Make Room For The Stuttering

Don’t You Want To Be More Fluent?

Posted on: April 24, 2017

This past Saturday I gave a presentation about covert stuttering to a group of mostly speech language pathologists and students studying to be SLPs. This was for the the New York State Speech Language Hearing Association. I spoke about my journey from covert to overt stuttering and how SLPs can best support people who covertly stutter.

There was a lot of interest in how and why I went from covert to overt and there were quite a few questions during my presentation. I also had a few activities for the group to do which illustrated covert stuttering. I quickly realized I had too much material and was going to run out of time. As the group wanted to ask questions, I allotted the last half hour for just that, and ditched the rest of my formal presentation.

An older woman asked me a question toward the end. She didn’t identify herself as a SLP, but I’m pretty sure she was. She prefaced her question with, “You’re not going to like this but . . . ” and then asked the question. She asked, “Don’t you want to be more fluent? Wouldn’t you benefit from speech therapy?”

I was kind of floored. Here I had been talking for almost 90 minutes about how liberating it had felt to finally come out of the stuttering closet and how I was happy with who I was. I responded honestly and said that speech therapy wasn’t a goal of mine. I was most interested in being a comfortable and effective communicator and that I think one can be even with a stutter. I also said that I enjoyed public speaking more than I ever have and that I think I stutter fluently and that was enough for me.

She didn’t offer a response to my response but did come up to me at the conclusion of the presentation and thanked me and even gave me a hug. As did others. That felt great. One other SLP and professor came up to me and also hugged me and said that I was “almost there” with my effective communication. That kind of bothered me, but by that point, I was feeling really good and proud about my presentation.

What do you think? Has anyone asked you if you want to be more fluent? Do you think I answered the question well?

9 Responses to "Don’t You Want To Be More Fluent?"

That question would have really bothered me too. It’s as if they didn’t really hear what you were saying. I also would have been upset about the ‘almost there’ comment. I’ve seen you present and you are there!

Hey Pam, that’s a natural question for an SLP because they are taught to “correct” it. And they often focus on physical speech impediments as the source of stuttering from what I can tell. At least as the criteria to measure fluency and improvement.

I belonged there 100% until I got to NSA conference to see people being free from stuttering even stuttering, and vice versa finding people who are “almost” fluent, but being far behind with their covert stuttering patterns.

You are delivering a very important message I believe. But for many (myself included), it takes more than one keynote to get it 🙂

Thank you!

Hi Andrey – thanks for the feedback. I understand that some SLP’s are coming from a “correction” approach, but I had quite deliberately shared that I think we need to move away from the belief that “fluency is good and stuttering is bad.” I think that’s why so many people who stutter, especially those who covertly stutter, have a such a hard time with shame and really struggle with acceptance. For me, acceptance helped me to stutter better, with less tension and struggle – therefore what I meant by “fluent stuttering.” I am glad you think I’m delivering an important message. And I agree that people need to hear it over and over, from many people, before they truly get it.

I think this is a perfect example of how people listen with their own biases and filters intact. You probably challenged a great many long-held beliefs and obviously a few struggled with the notion that “stuttering fluently” and being an e”effective communicator” are possible and compatible. I love your answer. I am also glad they could ask their questions. Clearly, you communicated an openness and willingness to listen to them as well as your own message of change and acceptance. I am sure some of them will be feeling some cognitive dissonance today!

Thanks Jenn – I definitely think I was rocking the boat a bit with some of the “old school” SLPs that were in the room. But no one left and I think we genuinely wanted to hear from each other. One SLP and professor of counseling and fluency disorders wanted to know early on what was my “aha” moment, as he said there clearly was one and wanted to know about it. I told him I was going to share that a little later in the talk but he itching to know. And he had several other good questions too. So it was his interest and that of others, that helped me see that I wasn’t going to be able to stick to script and that engaged dialogue was the way to go. He asked his questions, that spurred others and we had a good back and forth. I felt like I was “leaning in” the whole time, which may be what led to such an open conversation. I hope some of them are still thinking about it today. 🙂

I do understand speech pathologists thinking this but it was not appropriate to ask in that manner. It would have bothered me because you were obviously educating them about your journey and explaining why you chose acceptance. I have heard you speak and you communicate better than many fluent speakers I know. As you know I do believe in improving fluency but over the years I have listened to the stories of adults who stutter and their history. I believe if more education about intervention was available possibly in a more intensive manner adults would be more open to speech therapy. As usual thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. I am a SLP and I stutter but it is not my job to judge anyone.

What a patronising pratt of a professor to say that your communication skills were almost there. He was probably one of many academics who’s communication skills are not quite there! We communicate with much more than our voice and from what I have seen you have many qualities in addition to your voice Pam. Keep up the good work! cheers Steve

Hi Pam. I find your approach to stammering tremendously encouraging, being more focused on being an effective communicator than fluency, and believing it is possible to stammer and be an effective communicator. Also focusing on feeling more accepting and comfortable with your stammer, rather than focusing on fluency.

In my experience fluency techniques takes enormous effort and concentration, especially as I didn’t;t have speech therapy as a child, and can actually take my attention away from the content of what I’m saying, and the person I’m talking to. I find myself then working on three levels, what I’m saying, controlling my stammer, and dealing with any difficult feelings of my own including how I perceive the listener to be experiencing my speech, triggering anxiety. This can be exhausting!

There is a part of me, in the vein of the social model of disability which thinks, why the hell should pws have to put so much effort and time into our speech to feel it, and ourselves are ok? It is not our fault!

However, I do use speech techniques sometimes, but with the intention of making it a bit easier for me to communicate, not to be accepted by others.

Sorry to hear about the insensitive comments you received from those SLTs. Sounds very unhelpful indeed. With regards to speech and language therapist’s reactions to pws who are accepting of their speech as it is, without wanting to change it, I guess this would terrify some, as challenges their profession (particularly with regards to working with pws) and potentially their livelihoods. I recently attended the stammering pride and prejudice conference at the City Lit, London which was exploring stammering from the social model perspective. This certainly appeared to rattle some of their cages! However Sam Simpson an SLT herself was brave enough to question the whole idea of SLT for pws, as can potentially re-enforce the idea that it isn’t acceptable.

I’m not against SLT per se, it can help many, and to a degree has helped me, but having not had it until I was an adult, my speech is still far from fluent, and there’s a certain amount of that I’m working on accepting. To do otherwise is setting myself for self loathing, avoidance, and unhappiness, and the ideal of fluency is certainly not worth that!

Hi Pam, I have been giving some thought to your article and at its core it is about how you have learnt to become a great communicator as communication involves a lot more than just speech and words.
Why do we employ speech therapists when what we really need are communication therapists?
Why are we fluent when we talk to babies, animals or talk in a funny voice? Because we are focused on the communication, the words are secondary. We use expression, animation and intonation. Without the pesky detail of necessary words such as our name, phone number etc. and having to explain precisely or be politically correct our speech would flow like a river! As with other problems of the nervous system it is about how and where we focus our attention

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