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Advice for children who stutter: Bernie Weiner

Tell me about yourself

My name is Bernie Weiner. I’m 65 years old, and have gone through a lot of changes, in my life. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not sure what my parents were doing there, but I think it’s kind of unique since I’ve lived in Michigan almost all of my life. <grin>

I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Wayne State University, in Detroit, Michigan. I received this degree in 1970, with a Major in History, and a Minor in English. I managed to make it through four years of college without having to give ONE presentation in front of a class. At the time, I considered that pretty impressive, today, not so much. <grin>. They say if you remember the 1960’s, you weren’t there. <grin>.

Well, I remember them, and I was there. I’ve had a few different jobs after graduating from college. I worked in an artist studio as a picture framer for a little while, worked as a “manager” of a garden center for a couple of days, and managed the jewelry vault for a large jewelry chain here in Michigan for a couple of years. In 1974, I hired in at Chrysler Defense, which later became General Dynamics Land Systems, the worlds second largest Defense Contractor, where I became an Engineering Records and Release Specialist and helped design tracked vehicles for the United States Army and Marines. As you can see, my History degree didn’t really translate into much of my working experience.

I have been married for 41 years, to my greatest supporter and soul mate, Harriet. We have two grown children and two grandchildren, who take up a lot of our time, keep us laughing, and use up a lot of our discretionary income. <grin>.

Tell me about your stuttering history

I could write pages about my stuttering and what therapy I have had throughout my life, but I’ll try to summarize. As far as I know, my stuttering began around first or second grade, which would have been at 6 or 7 years of age. I don’t remember stuttering in Kindergarten. But, playing in sandboxes and chasing the little girls around didn’t involve much talking. <grin>.

I began speech therapy for my stuttering in the fourth grade. All I really remember about that is having the “speech teacher” having me blow a Kleenex across the table to get me to breath “properly” I guess. Still not sure about that one. I had the usual speech therapy all though public school, once a week, an hour a week. I still remember my name being called over the P.A. system…”Bernard Weiner, you are wanted in the “speech room.” I usually tried to conveniently “forget” about my sessions with the speech therapists.

I also had some speech therapy at Wayne State University with the SLP grad students when I was in the eighth grade. There was also a few sessions with a speech therapist involving hypnosis. I just found that kind of stupid and I wasn’t very receptive to it.

In the Summer of 1965 and 1966, I attended an intensive stuttering therapy program at Camp Shady Trails, which was a speech camp run by the University of Michigan. The camp was located in northern Michigan in Northport, Michigan, and ran for 8 weeks each summer. It was at this camp that I learned a lot of different techniques to “control” my stuttering, and the goal was to get perfectly fluent by the time you went home. Oh yeah, I came home each summer perfectly fluent, which would last about two or three weeks, and then I regressed back into my old stuttering patterns. But, I still have all the techniques, and can use them when I really want to concentrate on my speech.

In the summer of 1994, I became involved in a relatively new National Stuttering Association support group in Royal Oak, Michigan. I became the co-chapter leader of this group for 10 years. I attended my first National Stuttering Association Conference in 1995, and have only missed one since then. I became a National Stuttering Association Regional Chapter Coordinator in 2004.

The National Stuttering Association is not “speech therapy” but it did more to boost my confidence in speaking situations that any previous therapy. I still faithfully attend my support group meetings, they have become a part of my life now.

Can you share a funny stuttering moment?

I’ve had a LOT of funny situations happen at the National Stuttering Association conferences. I think the funniest one that still sticks out in my mind was from a conference in Anaheim, California. On the Sunday after the conference, a group of us, about 15 people, went to Universal Studios. There was a bunch of other people from the conference wandering around the park also. At Universal Studios, there is a ride there called “E.T. Adventure” . We all figured this was a pretty tame and safe ride. What we didn’t know at the time, was that before you got in your “spaceship” to begin your journey with E.T., you had to tell your name to E.T. Well, you can imagine the look of panic on all of us since names aren’t our favorite thing to say.

Not wanting to hold up a line of people for this ride, I could hear all my friends from the conference giving fictitious names just to keep the line moving. When I got off the ride, E.T. told me, ” I hope you had a safe journey, “JOHN”. <grin>.

What advice would you give to children who stutter?

At every National Stuttering Association conference, it’s the kids that get to me the most. I can never get through the closing ceremony without shedding a few tears.

About the best advice that I can share with the children is to just consider yourself to be a “unique” person. I would tell them to look around at other children and to see that each one has something unique or different about them, whether it’s the color of their eyes, the texture of their hair, the color of their skin, or how they talk.

I would tell them that your “bumpy speech” is not a bad thing, it’s just a different way of talking. I would also tell them that they can learn to keep moving forward with their stuttering, not to let it stop them from speaking in class, joining groups, and being a “normal” kid.

And, most important, I would tell them that there are other children throughout the world that stutter that they can communicate with. They don’t have to be “alone.”

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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