunt, and Ed Sheeran (among others), don’t appear to stutter during interviews or performances. Not only is the resulting indirect message that people who grow up with a stutter no longer stutter (i.e. promoting the “overcoming stuttering” narrative), but also that success in the outside world is dependent upon achieving fluency. Where are the celebrities who still stutter openly and why don’t they have a wider reach when it comes to stuttering advocacy? All stuttering advocacy is great—but it would be especially great if the voices advocating for stuttering acceptance sounded like stuttering voices.


Isaacs had mentioned the same thing to me when she first reached out about collaborating on a post in mid-January of this year. Priya Isaacs, an Australian teen who stutters, is a passionate advocate for the stuttering community. She hosts a stuttering podcast (StutterConversation: The Podcast) and is the creator of a stuttering-focused Instagram page, @stutterconversation. Isaacs wanted to work together on a Cadence Speech Blog post for teens and to talk about this issue because, as she explained, it’s especially difficult for teens who stutter to not see themselves represented in mainstream media. A lack of representation leads to feelings of isolation and can further the self-perception of brokenness due to communication differences.


The conversation with Mcguire confirmed that this is a hot-button topic and one deserving of more attention and action. There were other stuttering-related topics that Isaacs wanted to discuss, especially pertaining to teens who stutter. I didn’t need much convincing to join forces! Any opportunity to hear directly from a teen who stutters about the issues facing teens who stutter is impossible to pass up because it isn't easy to find a willing spokesperson. Putting yourself out there front and center as a teen advocate during a time of life when most of us notoriously want to blend in with the pack requires tremendous courage. In her interview, shared below, Isaacs touches not only on the issue of media representation but also on how to support teens who stutter, her own lived experience, and the strategies she’s found most helpful.


Rather than take up any more space, I’m going to hand this over to Isaacs. Priya, take it away!


Allegra Ludwig (AL): Can you please introduce yourself and share a little bit about your background? What are some of your early memories of stuttering as a child?


Priya Isaacs (PI): My name is Priya Isaacs. I am 17 years old and live in Australia. I’m finishing my last year of school and hope to become an Occupational Therapist.


I don’t remember when I first realized I had a stutter, but I do know that it was my preschool teacher who first approached my mum telling her that I should probably see a speech therapist, as she thought I might have a stutter. My family has always been supportive and my mum took me to a speech therapist as soon as my preschool teacher flagged it. There is also a history of stuttering in my extended family, so my parents were already aware and understood the importance of early intervention.


In terms of my peers, I don’t remember being bullied about stuttering in primary school (ages 6-12 years old), but maybe I was teased about my height! (I’m rather short.) My mum does remember me asking her, “Why do I speak differently than my friends?” I told her that a few of my classmates had asked me, “Why do you sound like that?” Stuttering only started to bother me and become harder to manage when I was in my last year of primary school. Since then, I have made sure that my teachers know I stutter and that has made school so much less stressful! It made me feel much more comfortable in the classroom.


AL: Was there a pivotal moment or experience in your life that shifted your self-perception as a person who stutters?


PI: I can't recall one specific moment that changed my perception, but there are a couple of moments that felt memorable. For one, it was deciding to start my Instagram page (@stutterconversation), which helped me accept and value my stutter.


Another experience that I always remember happened when I was around 12 years old and was speaking to my cousin who stutters. We were having a chat and he asked me about my stutter and any speech strategies that I use. At the time, I wasn’t in a place where I was comfortable talking about it, so I immediately burst into tears! I guess that was also the moment when I realized just how much stuttering impacted me. My reaction caught me completely off guard.


AL: Over email, you mentioned that media representation of stuttering influenced your feelings about being a person who stutters. How specifically did the media influence your self-perception as a person who stutters, and what would you like to see change in terms of media representation of stuttering?


PI: Media representation is something I am quite passionate about. Growing up in a generation where TV shows, movies, and the big world of social media are such a huge part of our lives, I know firsthand that what we see on our screens can shape a person’s mind and perceptions. To date, I have never seen a person who stutters (PWS) accurately represented in the media. By the way, I’m still on the lookout so let me know if you’ve seen any!


When you don’t see yourself accurately represented, it makes you feel different or isolated, especially when stuttering is currently portrayed in a more negative light. For example, someone who stutters is frequently characterized as being nervous or anxious, which is definitely not always the case. I would like to see this change! Stuttering is involuntary and isn’t due to being nervous or anxious. PWS aren’t naturally shy, weird, stupid, or the butt of someone’s joke, which is how the media likes to represent us.


The media is so powerful, so I would love for other PWS to see someone who sounds like them onscreen. At least 80 million people have a stutter—why is there no accurate representation of PWS in the media?


AL: What inspired you to start a stuttering-focused Instagram page and podcast? What is the most surprising thing that you have learned about stuttering since you started sharing more information about stuttering online?


PI: What inspired me to start a stuttering-focused Instagram page and podcast was the lack of awareness around teens who stutter. Being a teen, life is already challenging enough! We are facing self-identity crises, figuring out who we are and what we want to be, and managing school. These huge tasks in our lives can already be overwhelming. Add a stutter on top, and life can get pretty stressful.


Acceptance is a huge part of the stuttering journey. Acknowledging your stutter and being comfortable with it is critical because realistically it’s unlikely to ever go away. My inspiration for the page was to connect teens who stutter and to share my own story. My hope is that @stutterconversation helps other teens who stutter feel less alone and more comfortable with stuttering.


The Instagram page recently led me to delve into the podcasting world, as I wanted to further add to the conversation! With my StutterConversation podcast, my goal is to create a space where we can address the stigma around stuttering by educating others. We talk about some of the wider life impacts of stuttering like anxiety, depression, and mental health. It’s also a safe environment to share stories and experiences.


The most surprising thing I have learnt about stuttering is the reach of the stuttering community. I didn’t realize that there were so many people who stutter in this world, who come from so many different parts of the world, and who share similar experiences. Social

media can be a scary place, but the stuttering community has been such an incredible group to be a part of—and I didn’t know it existed! I have met so many people through my page and I have learnt so much about myself and my stutter. In Australia, stuttering isn’t openly talked about—at least not that I have seen—so being involved in this space where I can relate to different experiences has been amazing.


AL: What were your experiences with speech therapy growing up? Any insights or techniques that were helpful? What has been most helpful to you when it comes to stuttering?


PI: When I was seven, I spent a year at speech therapy and then stopped and went back for about two years from ages 13-15. Overall, my experiences were quite positive. When I was a teenager, the programs were centered around managing my stutter in different situations, in particular school, whilst also learning different strategies. In terms of techniques I learnt a variety, but to be honest I don’t actively use them as much anymore!


The most helpful strategies were understanding my stutter and figuring out ways that I could be comfortable with it, and also pushing myself to go outside my comfort zone! For example, I would talk openly to others about my stutter. In addition, I try to challenge myself in difficult speaking situations—such as ordering food at a restaurant. Also, I think that knowing and accepting I will probably stutter forever has been the biggest help along the journey, as now I can live with it. Stuttering no longer stops me from doing things.


AL: School can be a notoriously challenging environment for teens who stutter. Can you share some ways that teens who stutter can self-advocate in the schools and with peers, and how teachers/peers can help support students who stutter?


PI: The biggest advice I can give to other teens who stutter is to have conversations with your friends about stuttering. I found that letting my friends know about my experience made me feel more comfortable because I no longer worried about what they were thinking.


Talking to friends is also a chance to educate others about stuttering! I would recommend thinking about how you would like to talk about it in advance, so you have a prepared dialogue and you’re not put on the spot! You can prepare this on your own, or with your speech therapist or another trusted person.


About the ways teachers and peers can help support you—I actually just made a post about this on my Instagram page! Teachers can have a conversation with the student and their parents about how the student wants to be supported—listening and then taking on board any suggestions. I have had several teachers not bother talking to me about how I wanted to be supported in class (even though this was recommended to them), and this only made me feel more stressed because my needs were ultimately ignored.


Teachers can also educate themselves about stuttering by talking to the student’s speech-language pathologist. In general, I’d also suggest having open conversations with the class about different ways people can communicate! For example, some people communicate using sign language. Having open conversations about communication differences creates an inclusive environment. Teachers and peers can also support students who stutter by not interrupting, being patient, and giving us time to speak.


Family and friends have been my greatest allies. My friends in particular have been incredibly supportive and I have never felt judged around them! After starting my Instagram page, I was surprised by just how many supportive messages I received and I continue to receive them to this day!


When it comes to my preference for how people respond to my stutter—it’s to let me finish my sentences. I am also open to people asking me questions about stuttering. I am always open to discussing my experience or providing education about stuttering.


AL: What role in your life does the stuttering community hold for you as a teen who stutters? What do you wish more teens and families knew about stuttering?


PI: The stuttering community has shaped how I understand myself. Everyone is very open and welcoming, and I know that I can always turn to the community for support. Often, you feel a lot of shame and embarrassment as a person who stutters. It’s incredible to be able to be yourself and know that we all have this shared experience.


I wish more teens and families knew that stuttering doesn’t need to be a bad thing! It is something that makes us unique and special. It has its challenges, don't get me wrong (!), and accepting that is a journey—but there are so many other teens who stutter sharing similar stories. Stuttering looks different for everyone, but the experiences are so similar.


I also wish teens and families knew that there is a large stuttering community always here to support them! You are not alone.


AL: How do you feel about your stuttering today in comparison with your toughest point? Any last thoughts?


PI: Overall, I’ve come a long way from the girl who broke down at the mention of a stutter! I have built a lot more confidence and found more strength in my communication.


In saying that, as I’ve mentioned, it’s been a journey! For me personally, as the page has grown, I have moments where I question if I am the right person for the role of stuttering advocate! I am a huge advocate for self-acceptance, but I sometimes still feel ashamed or nervous to speak in certain situations. I continue to challenge myself and step outside of my comfort zone. I know there will be moments of self-doubt, but I am proud to be a part of this community and also know that I’ll find strength in the small wins along the way.


 

*Note to readers: Priya is currently working in collaboration with Maya Chupkov (@proudstutter) and SAY:AU President Rich Stephens to get National Stuttering Awareness Week recognized in Australia. Please stay tuned to @stutterconversation, @proudstutter, and @sayaustralia.org.au for updates about their progress!

Priya Isaacs (Photo by Yasmin Emma Photography)

*To learn more about Priya and to contact her directly, email her at:


Or visit her Instagram handle: @stutterconversation

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