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Discovering Joy, Connection, and Community Through Stuttering: Stephen Greene Shares His Journey

I can only speak for my own experience but showing up as a person who stutters led to that spontaneity and joy in the workplace. Stuttering can be ever-present but not at the center of everything. It can exist in that space without concealment and shame. Don't let it be the elephant in the room. Stephen Greene


Stephen Greene (Courtesy Photo)

Stephen Greene has been a prolific presence within the online stuttering community. Based in Ireland, Greene has supported the stuttering community for nearly 20 years as an advocate, influencer, blogger, support group leader, and Former Chair of the Irish Stammering Association (ISA). His Instagram page, @thestutterverse, has brought stutterers, speech therapists, parents of children who stutter, allies, and advocates together in the spirit of building connections and sharing resources. In this effort, he has frequently shared blog posts from the Cadence Speech Blog and championed others’ stories. It felt high time to return the favor.

 

Greene recently shared a story on Instagram expressing excitement about this post featuring his stuttering journey. Within minutes, I received an outpouring of love from fellow speech therapists and community members who have come to greatly respect and admire him. It was clear that Greene embodies the type of leadership that encourages others to step forward and start on the path to change. His empathic, thoughtful, enthusiastic presence is a boon to us all.

 

So please enjoy this long overdue interview with one of my favorite humans from across the pond, Stephen Greene.


 

 Allegra Ludwig (AL): You share your stuttering story on your website (stutterverse.com) and provide such a beautiful narrative about growing up with a stutter. In your story, you write that you have eight siblings and also that your parents were supportive and loving, but due to common practice at that time they were minimally involved with your initial speech therapy experiences. Can you share more about how your family reacted to your stuttering as a child? What childhood memories or discussions about stuttering with family and friends can you recall?

 

Stephen Greene (SG): To talk about how my family reacted to my stuttering I should probably start with my mother. As you said, at the time my parents were minimally involved in speech therapy. After the first four months, my mother was handed a sheet of phrases for me to practice saying fluently with no follow-up. I hated these exercises and my mother wasn’t given any information on stuttering. She also had three other kids at the time, so she had her hands full.

 

I’ve talked to her about that time. She wrestled with the idea: Had she done the right thing in bringing me to speech therapy in the first place? She initially took me because I had articulation issues, but then I left struggling with a stammer[1]. I reassured her that I was probably going to stutter anyway and that she did nothing wrong. I suppose this is a case when stuttering is unfortunately shrouded in misconceptions, and there is no cure. I want to stress that parents should never feel any blame or guilt when it comes to their children’s stuttering.

 

My stuttering was never really a point of discussion in my home except the odd time when siblings do what siblings do, and use it to get a reaction. My sister’s favorite was the loony tunes line, “The, the-the, th-that’s all folks,” with the repetitions thrown in for good effect. In fairness, I was pretty good at finding the chink in their armor. It was all fair in (sibling rivalry) love and war.

 

Stuttering didn’t come up in conversation with my friends. More often than not, your friends accept you for who you are. Whatever difference you have melts into the background and your friends are just your friends. For example, when I was younger two of my best friends had muscular dystrophy and even though the disability was ever-present it wasn’t what I saw. I just saw my mates Alan and Derek.

 

As a teenager and young adult, it felt that stuttering became the elephant in the room. No one talked about it, especially me because the subject was so sensitive to me. My experience became quite isolating. Not talking about it led to a feeling of being emotionally numb to what I was feeling. Things I should have been looking forward to like my school’s Debs, transition to college or work were overshadowed by my negative sense of my stuttering and myself.

 

AL: How have the reactions and/or support of your stuttering from those closest to you shifted (if at all) since then?

 

SG: I’ve been lucky; I have always felt accepted and loved by my family and friends. They’ve noticed changes in me, like when I came back from doing an avoidance reduction therapy residential course in 2005 (Dublin Adult Stuttering) and we had some friends over. A good friend said, “Wow, Stephen there’s a glow about you now…you’re openly talking about stuttering, which you never did before and there’s a light that’s emanating from you now.”

 

I felt that shift. Concealment of my stutter had taken a toll and took so much effort that I was losing part of myself in the process.

 

That shift to acceptance can be difficult for some, as change often comes with turbulence. Maybe you are going to hear more stuttering if you are on the path to acceptance. That can be difficult for loved ones and friends. They may hold the expectation that therapy results in less stuttering. Or maybe they’ve become used to the way you conceal your stuttering. Communication is key. Being open about what you’re working on in speech therapy and how you experience life as a stutterer is important. It helps listeners gain a greater understanding and respect for the goals that are important to you.

 

AL: What were some of your first experiences meeting other same-age peers with disabilities? You mention that in your very first band, two of your best friends/bandmates had disabilities and that your music was a “two-finger salute against ableist views.” Did you and your friends ever discuss your shared experiences?

 

SG: I have no other siblings who stutter, so within my own family I was alone in that experience. Over the years, I’ve made many friends who stutter. Most came from being involved in the Irish Stammering Association (since 2005). I also still keep in touch with one of my friends whom I met on the Dublin Adult Stuttering course, as well as my speech therapist from the course who stutters.

 

Back in the mid to late 80’s (I’m showing my age here!), we didn’t know about ableism. We just knew that we loved music and had worked hard to get money to pay for our synths and wanted to play live. We did talk about how we would be perceived on the surface. Our instrumental band was made up of one stutterer and two wheelchair users! That could certainly be viewed as an oddity. We played a gig at our school and even though there was no direct stance against ableism in our music, we went ahead and played synth-pop hits from the late 80s like Depeche Mode. We showed audiences that by following our passion for live music, we wouldn’t be hindered by what people with disabilities can or can’t do. We were, at the end of the day, kids who wanted to play music.

 

AL: I loved this quote from your website: “Music and sport were a form of free expression and spontaneity that I didn’t experience when it came to my verbal communication.” Can you share what role music and sports have in your life today?

 

SG: I grew up in Tallaght, Dublin, in a working-class area. We were encouraged to get involved in sports by our parents. If you didn’t have these outlets you risked falling into antisocial activities. That was the reality of life at that time. I will always be grateful to my parents for instilling this direction in us.

 

As a young person, what stood out for me was how sports and music made me feel. As I said, it was that state of free expression and spontaneity in sports and music that only came through work and dedication. It’s a lesson that still stands with me: Effort generally leads to reward and the feeling of accomplishment. I have been able to use this same principle as it relates to my stuttering.

 

It probably should be said to use this ethic constructively! We often see it in the stuttering community: “You’re not working hard enough to achieve what you want.” I believe it’s more about working smartly. Learning techniques may be important (or not at all!), but feeling and interpretation are just as important. You may have all of the speech strategies and techniques, but without addressing how stuttering makes you feel it might not be possible to move forward. So it’s not about how hard you're working but how smart you’re working.

 

Being involved in sports and music shaped my understanding of the importance of community. As a person who stutters the value you hold in such communities is no less than anyone else. To this day, my involvement in sports and music are great outlets for my self-expression and I believe they add capacity to what makes me who I am.


AL: Did stuttering play a part in your eventual career as a social care worker? If so, how?

 

SG: I now work in the area of youth crime prevention, but previously was a social care worker. The lived experience of stuttering did shape this career path. I might have been an empathic person without stuttering, but living as a stutterer has given me an in-depth knowledge of struggle and difference. The journey to acceptance has so many lessons that add to your understanding of not only yourself but others, too. For example, when working with someone on the autism spectrum you don’t see the disorder, you see the person. You take the time to understand how an individual views and experiences the world. How this person communicates and interacts is valued, just as we stutterers expect our communication to be valued. I think that being a stutterer strongly informs a person-centered approach to working with diverse populations. Differences are not only respected but empowered. It levels up the playing field for people with disabilities to their non-disabled counterparts.


Stephen Greene (Courtesy Photo)

AL: Do you have any advice for other stutterers who may be unsure about their career paths and about finding fulfillment, acceptance, and joy in the workplace?

 

SG: I think the key is finding what you’re passionate about. You spend so much time working; you have to find what you’re interested in. I can only speak for my own experience but showing up as a person who stutters led to that spontaneity and joy in the workplace. Stuttering can be ever-present but not at the center of everything. It can exist in that space without concealment and shame. Don't let it be the elephant in the room.


AL: You have spent a great deal of time supporting the stuttering community as an advocate, influencer, blogger, support group leader, and Former Chair of the Irish Stammering Association (ISA). These activities are time-consuming and not always available to individuals trying to juggle an already precarious work-life balance. Have you been able to achieve balance as a stuttering advocate with life’s other responsibilities, and if so, how did you accomplish this?

 

SG: To be honest, it can be hard to find that work-life balance when you’re so passionate about what you do, just ask my wife Siobhan! I’m still working on this. This past year I decided to pull back from the online element of my advocacy to focus more on my in-person work. I started the stutterverse two years ago now. It’s been wonderful interacting with the online community but you can get sucked into posting and checking your comments and likes. It’s good to take a step back offline and enjoy your many other pursuits.

 

For those who would like to get involved online, the stuttering community is out there with so many benefits. Just be mindful of the pitfalls. For anyone wanting to increase involvement, I would recommend to try and meet others in real life. There is a community, richness, and nuance you can only get from meeting people in person.

 

AL: I noticed that you are no longer serving as Chair of the ISA. What led to the transition away from this role? Can you share the ISA’s current mission and any of the latest news from the ISA?

 

SG: My time as Chair was a truly wonderful experience. The transition away from this role was just a rotation. I did, however, see this change as an opportunity to take some time away from the stuttering community. I’ve been involved with the ISA in a volunteer capacity since 2005. Looking back, I needed to step back to recharge and re-energise my involvement in the community.

 

In 2022, I felt spurred on and got involved again with the ISA and it’s been great! The association is run by a passionate team of workers and volunteers.  The following is the mission of the ISA: “Irish Stammering Association is the nationally recognised organisation committed to building, developing and supporting the stammering community, raising awareness of stammering and being the trusted source of accurate, trusted and reliable information in Ireland.” The ISA has many great initiatives to serve the stuttering community at present. We have support in the area of education and employment support groups for all ages as well as parental support. We also support young ISA members through the medium of drama and performance. In addition, we have a new gaming club that connects young people who stutter through the love of gaming.

 

I facilitate our Speaker series where we invite guest speakers to delve into the lived experience of stuttering and explore developments in current research. We also have a stammering pride group that explores stuttering gain and views stammering through the lens of the social model of disability. At the core of these groups is an aim to connect the stammering community in Ireland and to promote a society that values stammering.

 

AL: You continue to serve the stuttering community. Can you share more about what it means to be a Stuttering Peer Support Leader? What exactly does the role involve and how can someone find out more about becoming involved with peer support, either as a participant or as a mentor?

 

SG: As a stuttering peer support group leader, it means you perform a role where you create an open friendly informative space where someone can go to share and explore their lived experience as a person who stutters. The ISA support groups are open to all individuals who stutter so we have members who come from different therapy experiences or maybe have had no prior therapy at all.

 

The role of a group leader involves being prepared for your meetings. Preparation is key to ensuring that the group's experience is kept fresh and also so people feel they are benefitting and want to return. For example, you could bring in a Ted Talk on stuttering to the group and see what discussion happens. I would have done this with the recent Chris Constantino Ted Talk.

 

There are many activities you can do in stuttering support to elicit conversations and hopefully inspire growth and understanding. There are also many opportunities and different mediums for people to get involved in peer support through national associations and other stuttering support organizations. I know my own experience with peer support was vital for guiding my stuttering journey.

 

AL: Since becoming a vocal presence online via your Instagram page (@the_stutterverse), have you encountered any adverse comments or reactions to posts? How have you managed this and how might you encourage others who feel intimidated by the possibility of hostile or conflicting comments online?

 

SG: I’ve been lucky with the stutterverse. The reactions have been positive and we do have a great online community of fellow advocates and allies. I’ve seen issues pop up through other Facebook groups and online platforms where we so often see the narrative of overcoming stuttering in pursuit of fluency. Ableist ideals are repeatedly put forward as fact. This can be harmful to a person who goes online to explore their stuttering. There can also be a darker side to these groups with misogyny and homophobia being experienced by many who stutter. At times, these groups feel like the Wild West, with poor moderation to tackle such difficult issues.

 

AL: In your story, you also openly discuss seeking group speech therapy with Vivian Sisskin’s ARTS® (Avoidance Reduction Therapy for Stuttering) program. Would you be open to sharing a few of the goals and activities that have been most helpful?

 

SG: I’ve been presently working on open stuttering, which is about stuttering on the intended sound. It’s about putting the stutter where it belongs on the feared word and letting go of that control. The stutter goes where it needs to. We meet weekly as a group on Zoom and share how our week has gone, and about the assignments that we have been working on.

 

We work on three assignments a day so you are not spending the whole day working and thinking about your stutter but these assignments do lead to positive change. I would normally do an assignment in the morning, afternoon, and evening. An assignment I could be doing is talking to a work colleague over coffee in the morning and when I stutter I would get on the sound and let it go and give up trying to control it. You would then discuss this in the group, talk through the experience, and learn from it.


AL: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work and hopes for the wider stuttering community?

 

SG: To end, I do love the line from the Beatles song, “With A Little Help From My Friends:” “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Peer support has been so valuable for my journey. If you feel alone about stuttering please reach out. Something wonderful can happen when you find community.


 

(Courtesy Photo)

Stephen Greene is an Irish-based stuttering advocate, support group leader, mentor, influencer, blogger, and person who stutters. He can be contacted directly via email at: stephenjohngreene@gmail.com


[1] Stammering is a mostly Irish and UK English term used interchangeably with stuttering

 

 

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