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Advice for children who stutter: Pamela Mertz


Tell me about yourself

My name is Pamela Mertz, but I happily respond to Pam. I prefer my full name in anything written – seems more professional. It could also be an age thing! I live and work right outside of the Albany, New York area. I was born and raised in Albany.

I work for a BOCES, which is an educational cooperative that provides services that helps school districts save money.I presently work in adult education, as a program manager overseeing adult literacy services in three counties.

We offer high school equivalency preparation programs and ESOL programs and also run educational programs in three jails. That’s the most challenging part of my current work – offering support to our staff that work in the jail settings. Safety and security comes first – education is not the first priority. We are not allowed to use technology in the jails – no computers, so it’s hard to create a 21st century classroom for the teacher.

Before working in adult education, I spent over 20 years working with youth – in both counseling and career development capacities. That’s been my real passion – working with high school students. I hope to have a chance to return to that work at some point in my career.

I’m pretty open with my stuttering at work – my colleagues know I stutter, and sometimes I’ll tell students if I find it’s appropriate. Sometimes I don’t want whatever interaction I’m having with students to be about stuttering – I pick and choose those teachable moments carefully.

Tell me about your stuttering history

I don’t remember my early stuttering – I’m told I started stuttering around 5, after having normal fluency from when I started talking till then. I remember being yelled at by my dad for stuttering and also yelled at by my kindergarten teacher. I remember feeling bad, and that I must have been doing something that was bad. The more my dad yelled at me, the more I tried to not stutter, and the only way I knew to not stutter was to not talk.

I attribute those early moments of negative reactions from important people in my life to the reasons why I was covert for most of my stuttering life. I spent the next 30 years or so trying to perfect not being a stutterer. Sometimes it worked. But in hindsight, I realize that it didn’t work most of the time.

I finally realized I was wasting too much precious time and energy pretending to be somebody I was not, so I gradually began working on being more open with my stuttering. That became easier when I found the NSA and went to my first conference in 2006. From that point on, I’ve been actively involved in the stuttering community.

I started blogging in 2009 over at Make Room For The Stuttering and started a podcast, Women Who Stutter: Our Stories in 2010. Blogging and podcasting has really helped me find and use my voice in the stuttering community. Here is a perfect opportunity to thank you, Daniele, for being such a great mentor when I was first starting out with my podcast.

Can you share a funny stuttering moment?

A few years ago, I was driving my partner’s car over to my mother’s house. I rarely drove his car, as it was a big Lincoln and not my style at all. But my car was in the shop. I remember pulling into a spot close to my mom’s house and her neighbor was outside and stopped what he was doing to come over and check out the car. He commented that I must be moving up in the world, getting such a fancy new car. I commented that no, it wasn’t my car, it was my husbands. But husband came out, hu-hu-hu-husband. The neighbor laughed and asked me how many husbands did I have. He wouldn’t tell if I had a harem.

What advice would you give to children who stutter?

I tell kids all the time to remember that stuttering is just one thing that makes them different. All kids have stuff that make them different. Some kids are tall, some where glasses, some talk differently, some have red hair, some have green eyes. Everybody has something that makes us different and its important for kids to understand that whatever that is, it’s just one part of us.

I would advise kids who stutter to try and meet other kids who stutter, and to let their teachers and classmates know what stuttering is and that it’s just a different way of talking.

If a kid can get someone they trust to help them make a presentation to their class, sometimes that really helps to normalize it for other kids and then suddenly it doesn’t seem so different any more. I would also advise kids who stutter to talk about their stuttering with their parents and not try to hide it. That doesn’t work. And if a kid does make fun of your stuttering, practice something you can say in return – like “I stutter better than you do,” or “Hey, you don’t do it right, let me show you how stuttering is really done.”

You’ve been reading a post in a blog series profiling the real people behind the caricatures I’m including in the stuttering advice book I’m creating. Stay tooned for more!

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