Let’s Say 'Stutter'
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
This week is National Stuttering Awareness Week.
But what if I told you that during graduate school, I didn’t have a “Stuttering” course.
No, it’s true. Kind of.
In the field of Speech Language Pathology, stuttering is called a fluency disorder and in fact, the DSM-V labels stuttering as Childhood Onset Fluency Disorder. Assessments and treatment often focus around the idea of “creating fluent speech."
I was fortunate that my graduate school program had a robust fluency program. We learned not only about fluency-enhancing techniques but also the importance of counseling to address underlying feelings about stuttering. I felt confident in my ability to treat a child who stuttered to help them achieve greater fluency and more confidence in their lives.
So why was I uncomfortable saying the word "stutter"?
As a new therapist, I used the word fluency as much as I could, thinking this would make my clients and their families more comfortable. I tried to avoid saying the word stutter in therapy sessions, talking about how their child’s speech was disfluent and focusing on times their child was fluent.
Recent research indicates that, when we use the word "fluency" instead of "stuttering", we incorrectly and hurtfully imply that fluent speech is the goal. We make "stuttering" into a negative word rather than a neutral descriptor. And we are not fully inclusive of people who stutter and their lived experiences (Tichenor et al, 2022).
This is what ableism looks like.
The idea that how fluent a person is or how much a person stutters matters is an ableist mentality. It's time that we put that aside and stop implying that the goal of speech therapy is to be "more fluent."
So, listening to voices of my colleagues and clients who stutter, we are saying the word:
Read on to learn more about stuttering and please join us in spreading acceptance and awareness of stuttering this week and all weeks.
Wait -- So Does My Kid Need Therapy?
As a speech pathologist, I often work with kids who stutter.
Stuttering is a form of neurodiversity. It is not something that can be “overcome” or “cured."
So what is the goal of therapy?
To eliminate the stutter? NO
To reduce frustration and increase confidence? YES
To encourage self-advocacy? YES
To reduce moments of stuttering? MAYBE
Some clients desperately want to be able to get their words out when talking. They struggle with physical tension in their body and negative feelings about their stutter. They might even avoid activities they enjoy because of their stutter. These clients do want to reduce their moments of stuttering. They want strategies to help them talk more fluently. They want to work on their feelings around their stutter and how to self-advocate in different environments.
However — not all kids are like this! (Yet another thing that blew my mind as a new therapist.)
And as their therapist, I did not need to make my kids more fluent! Some of my clients were comfortable with their stutter – they talked confidently and had an easy, forward rate of speech. Stuttering didn’t bother them right now. Maybe the best use of therapy was to work on self-advocacy or teach a few strategies to have in their playbook for higher-stress environments like school presentations or talking on the phone.
But maybe — ahhhh wait for it —- maybe therapy was not the right choice for them at that time!
This is a crucial mindset shift for both parents and clinicians. Kids who stutter often come in and out of therapy. There will be times when they need or want therapy. And other times when they don’t.
And that’s okay.