By SUE SUCHYTA
SOUTHGATE – People who stutter have advocates Dennis and Margaret Coates in their corner as they launch a local support group chapter of the National Stuttering Association in the Downriver area.
The NSA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization encouraging and empowering children and adults who stutter, and their families and professionals, through advocacy, education, research and support.
The newly launched Southern Wayne County chapter of the NSA, formed in October for adults, meets 6:30 to 8 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Southgate Veterans Memorial Library, 14680 Dix Toledo Road.
For more information, call the Coates at 313-554-4437 or go to the Michigan website, westutter.org, or the national website, nsastutter.org.
Dennis Coates, 55, of River Rouge, who first stuttered at age 5, said when he decided last year he needed to be around other people who stutter, the NSA sent him information on starting a local chapter.
“The first time in my life that I was ever with a group of persons who stutter was Dec. 19 of last year,” he said. “I went to a Christmas party with the Royal Oak and Lansing chapters of the NSA. That was the first time in my life that I ever sat down with a group of other persons who stutter, and conversed and discussed what it is like to be a person who stuttered.”
He said the experience convinced him to start a chapter Downriver.
His wife, who does not stutter, said she learned over time to resist finishing sentences for her husband, and tries to avoid becoming defensive or protective when people are insensitive to his stuttering.
“You just learn to live with it,” she said. “But now I am really fortunate that he has found this program and we have met other stutterers, too, and they feel comfortable in themselves when they are in the group speaking, so it’s pretty good.”
As a professional counselor, Dennis Coates said he a good listener and empathetic.
“I know what it is like to have someone look strangely at me,” he said. “I haven’t had anybody make fun of me in decades, but I still get the look, especially (with) the most difficult word for which there is no alternative, ‘What’s your name?’”
He said people who stutter routinely have trouble saying their names.
He said that on his wedding day he was terrified that he would stutter saying his name, and he worried that people would laugh, thinking he was nervous about getting married, when he was not.
Ironically, he said his vows went well, while Margaret was nervous and made a mistake with hers.
“Every now and then I will have some idiot say, ‘Hey, what’d ya’ do? Forget your name?’ and I tell them, ‘No, I am a person who stutters,’ and that typically knocks them down,” he said. “I would prefer to be much ruder.”
He said it is hard to understand how much anxiety stutters have when they introduce themselves, yet he said he does not see stuttering as a disability, but part of who he is.
“There are a couple schools of thought with persons who stutter,” he said. “There are some who work to achieve fluency, and then there are others who don’t, and they just stutter. The NSA is accepting of however you want to do it.”
He said while the support group is a good place for people who stutter to practice their speech techniques and fluency, the group does not provide speech therapy.
“NSA has no position on any kinds of therapy,” he said. “We are simply here to support each other. Our motto is, ‘We speak, we stutter, we support each other.’”
He said support is the key component, not just for adults who stutter, but also for the people who love them, and educators and speech-language pathologists.
The idea of being in a room with a group of strangers can be intimidating even for people who do not stutter, Coates said.
“I make sure to tell them in our communications that you do not have to talk,” he said. “You don’t have to say a word. If you just want to sit, that is fine. I think that (there is) the fear of being among others, even though we all have the same issue.”
Dennis Coates said some people who stutter are covert, and their stutter is not obvious, while others, like him, have readily apparent stutters.
Margaret Coates wishes that people would fully accept people who stutter as individual people, and would not be afraid of the stutter.
“A person who has a language problem, it is not who they are overall,’ she said. “By being a better listener, allowing them to communicate the best they know how, and not finishing their sentences, you learn a lot.”
She said “disabled listeners,” a phrase coined by advocate and speaker Sharon Emery, a person who stutters, refers to people who can talk and hear, but who do not listen.
“A part of accepting a person, an individual, for who they are, (is) the overall component of a person, and that includes speech,” she said. “I think we are ignorant in that area.”
Dennis Coates said that people who stutter are sometimes their own worst enemy.
“I have had moments of great fluency, but in my mind, I am just stuttering all over myself,” he said. “If you are a person who stutters, come out and join us, and don’t be so hard on yourself.”