Linus Has His Blanket and I Have Mine

Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts has been a pop-culture mainstay since 1950.  One of the more well-known characters is Linus and his trusty blue blanket.  Like Linus, I too have my own trusty blue blanket.  It’s a patchwork blanket made up of words such as: “the”, “like”, and the phrases “you know” and “I mean”.  I cling on to it the most when I’m in the middle of a serious block or a prolonged repetition (ex. L-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-lemon).  I’ve always known I’ve clung to my blanket during these moments, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how often I cling to my blanket.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to my sister on the phone and asked her what she wanted from Popeyes.  I stuttered on most of the words, which is a common occurrence when I talk on the phone.  Since I was stuttering a good bit, I held my blanket a little tighter and asked, “Do you want the red beans and the rice?”  as if they are two separate entities and not one unit. Once the call ended, I loosened my grip on my blanket and realized just how often I tightly hold my blanket.  My stutter is worse when I need to make a phone call at work.  It is in those conversations that I hold on to my blanket for dear life and use nearly every word that makes up my blanket.  It may not be professional or cohesive conversation, but it gets the job done.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that whenever I talk to someone face to face I hold on to my blanket a decent amount.  I use the words and phrases that make up my blanket more often than I care to admit. As if saying the words that make up my blanket enough times will cause fluency to appear like saying “Beetlejuice” three times causes Beetlejuice to appear. Alas, fluency rarely appears after I say the words on my blanket enough times, but I still use them and cling to it.  Why? I have no idea.  Maybe just a subconscious habit I somehow picked up. Maybe it’s because I don’t want my audience to see me in a moment of perceived weakness and the words on those patches are my get out of jail free cards. Maybe there is no reason to it and I’m overthinking it (as usual) in an attempt to find some sense of meaning and purpose to it.

During my second stint in speech therapy, I would always list my goals at the beginning of the semester.  Never once did I think of nor mention getting rid of my blanket.  Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t aware of my security blanket.  Or maybe I was, but wasn’t ready to acknowledge it nor let go of it.  Regardless of the reason, or lack of, I never placed getting rid of my security blanket on goal list. I accomplished all of my listed goals during that two-year stint, but I still walked across the stage with my blanket in hand.

Over the past three years, I’ve been involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and have made an infinite amount of progress in terms of self-acceptance, self-advocacy, and self-confidence with my stutter; however, I still hold on to my blanket. And maybe that is OK. Maybe acceptance is being absolutely fine with being yourself, but still wanting that comfort item to help you through a rough time.  Or maybe I’m not fully accepting of my stutter.  Maybe I keep a firm grip on my security blanket because there are times when I don’t want people to see this side of me, although I talk about this side of me a lot.  Maybe I’ll let go of my security blanket and not use the words on those patches when I’m fulling accepting.

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To The Kids Who Picked on Me Because I Stutter

Dear Classmates,

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to go to school with a group of kids who rarely picked on me because I stuttered. I thank y’all for that.  I know other people who stutter who were not as fortunate.  Who were picked on day in and day out because they spoke a familiar language in an unfamiliar accent.  Unfortunately, though, there were instances when I was picked on because of how I spoke.

Although it’s been more than fifteen years, I still remember these instances vividly.  That time in the school library.  That time in my third-grade classroom.  The times when I was made of fun behind my back.  When these events happened, I was hurt.  I was hurt because I was picked on for something I have no control over.  I was hurt because I had never experienced that type of cruelness.  I was hurt because my biggest difference was exposed without my permission.  I was hurt because I got along with everyone and I thought that was a two-way street.  These instances showed me it wasn’t always a two-way street.

Yet, these experiences gave me real-life examples of a skill my parents were instilling in me: how to forgive someone.  This skill is one the greatest things I ever learned because it is a skill that will last my entire life. Although I experienced much hurt by your actions, I experienced more peace and relief when I forgave. I could have easily held a grudge against you for the rest of my life, but I would be hurting myself more than your actions did. Instead, I forgave. It was rough a process. I wanted to harbor resentment, but I knew it wasn’t worth it.  I let myself be mad, hurt, and upset and then I forgave you.  It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I forgave because forgiveness brings peace for both parties and it takes up a lot less room in my mind and heart than resentment would.

This skill has been key in helping me grow as a person and in my relationship with others. Although I wish those times never occurred, they helped teach me an invaluable lesson. I guess hindsight, maturity, and many years of personal growth allow me to see the beauty in the pain.

In closing, no hard feelings.  I haven’t forgotten these instances because of the impact they had on me growing up, but I have moved past them.  I forgave you then and I forgive you now.

 

All the Best,

James

That One Time I Gave a TV Interview

During my senior year of college, I was the president of my university’s Catholic Student Association (CSA). As president, my duties included: give weekly announcements before dinner, serve the students in whatever way I could, be the face of CSA on campus, and help plan events, amongst other things. A week or so before finals started I was given another duty, one tahat I wanted to run away from as fast as I could: give a TV interview.

Our big CSA fundraiser was around the corner and we wanted to further get the word out to the community. So, we contacted the local news station and they agreed to run a story on our fundraiser. The day of the interview I was under the impression our campus minister was going to be interviewed. About 10 minutes before the news crew showed up, I was told the plan changed and I was going to be the one interviewed. My campus minister asked if I was OK with this audible. Honestly, I wasn’t, but I refused to use my stutter as an excuse so I agreed to do the interview.  Once I said yes, many four letter words raced through my mind. I immediately texted my speech therapist to tell her and started to do my relaxation techniques. It didn’t help.   My stutter is at its worse when I’m am stressed out and sleep deprived. So, naturally my stutter was making its presence well known with finals week just around the corner.  Mix that with nerves and only ten minutes to mentally prepare myself and I had the perfect recipe for an extremely disfluent interview.  I gave the interview and stuttered hard on what felt like every syllable of every word.  I jumped so much from word to word and topic to topic, as a means of trying to say something fluently, that I thought I sounded incoherent.

After what felt like an eternity, the interview thankfully ended and I went into the CSA building and threw myself a pity party. The guest list included: embarrassment, frustration, and anger.  Embarrassment came to the party and brought with it the feeling that my interview was so bad they may not be able to use it and I wasted everyone’s time.  Frustration brought the feeling that all of the progress I had made over the past year in speech therapy was all for not. Anger brought with it the fact that people would be seeing that incoherent mess I called an interview. Unfortunately, none of my guests brought the “magic pill” that would get rid of my stutter.  If they had, then I would have gladly taken it after the interview.  During this pity party, I remember thinking, “That was so incoherent and bad that the hopefully the news station won’t be able to use it.”   That’s when pride and selfishness made a surprise cameo appearance and brought with them the desire to put my want ahead of CSA’s need.

My pity party was short lived and once all the guests left I went back to my apartment and tried to forget about the interview. I buried myself in studying for finals and Survivor podcasts as a way to keep myself distracted.  I did not actively seek out the interview nor did I tell anyone about it.  I hoped no one I knew would see it and my interview would get lost in the shuffle of that day’s news. That was not meant to be.  The next day a girl in my physics class told me she saw my interview. I wanted to ask her a million questions about it such as: “How did I sound?” “Was I coherent?” “How long did the segment last?” Instead I said, “Oh. Cool,” and quickly shifted the topic to our physics lab final.

I’ve never seen the interview and don’t know if I want to, even though four years have passed.   Although I have made great strides in terms of accepting my stutter, I still don’t like watching videos of myself, regardless of fluency.  It’s one of those things that I’ve had for years and don’t know if I ever will be OK with watching videos of myself.  Plus, I know I would most likely re-live that pity party. That party ended four years ago and those guests are friends who I no longer associate with my stutter nor do I have a desire to re-associate my stutter with those friends.

What ISAD Means to Me

Since 1998, October 22nd is known as International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD). I didn’t know ISAD existed until late 2016/early 2017 and I celebrated my first ISAD last year. Celebrate.  It’s a unique word choice, isn’t it? For most of my life, celebrate was the last word I would associate with stuttering and definitely the last thing I wanted to do in terms of my stutter.  When I thought of stuttering words such as: different, hide, avoid, self-doubt, self-conscious, blocking, frustration, and why, amongst others came to mind.  When I listed the things I wanted to do in terms of stuttering they included: avoid the topic altogether and not talk about it.

When I went back to speech therapy, five years ago, my list of things I wanted to do changed.  Avoidance was replaced with: talking on the phone without a script, becoming a more confident public speaker, and ordering through a drive-thru, amongst others.  Words such as: hide, self-doubt, and different were replaced with acceptance, good, and me.  Yet, celebrate was still not on that list.  I could not nor would not celebrate the small victories that I had with stuttering each day.

Up until a two and a half ago, celebrate continued to not be on my word association list. That changed in May of 2016 when the word “celebrate” slowly crept into my stuttering vocabulary. I celebrated my first National Stuttering Awareness Week (NSAW) and posted a stuttering related article to my social media accounts during NSAW 2016 with the caption, “Happy National Stuttering Awareness Week!”  As a result of NSAW 2016, I started to allow myself to celebrate the small victories of stuttering.  Celebrate took on a bigger meaning in my stuttering vocabulary in spring 2017 when I began blogging about my journey with stuttering.  For the first time, I was not hiding my stutter from the world.  Rather, I was celebrating one of my differences and letting other people who stutter (PWS) know that they are not alone.  From personal experience, meeting other (PWS) is cause enough for a celebration.

Celebrate has taken on a bigger meaning for me in the past year and half.  I now lead a stuttering support group.  I talk about my stutter openly.  I write about my experiences with stuttering on a regular basis and on numerous platforms.  I have talked to numerous groups about stuttering and my journey with stuttering. I do these things because I want to celebrate a part of who I am.  A celebration that I thought would never happen.

When I look at the acronym for International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) I see the phrase “I sad” and instantly think of the Alanis Morissette song, “Ironic”.   It’s ironic because one of the things that brought me such great amounts of self-doubt, embarrassment, and at times sadness a few years ago now has brought me much joy, a great community, a passion, and another thing in life to celebrate.

I(am)SAD no longer but I am accepting and celebrating. So Happy, yes Happy, International Stuttering Awareness Day!

 

The Waterboy Drinking Game: What’s a Stutterer to Do?

 

One Saturday night, three and a half years ago, two of my good friends, Richard and Josie, and I decided to watch Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy, but watch it while playing a drinking game.  I was fine with it because why not? I had never seen the movie before and I would be able to cross it off the miles long list of movies I’ve never seen.  We pulled up the rules and one of the rules was drink everytime Bobby Boucher (Sandler) stutters.  I didn’t know Sandler’s character stuttered nor how his stutter would be portrayed, but I agreed to be the enforcer because we all agreed that I knew a thing or two about stuttering.  Richard and Josie are some of my good friends and both of them knew I was in speech therapy, but stuttering was still the elephant in the room.

The movie began and my mind was racing like Jeff Gordon driving the #24 car at the Daytona 500.  How often will Boucher stutter?  How severe is his stutter?  How will his stutter be portrayed?  Should I laugh?  Can I laugh? Am I the one who says if we can laugh or not? Do I call every minor stutter? What are Richard and Josie thinking?  Should I act like its no big deal and go along with it? Why did I agree to this?

I quickly realized that if I called every minor stutter that we would be three sheets to the wind within minutes.  Instead, I called the obvious stutters.  The repetitions the untrained ear could point out in an instant. The blocks that were as obvious as water is wet.   Every time Boucher stuttered for comedic effect, I could feel all eyes in the room looking at me as if I were the compass directing everyone through the wilderness.  While the eyes were on me, I’m asking myself, “Is it ok to laugh?” At that point in life, I had never laughed when stuttering was used for a quick laugh.  I thought it was a cheap and bottom of the barrel gimmick only the desperate used for a chuckle.  It actually wasn’t until this year’s NSA Conference that I laughed when stuttering was used for comedy.

The answer was no.  I could not nor would not laugh when his stutter was used for comedy, which was the majority of the time.  As a result, I felt an awkward tension in the air.  I felt as if Richard and Josie wanted to laugh, but wouldn’t out of respect for me.  As if I was the one who dictated what was and wasn’t funny.   During the obvious stutters and blocks, I begrudgingly said, “Drink,” while hoping this was the final drink on a stutter.

After what felt like an eternity, the movie ended.  We went on with our lives, but never talked about it.  That’s because I wasn’t ready yet.  Now I am.  Now I would’ve been ok with situation and possibly make light of it.  If I were to play the game again I may have some fun with it and call the non-obvious stutters and allow whoever I’m playing with to get three sheets to the wind.

** We were all of age that night and none of us drove home.

 

Have I Really Accepted my Relationship with the Phone?

I’ve written a couple articles about my relationship with the phone over the past year.  These articles talk about how my relationship with the phone has positively changed over the years.  Recently though, I asked myself, “Have I really accepted my relationship with the phone?”  This thought occurred to me recently when I had to make a phone call at work.

At my old job, I never did set up my voicemail.   It was on my to-do list for well over a year, but I never scratched that task off of my list. What I told others was that no called me, so why bother? What I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t comfortable with my stutter, a known fact about me, being broadcast for the entire lab to hear.  This was two years ago when I had just about accepted my stutter and was actively involved in the NSA.  But, I still wasn’t comfortable with my stutter being openly broadcast for all to hear.

At my new job, I sometimes have to call doctors to tell them test results. I try to do it when no one is in the room because I know I’m going to stutter hard on most of my words. Which leads me to ask myself, “Am I truly OK with the phone and my relationship with it?”  Yes, my coworkers know I stutter, but we don’t talk about it often. They don’t know that I’m wondering what they might be thinking about when they hear me stutter on my phone calls.
And then I tell myself, “Maybe I am OK with the phone.”  Maybe I am because I don’t avoid making those calls.  Maybe I am because I don’t try to pass those calls off to someone else. Maybe I am because I don’t use a script.  Maybe I am because I don’t beat myself up over every block, repetition, and inaudible sound I make when speaking on the phone.  Maybe I am because if someone is in the room when I make the call, then so be it.  Maybe I am truly OK with the phone and my relationship with it.

I need to constantly remind myself to celebrate the small victories.  Sometimes doing something is enough of a victory, regardless of the outcome.  With that mindset, I am truly OK with my relationship with the phone.

What Four and Half Years Can Do

“People talk without stuttering everyday. Why should I be proud of something people do everyday?”

– James Hayden circa. early 2014

                The other day I was talking to my friend and former roommate, Richard, on the phone.  We hadn’t talked in awhile, so we were just catching each other up on what we have been doing. The conversation turned to my writings and how they have been cathartic for me.  Richard said he enjoyed reading my open letters, but more importantly he liked how I was now open about my stutter.  He then reminded me of a conversation the two of us and another friend of ours had a few years ago.

At that point in my life, I was in my second semester of speech therapy and was in the early stages of accepting my stutter. Yet, I most likely would have taken a “magic pill” to get rid of my stutter. That’s because I still viewed stuttering as that annoying friend from home who I did not want to associate with nor talk about. So, the three of us were hanging out Richard and I’s apartment one night after Mass.  I had read the readings at Mass and barely stuttered, an event that didn’t occur all that often.  They both said that they were proud of me for my fluency during the readings.  I did not receive their complements well and shot back at them with the above quote.  I didn’t celebrate it because that’s what I expected of myself.  I had the mindset of “I’m in speech therapy to become fluent and I did what I was suppose to do.  Why should I celebrate?” With that mindset, celebrating the small victories of fluency was clearly not on my list of things to do.

Richard immediately shot back using an analogy from my personal life.  In his analogy, I would have been proud of that person and would have celebrated the small victory, yet I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it for myself.  I most likely mumbled some smart-ass comment and switched the topic of conversation, but deep down I knew he was right; however, I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself or others. I wasn’t ready to see and celebrate the small victories of stuttering that occur each day.

After that night, I moved on with my life and over the years grew in confidence with my stutter and ultimately myself.  I vaguely remembered the conversation, but never thought about it until Richard mentioned it the other day.  Looking back at that conversation with four and a half years of hindsight, all I can say is “Wow!” “Wow” in the sense that I can’t believe I said that about my stutter.  “Wow” in the sense of just how far I’ve come in the past four and a half years.  “Wow” in the sense of how much I’ve grown in terms of acceptance.

If the same situation occurred today, I would have said thank you.  I would have celebrated the small victory with them.  I would have been proud of myself. I would not have shot back with the above quote. I would not have been mad at them for bringing up my stutter (or lack of in this case).

I hope by sharing this story someone can have a “wow” moment.  A moment in which they can feel proud of themselves and celebrate a small victory in life, regardless of what it is.

An Open Letter to 20 Year Old Me

Dear James at 20,

You’ve been asked numerous times by numerous people, “What is your five year plan?” This is you at 25 giving you a sneak peek of what that those five years entail.  Right now, you are halfway through your college career and the second half will be a million times tougher than the first half, trust me. Oh yeah, and you are a couple weeks away from going back speech therapy.  Let’s talk about that.  I know this is the last thing you want talk about and you want to tell me off, but as you will learn it’s an important topic to discuss.

As you know, stuttering is that embarrassing friend from home that came with you to college.  Privately you can’t stand him, but you allow the two of you to be seen together publicly; however, you don’t talk about your friendship with him.  Actually, the only time you talk about this friendship is when mom and dad say, “You should see what, if any, speech therapy services USM offers or if they can direct you somewhere.” After hearing this for the past two years, you finally took those words of advice when Wayne mentioned the same thing. You emailed the speech language pathology department to appease the parents while hoping that USM could do nothing for you. Boy, were you wrong. Instead of giving you the answer you wanted, you got the answer you needed, although you don’t realize that right now, and were told you could start speech therapy in the fall. You’ve spent the past summer apprehensive and nervous about what the next few months will entail; however, you have made some progress, even if you don’t realize it yet.  Your time at camp was the first of many, many, many steps in your journey towards accepting your stutter.

Let’s jump ahead to when speech therapy begins. You are embarrassed as hell to be there and will go to the ends of the earth to make sure no one knows you are there. You will take different paths to the speech therapy building.  You will make sure the hallways in the building are clear before you go down them out of fear for seeing someone you know.  You will lie to people when they ask you what you are doing in the building.  You will lie when people ask why you aren’t free during the time speech therapy takes place.  You will lie to your friends about where you are going.  You will avoid rooms because you see friends in those rooms and are worried about what they will think of you being in speech therapy. You do all of this because for so long you have put on a mask of being OK with your stutter when in reality the face behind the mask has not been OK with his stutter.  Now the face behind the mask is trying to be OK with it and his pride doesn’t want anyone to know the mask was there. This will be a rough process. But it’s worth it.

In your first semester, your speech therapist will tell you about this thing called the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and how they have meetings all over the country.  You look into it and see that there is a chapter back home, an organization and chapter you ignore for two years.  You don’t tell anyone that the NSA exists and you use every excuse in the book to justify to yourself why you shouldn’t go.  Hate to break it to you, but those reasons are B.S.  Your reasons for not attending NSA meetings have nothing to do with the lack of parking, dealing with traffic, or any of the other excuses you use.  You don’t go because you are not at the point of owing and accepting your stutter to yourself, much less to others.  And that’s OK.  You will go when you’re ready.

During your two years of speech therapy, you will learn and re-learn many techniques to reduce stuttering and increase fluency. More importantly, the mask slowly comes off. You begin to accept and become confident in your stutter, which leads to a more confident you.

A few months after graduation, you move to a new city for your job and decide to check out this NSA thing again. You see that there is an NSA chapter in your city. The chapter happens to meet right up the street from your apartment complex, so you decide to check it out. You go because you want to see what it is all about, but more importantly you want to see for yourself if the whole acceptance thing is real.  It is. The NSA does many great things for you and eventually the people in it become your stamily (stuttering family).  You eventually take over that chapter you ignored for two years. Being a member of the NSA gives you opportunities to openly talk about stuttering with others.  In turn, you are now way more comfortable talking about stuttering on social media and in everyday conversation. One of the craziest things that comes out of this is that you write a book about your experiences with stuttering.  Call B.S. all you want, but its true.

Walking back into that speech therapy room was the best decision you’ve ever made.  You no longer wear a mask of being  OK with stuttering because the face behind the mask has accepted and is OK with his stutter. In the words of Rudy Francisco, “You don’t have to believe me, someday you’ll see for yourself.”

 

Yours,

James at 25

To the Person Who Accused Me of Lying Because I Stutter

Dear Jenna**,

I doubt you remember this incident, so let me quickly recap it for you.  It was a weekday night back in early 2008. I was a freshman in high school and at this point in my life I no longer considered myself a person that stuttered. Although I no longer used stutterer as an identifier, there were extremely rare occasions when I did briefly stutter.  This is one of those times.  You called our house because you were mad that my sister didn’t want to work with your daughter on the middle school science fair project.  Really? Didn’t you have more important things to worry about?  Anyway, you called and I answered the phone.  At the sound of hello, you asked if my mom was home.  I said, “No.” You then asked if she had her cell phone with her. I responded by saying, “No, she left it at home.”  During that brief conversation, I stuttered on some word(s) and/or syllable(s).  Instead of being a mature adult about the fact that I, a fourteen-year-old, stutter, you accused me of lying.  You equated stuttering with lying, a stereotype I didn’t know existed until that moment. I’m sure I shot back at you that I stutter and I wasn’t lying.  I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went, but I remember being a mixture of shocked, upset, and pissed off when I hung up the phone.

When my parents came home, I told them what happened and to say they were mad would be like saying the Golden State Warriors are a good basketball team. The next day, my mom saw you at school and explained to you, in not the nicest tone, that I was not lying, but rather I stutter. I wasn’t there to witness this and I wish I was, but maybe my mom wanted to protect me even further from you. When I returned home from school, I was greeted with a message from you apologizing for accusing me of lying.  After I heard the message, I moved on with my life; however, I didn’t forget about the previous night’s conversation.

Ten and a half years have passed since this incident, yet I still vividly remember it and the emotions that came with it.   Being picked on by other kids in my class was one thing, but to be picked on by an adult was something completely.  This incident threw fourteen-year-old me into a tailspin. I never expected this type of treatment from adults. At the time, I didn’t know adults, especially a mom, could/would pick on a child in a non-kidding way.  I didn’t know I didn’t know that people equated stuttering with lying.  I didn’t know that negative stereotypes of stuttering actually existed.  I didn’t know adults could and would be cruel to a kid over something they couldn’t control. I learned some rough but needed lessons that night.

When I look back at the incident, I know the person I am today would handle this conversation different than fourteen-year-old me did. I would explain to you that I stutter and that I stuttering does not equate to lying. I would use this as an opportunity, no matter how brief it might be, to educate you about stuttering.  I also would greet the conversation with a sense of understanding because you may have never met a person who stutters and don’t know how to respond.  I would have hung up the phone mad, but I more importantly I would have experienced the peace knowing that I just advocated for and educated someone on a topic I am passionate about.  Fourteen year old me handled the conversation the best way I could and for that I own, accept, and don’t apologize for.

In closing, I just hope the next time you an encounter someone who stutters you greet them with listening ear, instead of judgmental words. More importantly, I hope you have grown and learned from this incident. I have.

 

Sincerely,

James

 

P.S. I was lying. My mom had her cell phone with her, but I didn’t want to subject her to your nonsense while she and my dad were out getting Popeyes for the family.

 

** Name changed

Siri, Alexa, Automated Systems, and Stuttering

Siri, Alexa, and similar automated voice systems are becoming, some may argue that they have become, modern day conveniences. As a person who stutters, Siri and Alexa are modern day inconveniences. Frustration mounts when I ask Siri for directions to a friend’s house or ask Alexa for tomorrow’s weather forecast, but are told to repeat it or get a different answer because Siri and Alexa hear my stutter and not my question.  I instantly become aggravated whenever I call a business’s phone number and have to go through a twenty-layer automated system before I even have the chance to talk to another person.

I don’t consider myself a jealous person.  Never once have I been jealous of someone’s fluency, but I am jealous of the fluency in which most can use Alexa, Siri, and other automated systems.  How someone can fluently dictate to Siri a text message or ask for an alternate route when traffic is backed up on the interstate.  How one can ask Alexa who won Survivor: The Amazon (Spoiler Alert: Jenna Morasca in a 6-1 vote) or to order a book from Amazon. How a person can respond to an automated system with, “Four, two, more information, yes” without even thinking twice.

As these technologies and similar ones become as common as AC in cars and sliced bread, more is needed for PWS.  As a person who stutters, I ask Siri and company to hear my question and not my repetitions and blocks. In return, I will do my best to not avoid you at all costs, while also using you with a sense of understanding.  I know this will be hard for y’all, but it will be hard for me as well.  All I ask is that we try.