Re-visioning stuttering through art (Christopher Constantino, Sam Simpson, Patrick Campbell)

constantinoAbout the authors: Christopher Constantino, CCC-SLP, is a person who stutters living in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Memphis, speech language pathologist at Shelby County Schools, StutterTalk co-host, and chapter leader of the Memphis NSA chapter. His research interests include the production of disability, counselling, and the facilitation of agency. Chris enjoys riding his bicycle.
simpsonAbout the authors: Sam Simpson is a speech and language therapist, person-centred counsellor, supervisor and facilitator (www.intandem.co.uk). She is also a part-time lecturer at University College London. Sam has a particular interest in the disability rights movement, the social model of disability and stuttering activism. She lives in South West London and enjoys the collaborative creativity of singing in a choir.
campbellAbout the authors: Patrick Campbell is a person who stammers and junior doctor living in Manchester, England. He is a British Stammering Association Trustee and an active member of the Manchester Stammering Support Group. He has an interest in how public and self-stigma intertwine to produce disability for people who stammer and how this debilitating process can be altered through a pride approach to stammering. In his spare time, Patrick is a long-suffering supporter of Newcastle United Football Club.

“How do we recognise the shackles that tradition has placed on us?
For if we can recognise them, we are able to break them.”

Frank Boas

Our thinking is often limited by the dominant discourses and narratives circulating within the societies we inhabit. The words we use are never innocent; they have histories. Every word expresses a particular perspective, value or preference as our language is wrapped up in culture and comes with contextual baggage. Discussing stuttering and fluency, for example, is never separate from an ableist view of human communication (St. Pierre, 2012). This view posits an idealised way of speaking and suggests that those who speak differently are flawed in some way. Within this context, stuttering is defined as the negative opposite of fluency. It is taken for granted that fluency is desirable and stuttering by implication is not and should be fixed.

Through repetition, these discourses start to take on the veneer of common sense. It becomes harder and harder to think outside of these boundaries. Fortunately, art can act as a friction against this discursive momentum. By allowing us to see, hear, feel, and think about stuttering differently, art can identify, challenge, and alter the baggage that accompanies our everyday language. Auditory, tactile, and visual art can accomplish this by doing away with language altogether. A picture is worth a thousand words, preciously because it does not use any. Language-based art, such as poetry and prose, still use language, but in new and exciting ways. They often make glaring our prejudices and biases and in doing so manage to free our words from their historical chains.

Three exciting examples of art that we have encountered that powerfully demonstrate the new and changing ways in which stuttering is being represented are:

Honest Speech by Erin Schick

Erin Schick’s poem ‘Honest Speech’ (2014) is a powerful, breath-taking exploration of her stuttered voice. In this medium, Erin can combine elegant language with her angry, empowered stuttered speech. Each word leaves a deep impression on the listener. When Erin explains “T-This is what I sound like when I speak for myself. This is what I sound like” the audience does not just hear the phrase; they feel it. The art form enables her message to go beyond the negative baggage of spoken language and asks the listener to re-interpret her stutter with new ideas and new meanings of authenticity. The artistic medium allows Erin to express her experience of reclaiming her dysfluency from society in a way that fluent language could not provide.

pws1Photographs of moments of stuttering by Alda Villiljos and Sveinn Kristjánsson

In 2016 Alda Villiljos and Sveinn Kristjánsson, two Icelandic artists, undertook a photograph project, which aimed to capture and celebrate the personal and often unique tics and movements associated with moments of stuttering. People who stutter all too often feel self-conscious about these physical expressions, however this project sets out to represent them through a series of strikingly beautiful black and white still images. Villiljos and Kristjánsson argue that such representation is an important means of promoting stuttering awareness and affirming the unique experience of pws2stuttering. These bold still images directly challenge perceived notions of dysfluent speech production as ugly or unattractive. Capturing individual variations of tongue, lip, face, eye and body movements in this way highlights the potential for people to learn to take pleasure in their speech, no matter its form, and challenges people who stutter to develop and celebrate their very own stuttering aesthetic.

pws3The Stammer Band at the Manchester British Stammering Association Conference 2016

Stuttering has a long history in music. At the Manchester British Stammering Association (BSA) conference, only a few short weeks ago, this history was celebrated. A ‘one-night-only’ band, composed entirely of people who stutter, played out an electric mix of songs related to stuttering. The night featured rock anthems, such as ‘My Generation’ by The Who and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, that employ stuttering to generate tension and introduce unpredictability. Stuttering is not negative in this context; indeed, these repeated staccato syllables are desirable and the songs are much better for them. The widespread positive use of stuttering in music invites us to explore how sometimes our own dysfluencies can be a source of inspiration in our voice rather than a detractor.

A further example of this is Scatman John’s original songs and unique style ‘scat-rap’, which would never have come about if not for his stutter. In his obituary, Scatman John is quoted as saying “Scatting gave me a way to stutter freely. I’m a star not although I stutter, but because I stutter. Stuttering has paid off!” Although Scatman John’s life was made more challenging and traumatic because of his stutter, music gave Scatman John a way to celebrate and harness his stuttering as a benefit, enabling him to break away from socially-conceived norms.

An important feature of art is its potential to be both challenging and accessible. You do not need an advanced degree to be moved by a dance performance or to be galvanized by a painting. In a similar way, we (Chris, Sam and Patrick) are currently editing a book that will attempt to present the social model of disability and stuttering pride in an accessible way. There is a growing movement within the stuttering community away from the entrenched and ingrained negative framing of stuttering towards the carving out of a stutter-positive position. For instance, an upcoming one day conference in London on 3rd November entitled ‘Stammering: Pride and Prejudice’ hosted by CityLit will bring together a host of speakers to debate and discuss the implications of stammering pride on speech and language therapy (both people who stammer and speech and language therapists are welcome to attend!). Increasingly, the social model of disability and other theories from disability studies are being used in order to make new meanings of our experiences and inform speech therapy. The aim of our book is to present these ideas in short, easy-to-understand chapters as the book will not be written for an academic audience, but for people who stutter themselves. The themes the book will explore are:

  • the social model of disability
  • prejudice and stigma
  • stuttering pride
  • activism and advocacy, and
  • stutter-positive therapy.

In addition to personal and reflective pieces of writing, we would like to include works of art by people who stutter of all ages that aim to reframe stuttering in positive terms. This could include pictures, photographs, poems, comic strips, short stories, or anything else you can think of. If you have a piece of art that pertains to any of these topics, especially stuttering pride and prejudice, or if you would like to create an original work that explores any of these topics, then please contact us at stammeringprideandprejudice@gmail.com. Alternatively, we are planning to tweet under the hashtag #p-p-p-pride and invite you to do the same. We look forward to hearing from you!

Links:

Erin Schick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8XOyY54-Ew

Photographs of people who stutter: http://www.boredpanda.com/i-photographed-peoples-stutters/ Photographs © 2016, images used with the permission of Sveinn Kristjánsson

To attend the Stammering: Pride and Prejudice conference please go to https://www.stammering.org/get-involved/events/stammering-pride-and-prejudice-one-day-conference

References:

Perrone, P.(1999) Obituary: John Larkin. The Independent, 23rd December 1999.

Schick, E, (2014). Honest Speech. In 2014 Button Poetry Slam.

St. Pierre, J. (2012). The Construction of the Disabled Speaker: Locating Stuttering in Disability Studies. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 1(3), 1-21.

1,039 total views, 3 views today

Comments

Re-visioning stuttering through art (Christopher Constantino, Sam Simpson, Patrick Campbell) — 24 Comments

  1. Thanks to all of you for your work in changing how stuttering is viewed in our culture. Finding different ways to help people access, experience, and understand stuttering is so powerful – especially when it’s through artistic expression. Just last night I attended an amazing performance called “Listen” put on through Gilda’s Club, a support organization for those living with cancer. The initial impetus was that those living with cancer (those with cancer, parents, children, friends,etc…) feel that many “just don’t get it.” A professional dance company worked with Gilda’s Club members to choreograph the performance and both groups came together to perform. It was amazing — and a wonderful example of how powerful art can be. So thank you so much for this piece and for opening our world to new perspectives. I’m also so honored to have been invited to be a part of both the Stammering Pride and Prejudice conference and book! Thank you so much for your passion and dedication!

    Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte

    • Thank you for the lovely comment Dori. So pleased you accepted our invitation to contribute. Art has been used in many areas of health and society to change views and opinions. Your personal example in a cancer therapy sounds like a great one.

  2. What a powerful way for personal expression and advocacy. I would like to know if any of the authors have ideas for incorporating art into therapy for elementary school aged students who stutter?

    • Hello Jennifer, We were just discussing this amongst ourselves. I’m not an speech and language therapist personally! but I would suggest asking children to draw pictures of how they see themselves and their speech may be a good way to start. Also, a few years ago now here in the UK a self-help group here helped some children to write and record songs about their stammering (http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad11/papers/adams11.html). Maybe that’s a musical minded option to think about. Thanks for the question, Patrick

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Yes, depending on the developmental level of the child I have encouraged children to draw pictures, make songs, and write poems or stories. I find this type of activity also works as a great way of externalizing the stuttering, it makes it easier to talk about for the child when they can turn it into a concrete identity that exits separate from themselves. Usually they will relate to this external stuttering with quite a bit of hostility at first but with time they can learn to cultivate compassion and maybe even some affection

  3. Hi there,

    My name is Maggie and I am a speech language pathology grad student. I think art can be such a great platform to reach out to so many different people. I actually saw this video with Erin Schick awhile back and was very moved by it. While I am not a person who stutters her passion and meaning behind her words speaks volumes to me and I am able to relate that passion in different aspects of my life. I am wondering if you have come upon any art related to child who stutter? In our class we talk about how beneficial it is for children to have a positive self image of themselves and I feel like art can be a great tool.

  4. What a wonderful presentation! I am very glad to see that there are more individuals advocating for embracing your unique abilities and adding it to your personality.

    I am a studying communication disorders at Chapman University and I am currently taking a course on Voice and Fluency.

    I do not have a stutter; however, being a non-native English speaker, I remember having to struggle with the pressures of conforming to the norm. I was made fun of for my accent and the laughter from my peers and pressure from society resulted in avoidance of conversations as well as stuttering whenever I was forced to interact in English.

    It is so refreshing to see that individuals who stutter have been able to overcome those peer pressures and use their creativity to advocate for embracing who you are. Erin’s “Honest Speech” speaks to more than just the stutterers, but also to anyone who is different from what society accepts as “normal.” I would love to hear more from Erin about her journey through stuttering and how she came to such a confident place. So many struggle under the pressure and cave to conform to the norm.

    Alda and Sveinn’s photography project is so beautiful; it is a rare moment of vulnerability that we miss out on with our naked eyes. It captures a pure moment of being. I hope there will be a continuance of these photographs in the future.

    This is definitely a resource I have saved and I would love to be informed on more creative works of art in the future! Is there something I can subscribe to so I can read, listen, and see more of these works in the future?

    • Nothing formal to subscribe to yet. However, we will be working on our book over the course of next year. I am not very social media savvy but perhaps we can find away to keep people connected. It would be wonderful to have these conversations be ongoing!

  5. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing! I am a second year SLP graduate student, and currently completing my clinical practicum in an elementary school. I am working with a couple of clients who stutter this semester, and I was curious if you had any thoughts or ideas for introducing art/drawing/painting into a therapy session for 5th graders who stutter. They are all at different stages of acceptance, but I think it would be a great thing for all of them. Do you have any recommendations of what kind of projects I should have them do that would relate to their thoughts and feelings about stuttering? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you,
    Hayley

    • Hi Hayley,

      It depends on the resources you have available. It might be fun to have them act out a play showing a bad way to treat people who stutter versus how they would like to be treated. This could be video recorded. They could also write short fiction about someone who stutters. Depending on how willing they are drawing and painting can definitely be used as well. Abstract depictions of their stuttering can be make for great conversation starters. They might be more willing to make short comic strips.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  6. Christopher, Sam, and Patrick,

    This was a wonderful, inspiring project! I am a first year SLP graduate student currently enrolled in a fluency course. We have discussed having children who stutter draw pictures during therapy as a way of understanding their feelings about stuttering. We have not, however, discussed using art for adults in therapy. This post got me thinking about how powerful this could be, especially for those who have an interest in a specific type of art, such as poetry or photography.

    Even for those who are not particularly interested in creating art, being able to see what others have created may help to promote acceptance and pride. I can also understand how some adults may feel that art in therapy may seem a bit childish. Do you have any ideas or advice on how to incorporate art into therapy sessions for adults?

    Thank you,
    Whitney

    • Whitney,

      As you suggest, everyone’s different and some adults may be more willing to engage with art than others. Something I often do with adult clients is have them engage in conversations with their stuttering itself. What would they tell it if it could manifest? This is a good starting point for imaginative work. Adults with a musical background may be willing to write songs and others could be encouraged to write poetry.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  7. What an inspiring presentation! Like some of the other commenters, I am a graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology. I had forgotten what a powerful medium art was, and your presentation reminded me. I loved watching the oral poetry by Erin Schick- I felt the power of her stutter and the power of her message. I loved the positive messages of all the art presented in this project. Thank you for the link on the children who stammer singing. Are there any other art projects by children who stutter? I live in a small town, and I think that seeing/hearing other children who stutter delivering such a positive message through song and art or any other creative medium may help them feel like they are not alone and that there are other kids like them in the world.

    • I can’t think of any other art projects immediately, but different organizations have helped supervise children expressing themselves artistically. I know at National Stuttering Association conferences and FRIENDS: The National Association for Young People who Stutter conferences there are often workshops were children can engage in artistic expression. SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young takes a very creative approach to working with children who stutter, often performing songs and theater.

  8. Hi Christopher, Patrick, and Jennifer,

    Loved reading this chain about using art in speech therapy! I am a speech-language pathology student (currently earning my Master’s!), and I’m in a fluency disorders course currently. A concept that keeps coming up is the difficult emotions that often accompany stuttering. I think your ideas about using drawing as a way to externalize their emotions about stuttering is fantastic. Younger children may have a difficult time verbalizing these complex emotions of shame, self-doubt, frustration, anxiety, and fear that they have related to their stuttering. By allowing them to manifest those emotions physically, you can sort of tap into their minds, and in turn, provide much better services. I think this might also be a great way to reinforce what you tell parents that don’t understand what their child is going through.

    Kyle.

  9. Art is a an important tool for self-expression, raising awareness, breaking stereotypes and inspiring others. All the artists mentioned in this paper were so successful at accomplishing these things! These examples of spoken word, photography, and music were very literal artistic portrayals of stuttering. Have you come across any artists that portray their stuttering through abstract means?

    • Good question Laura. I’ve seen children’s drawing and depictions of stuttering that were more metaphorical. Such as a rainy, depressing day or a scary monster used to depict stuttering. However, I do not know of any more professional artists who have portrayed their stuttering through abstract means. I’d love to know of some if anyone comes across their work.

  10. As someone who is very passionate about art and uses music as an outlet and form of expression, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Art is such a powerful form of expression. I loved that, The Stammer Band at Manchester British Stammering Association Conference sang and the incorporation of the staccato-like syllables made the music sound even better. I am currently a first year graduate speech-language pathology student and I was wondering how early could art be incorporated into therapy for children and if that should be eased into the later therapy sessions?

    • Hello,

      I’ve used art with children by having them draw pictures to convey their feelings and emotions. I’ve also had children write poems and short plays about their stuttering. A group of children can make a performance about what it’s like to be teased for the way they talk. Some kids may also enjoy writing songs or rapping about their stuttering.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  11. Hi Chris, Sam and Patrick,
    Thanks for your great outline of the different kinds of art as media for positive therapy and perspective sharing for PWS. You all bring up an excellent point regarding the power of expressive language through the medium of music, and how a stutter or a stammer may allow for a greater source of inspiration in the context of music. Repeated syllables, phrases, or even revisions within the artistic and expressive context of music can demonstrate immense passion, reflective thought, or emphatic indication of higher ideas that deserve the listener’s attention and reflection as well; as such, music certainly allows for a colorful and evocative representation of that perceived emphasis when music involves intentional stuttering/stammering.

    As a former BFA recipient in Musical Theatre, I have always intended to incorporate performance art into therapy techniques and intervention that I design within my future SLP practice, and the description of why or how stuttering can be depicted within different types of art has enhanced my understanding and promoted further creativity that I hope to employ, so thank you for that!

    The greatest takeaway that I have from this piece relates to the ability for art to transcend. To achieve this transcendence, you have all pointed out that the artist must challenge his/herself. Framing stuttering therapy and acceptance therapy in the context of challenging oneself allows for broader perspective, more coherent planning abilities, and more willingness to allow oneself to just be, with or without a stutter, however the future and any future fluency changes play out.

    Thanks again!
    Emily Schrader, Edinboro University of PA

  12. Thank you for this paper. I have long loved and valued the work of the Scatman, I appreciate the ideas here. The concept of photographing a person during the act of stuttering is a good way to recognize the beauty of this event and also as a desensitization tool.
    And I would love to be a part of a Stammer Band.
    And to have the courage to go barefoot while delivering a workshop presentation, like Chris Constantino!

  13. Yes, I too have shared the above, and even mentioned the Icelandic photo project in my paper. 🙂 Scatman John, Nina G standup comedian and other are so much more important than famous PWS who’s stutter is either gone or invisible. The more we show who we really are and what we really feel, and stutter in public, we might change the public opinion and maybe even the media projection of what we PWS are really like. My next project is to get on a TV show and stutter on national TV. 😉

    Thanks for bringing these examples forward.

    Keep talking!

    Anita Blom