More Than Just Stuttering Pride (Elizabeth Wislar)

wislarAbout the author: Elizabeth Wislar is a person who stutters and a teacher of students with disabilities. She lives in Athens, Ga. USA with her husband, daughter and 7 pets. She loves to run, cook, read and write. She is a co-leader for the Athens NSA chapter and writes a blog about being a teacher who stutters.

Since I’ve returned from the National Stuttering Association conference I’ve found it much easier to stutter openly. I’ve stuttered openly while ordering food in restaurants and while speaking to strangers about their dogs. I’ve also used the conference as a vehicle to begin talking about stuttering with my friends and colleagues. This is sometimes more difficult than being open with a stranger. I have to say I’ve been completely blown away by the responses I’ve gotten. Every single person with whom I’ve shared, has been overwhelmingly supportive and helpful. I’ve been brought to tears by words from colleagues who I thought found me odd and my heart has exploded when talking to close friends who never felt comfortable broaching this subject.

I don’t really know why this surprises me. The people I choose to surround myself with: artists, musicians, writers, activists, environmentalists– they are all freethinkers. We are a community of nonconformists. So I can’t help but think that one reason these people accept and support me is because stuttering is subversive. It pushes against cultural norms in a fierce way. Stuttering openly and without shame attempts to transform the established social order.

I think back on most of the speech therapy I’ve received. While I may not have hated leaving class to go play games in a closet under the stairs, I definitely received a message that my stutter was bad and something that should be fixed. I felt like a constant failure because I could not seem to apply the techniques I learned in the outside world. I didn’t choose to attend speech therapy, nor was I ever consulted about how it made me feel. My parents had good intentions but they were not informed or given choices. I fear that a lot of young people experience speech therapy this way. There is no way to undo the damage this does to us. Because of my experiences in speech therapy, I felt the need to hide my stutter and live covertly. I realize now that it’s true oppression to expect us to change or hide our stutters for the convenience and comfort of others.  It took way too long to realize this was at odds with everything I believed socially and politically.

One thing that became clear to me at the conference is that people who stutter will talk for hours if they are treated respectfully. I know I’m not the only one who actually became hoarse from talking so much. One word I continually heard used to describe the experience was ‘liberating’. It’s so true! It’s incredibly liberating to talk with others who will sit and listen respectfully no matter how long you block or how many repetitions you have. We prove that this is a possible reality.

I want to continue the feelings of liberation and empowerment that I finally felt while at the conference. I want to defiantly finish my sentence even if someone has finished it for me; even if they got it right– or change the words to end it differently just to make a point. I want to allow blocks to go on longer than I have to if I see the person I’m talking to looks annoyed or put out. Or better yet, I want to let blocks or repetitions go on longer because I find them enjoyable. Isn’t true subversion finding power and pleasure in the things society finds defective? Let’s do it.

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Comments

More Than Just Stuttering Pride (Elizabeth Wislar) — 62 Comments

  1. Hey Elizabeth-great seeing your contribution this year. Your paper is so empowering and you sound so empowered by your experience at the conference. I love the way you’re sharing your stuttering with people in your world and that their responses have been so positive. Your an asset to the stuttering community. Glad to know you and glad to have read this paper first!

    • Thank you Pam. You were so warm and welcoming to me while I was going through the process of becoming overt. I have so much gratitude!

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this wonderful paper. I am so pleased that you have found your voice, and that you are now so eloquently helping me and others find theirs. I love the phrase “it’s true oppression to expect us to change or hide our stutters for the convenience and comfort of others”.

    What is your perspective on how to help those in our community for whom every word can be a struggle? Is it sufficient to encourage us to stutter openly and defiantly, or should this be combined perhaps with the right kind of therapy? Or something else? I am looking for answers to how we can bring effective help to all in our community. No PWS left behind :-).

    • Hanan,
      Thank you. That is such a great question. I think the key word you used is struggle. If someone is struggling and wants to seek help, they definitely should. That help might be traditional speech therapy, but that shouldn’t be the only option. I’d also be careful to assume that someone who has many blocks or repetitions is struggling more than someone who has fewer. Struggle is internal and personal and not always expressed outwardly. What are your thoughts?

  3. Hi Elizabeth,
    I agree with you- we need to change the way people react to stuttering as it is “liberating” to talk to others who will actually respect you and what you are saying even if there are repetitions or blocks present. Further, I wanted to ask you about your speech therapy experiences. I am sorry that the message that you got from therapy is that your speech is bad and needs to be fixed. I wanted to ask you if you feel that therapy should have addressed your feelings that come with the stuttering, rather than just on techniques to aid the stutter? Do you think if your feelings were addressed in therapy, it would have been helpful in the way you perceived stuttering? Thanks!

    • Hi shiry
      Thank you for your kind comment!
      I don’t think the speech therapists I had as a young person talked about feelings at all. I don’t remember ever being asked how I felt about my speech or about therapy. I quit therapy in 7th grade because I hated it so much and because I was gettin pulled out of art class. That was the first time my feelings were even considered. When I was in college and returned to therapy there was some discussion about how I felt. This was so much more helpful.

  4. Hello Elizabeth,
    As an SLP (and PWS), I am so happy you contributed this paper! You certainly have found your voice, and it is a powerful and empowered one. You write, “Because of my experiences in speech therapy, I felt the need to hide my stutter and live covertly.” Wow. The clinician in me shudders to read those words. I am reminded of Dr. Scott Yaruss’s observation that when we force kids to be fluent and they can’t always be, we send the unintended message that stuttering is bad, and so are you. If I might ask a question, I wonder what might have happened if your clinician had sent the message that effective communication, self-confidence, and being yourself – saying what you want to say – are more important than fluency? Kindest regards,
    Rob

    • Rob,
      Thanks for your kind words and question. I think that observation is so true.

      I can only guess that if the speech therapy I received had been more like what you describe, I’d have been much more comfortable being myself.

      I certainly hope more SLPs like yourself are able to help spread the word that fluency is not a gold standard and we need to be very careful about the messages we send young people.
      Elizabeth

  5. Mrs. Wislar,

    As a future speech-language pathologist, what would you recommend for working with a child or person who stutters? We talk immensely in our classes about how treatment must be considerate and respectful, and to not portray that the child is less of a person. However, how do you think that this could be done appropriately, if you were to receive these services again?

    I have listened to by brother, who is a stutter, speak about the consoling affects of simple listening to him as a person who stutters. He said that this is how I have helped him the most. Do you agree with this? That it is therapeutic simply to be able to express your feelings without judgement? Is that what I should focus on?

    Your recommendations are very much appreciated!
    Thank you,
    Anna

    • Anna,

      Honestly what I wish my therapists had done was actually stop working on fluency and start working on the social/emotional components of stuttering. These are things I think would be helpful:

      1. Work with the teachers to make sure they understand stuttering and how to
      accommodate a student who stutters.
      2. Help the student advocate for herself.
      3. Work with the student on talking to peers and advertising.
      4. Make sure the student and his family are informed about all the great
      organizations for people who stutter (NSA, FRIENDS etc.)
      5. Find a way for the student to meet other kids who stutter. Community is so
      important.
      6. Probably most importantly, help the student learn to find the benefits of
      being a person who stutters (see C. Constantino’s paper Stutter Gain).

      I hope this is helpful
      -Elizabeth

  6. Hi Elizabeth!

    Thank you so much for sharing. As a future speech-language pathologist, I would love to know of any suggestions you may have for speech therapists working with children who stutter. What do you think would have benefitted you more as a child receiving speech therapy? I hope to serve children who stutter in the best ways possible, and hearing from a PWS who previously received therapy as a child would be very meaningful. Another question I have is whether or not you have returned to speech therapy since receiving therapy as a child through your school. Speech therapy for adults who stutter has a very different structure and ultimate goal, so I am wondering if you have looked into returning to speech therapy, as approaches to treatment change as the PWS ages. I am also interested in finding out if you attend support groups, and if so, what aspects of these sessions are most beneficial for you?

    Thank you so much!
    Hailey

    • Thanks Hailey
      I think that making sure a child knows that there is nothing wrong with stuttering is really important. If they are older (middle or high school) then helping them learn to navigate life as a person who stutters would also be really helpful. I wish someone had helped me talk to my teachers and classmates about stuttering as well.

      I did go to speech therapy in college and it was more helpful. I learned a few techniques that I still use. Recently I looked for a therapist to help me with advertising, but I only found ones who wanted to push their favorite technique.

      Lastly, I am actually the co-leader for our town’s NSA chapter. I also participate in the Atlanta NSA meetings. What I find most beneficial is time to talk to other people who stutter.

  7. Hey Elizabeth,

    Thanks for sharing this. You are so dead on with your points. I also had that weekly experience of playing games in a room in the basement of the school and also felt very defeating when I couldn’t use those techniques outside of that room. I also agree that it was so damaging to be taught to hide something that is naturally a apart of you. Not saying that speech therapy has no value but there should be context around it. My SLP always told me to use the tools when needed but don’t use try to be fluent all the time because my natural speech pattern is a stutter and that’s ok.

    • Thanks Derek! I like thinking of it as a natural speech pattern.
      See you tomorrow!
      Elizabeth

  8. As a future speech pathologist I am very interested in your perspective on speech therapy. I’m glad that you took the time to list the things that would have been helpful to learn in therapy. I hope I can learn to apply each of those ideas.
    I hope I can help future clients found their voices as you have found yours.

    I think it’s great that there are communities that support PWS and help them find their voices. I’m wondering if there were any experiences that helped you gain confidence when communicating and openly stuttering. Did it take multiple positive experiences or was there one that stood out?

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Tali,
      Thanks for this comment and questions. Everyone’s journey is really different, but for me it was a long and varied process, that I am not at all finished with. I think the most positive experience was attending my first NSA conference this summer in Atlanta. Being surrounded by hundreds of other people who stutter was such a profound experience.

  9. Ms. Wislar,

    What a great read this paper was. I’m so glad that I was able to read this. As a second year speech-language pathology student, I felt so uncomfortable reading the line where you spoke of previous speech therapy services. Though unmatched to the uncomfortable feelings you had during speech, I can’t imagine going through that. As a future SLP, what are some ways you believe I could help a child who stutters (minus providing traditional therapy)? Is there one specific piece of advice you might give to a new clinician?

    Thank you!

    • Brittany,
      Thank you. I think the fact that you and so many other futur SLPs are reading these posts is great. If I were to give one piece of advice it would be to really listen to the children. See what it is they want.

      Elizabeth

  10. Ms. Wisler

    I so appreciate what you have shared. Your words are profound and your passion is infectious. As a future speech-language pathologist I appreciate hearing your feelings about therapy. I have sat through many sessions as an observer during my undergraduate work wondering if the person on the receiving end of therapy knew why they were there, or even what their goals were. One of my goals as a soon to be therapist is to ensure that each person understands and has a voice in the therapy process. I love the list you provided in response to another speech-path student. These are the things we are learning in class. We had a pseudo stuttering assignment that I was very grateful for because it helped me to do this with a child I work with, and help that child begin to learn to self-advocate. Stuttering is different, not wrong and children should be taught to love who they are differences and all. I say absolutely hold that block longer if the person appears uncomfortable! Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Mrs. Wisler,

    I loved reading your story! As a second year speech pathology graduate student, I was so sorry to read about your negative experiences with speech therapy. I am currently working with 3 elementary school aged children who stutter at my clinic placement. During therapy we work on voluntary stuttering and I try to create an open and accepting environment in which they can talk about their feelings. Do you have any advice for me to improve speech therapy for these children?

    Thank you,

    Olivia Hart

    • Olivia,

      Thank you!
      I wrote out some ideas in another reply a little bit before this one. I would suggest reading other perspectives in this conference as well.
      Elizabeth

  12. Hi Mrs. Wisler

    I enjoyed reading your paper and hope as a future speech language pathologist that I can make an impact in a positive emotional way on persons who stutter.

    What advice would you give to me when providing therapy to persons who stuttering, child or adult?

    Thanks, Emaly Cox

  13. Hi Elizabeth,

    As an SLP grad student I was very saddened to read you felt like a failure in speech therapy. The program I am in focuses on acceptance quite a bit. My cohort understands how important it is to focus on the social/emotional aspects of stuttering as well as working on fluency. We were even discussing earlier today some of the things that you wrote about in a previous comment. Our professor was detailing how with school age children we need to work with the parents, that we should try to educate that child’s classmates, and we had previously discussed different organizations available.

    I am very gladdened to know how much the NSA has helped. I loved your last paragraph. It shows just how proud and accepting you are of your stutter now. Your comment about your friends and colleges reminded me of a fairly well known quote. To my surprise when I looked it up it was not Dr. Seuss who wrote it but it seems to be Bernard M. Baruch, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

  14. Hi Elizabeth,

    I enjoyed reading your paper and how you described feelings of liberation and empowerment. What a great example you have set for PWS. Your words “Because of my experiences in speech therapy, I felt the need to hide my stutter and live covertly” really stood out to me. As a future speech-language pathologist, do you have any suggestions on how to help children who stutter without them feeling that their stutter is something that needs to be fixed?

    Thank you,
    Heather

    • Heather,

      Thank you. That’s a hard question. I know that other will disagree, but I don’t know that young children need speech therapy. They might need help dealing with a society that is unfriendly to their way of speaking.

      Elizabeth

  15. Elizabeth,

    I love this piece. I have really enjoyed following your journey these past few months. Your words, “Because of my experiences in speech therapy, I felt the need to hide my stutter and live covertly” are incredibly powerful to me. I have heard this time and time again – that not only was school speech therapy unhelpful but it was actually harmful. What were some of the things that you wish you were told or wish you had done in speech therapy? How do you think we can educate school-based SLP’s and parents on this pressing issue?

    Courtney
    PWS and SLP graduate student

    • Courtney,

      Thank you. It’s unfortunate that the experience I had is one you come across a lot. I wrote a reply to someone a little before this that lists some things I wish I’d been able to work on. I definitely can say in retrospect that fluency wasn’t what I needed to work on. Maybe people feel differently for very young children, but I think if a child is still stuttering at age 10 or so, that shouldn’t be the priority anymore. I think parents might benefit from reading the posts in this conference as well.

      Elizabeth

  16. Hey Elizabeth! Today four of us from the Raleigh (NC) NSA chapter in did a between-meeting speech-buddy Skype call. Your ISAD paper came up in conversation, and one member of our group observed that thanks to you, she felt “empowered by the subversiveness of stuttering openly.” I thought that was very powerful and wanted to share that with you! Thanks for being an inspiration.
    Rob Dellinger

  17. Hey Elizabeth-

    I’m so glad to hear how accepting and open you are about being a person who stutters! I’m a student at Western Carolina University and in my Fluency Disorders class we have been discussing how important it is to work with those who stutter on helping them to realize that stuttering is okay, and everyone has disfluencies. It breaks my heart that you were taught to see your stuttering in a bad light, but I think it’s encouraging for me as a future clinician to put feelings at the forefront and realize that these things stick with people forever. Your attitude is so inspirational!

    • Nikki,
      Thank you. I appreciate how much all the soon-to-be SLPs really pay attention to what we are saying.
      Elizabeth

  18. Hi Elizabeth!
    It was great to read your story. I am a first year graduate student and am currently taking a Fluency class. I know you said it’s great to be around such accepting people, and I was wondering do you see any differences in your stuttering when you are having conversations with other people who stutter?
    Thanks!
    Kim

    • Kim,

      This is an interesting question and each person who stutters may have a different answer. Personally, I don’t feel like I need to think about my speech when I’m talking to another person who stutters– even if they’re an SLP.

      Elizabeth

  19. Elizabeth,
    Thank you for sharing this story! I’m glad that you feel empowered in your stuttering.
    I am a first year SLP graduate student, and you mentioned that during therapy you felt that your stutter “was bad and something that should be fixed.” Do you have any tips for SLPs on how to not impose this message onto children, or even adults, in therapy?

    Thank you again for your story!

    • This a a great question. I am not an SLP and some people might not agree with me.

      I think the message should always be clear that the child does not need to change and that fluency is not the goal, but rather comfortable communication. This might mean working with everyone the child talks to as much as the child herself.

      Elizabeth

  20. Hi Elizabeth!

    Thank you for sharing this! I found the information about your experiences with speech therapy to be extremely beneficial as I am a first year speech-language pathology graduate student. This contribution reminded me that SLP’s need to remember the significance of covert attributes that often coincide with stuttering. Also, therapists must remember that the client’s wants and needs are extremely important when determining the course of therapy.

    Thank you,
    Ashley

  21. Hi Elizabeth,

    First off, THANK YOU for your paper. As an aspiring SLP (first year graduate student) it’s wonderful and so important and necessary for us to hear first-hand accounts from people who stutter and their experiences with it.

    I love your comment about stuttering being subversive and going against cultural norms and established social order. I’m so happy you mentioned the shame that goes along with stuttering– I think it’s SO relevant and important here. Furthermore, I think the shame itself gets debunked and loses much if not all of its weight, heaviness, and magnitude when we share the shameful pieces about ourselves openly and honestly, with calm, assured, and grounded confidence. It seems like when we stand through our shameful moments with vulnerability with courage, it somehow renders the shame obsolete, as well as inspires us all to share our own stories that we keep hidden and perceive as shameful. Although we are all beautifully unique individuals, we all share common ground in that not one of us walks on this planet without carrying something in our past or present about which we are ashamed.

    I believe that when we create that window for others to see the thing(s) about which we are shameful, they somehow lose their stigma and piercing hurtfulness that our culture and society so dutifully create around that which we shame. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    So, thank you, again, for being open about your stuttering and making it a little easier for all of us to share the parts of ourselves about which we don’t feel so great and indeed about which we are ashamed. As someone else mentioned in a previous post, I am so happy you have found your voice.

    Also, I’m sorry for the therapy experiences you experienced when you were younger. It’s really unfortunate. I was just curious– have you witnessed or been a part of any positive experiences of speech therapy, especially for youngsters, since then? As an inspiring SLP this is especially of curiosity to me.

    Thanks again for sharing,
    Lauren

    • Lauren,

      Thank you for your comments.
      I haven’t had much more experience with SLPs, but I know some great ones. I am also so encouraged by all the SLPs who have read these papers and made comments. I think things a changing in a positive direction!

  22. Hi Elizabeth,

    It was interesting to read about your experiences as a covert stutterer over the years. I think a lot of people do not realize how hard individuals who go out of their way to hide their stuttering may be struggling inside so it is comforting to hear that you are surrounded by many supportive people in your life. You make an interesting but valid point when you mention that stuttering challenges the social order and I think a lot of covert stutterers and persons who stutter in general feel that shame in a social setting with non-stutterers. As an aspiring speech language pathologist, it was hard to read about how your experiences attending speech therapy in school did not make you feel comfortable to stutter in front of others. This is a story that I will take with me as I continue on my education and career path. As facilitators of communication, I hope to teach others that there is a need to communicate and what you have to say matters.

    I really like your statement about how liberating and empowered you felt after attending the conference. I think your positive experiences of engaging with others who are patient and want to listen and hear what you have to say regardless of how you say it is uplifting to all. Thank you for sharing!

    -Samantha

  23. Hi Elizabeth,

    It is wonderful that you feel liberated and empowered and I find your positivity to be inspiring! I was sad to read that your speech therapy experience sent you the message that your stutter was bad and needed fixed. As a future speech-language pathologist, I would feel heartbroken to learn that my clients felt that way. It is upsetting that no one ever consulted you about how speech therapy made you feel. I personally feel like an important part of speech therapy is building confidence and accepting differences and I think your story really emphasizes the significance of that. Thank you for sharing, I hope your message helps people understand that we should be advocating support and liberation, not oppression.

    Thank you!
    Lauren

  24. Hi Elizabeth,

    As a first year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology, I was intrigued to hear your ideas about stuttering and speech therapy. I agree that therapy should not be about hiding or “fixing” a stutter, but rather therapy should include individualized ways to cope with stuttering and discussions about how stuttering affects daily life.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story,
    Kelsey

    • Thank you Kelsey.
      I think the emphasis should be taken of coping with stuttering and be placed on coping with they ways other people perceive and treat stuttering.
      Elizabeth

  25. Thank you for sharing your story! I am currently in grad school for Speech-Language Pathology and I am taking a course in fluency. As a future SLP do you have any tips for how I can create a better therapy environment for people who stutter? I would love to hear your response!

    • Tha is for reading. I posted some ideas back toward the beginning of the comments.
      Elizabeth

  26. Hi Elizabeth,
    I am also a first year graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP). I am very moved by your personal experiences in speech therapy. I feel as though so many SLP’s are set on “fixing” the apparent difficulties of individuals within ALL areas of the field (articulation difficulties, fluency, language difficulties, aphasia, social behaviors, cognitive impairments). As I move forward, I am realizing how much that may not be the best approach for particular individuals, especially for people with moderate-severe aphasia, fluency, and social behaviors. The aspect of “quality of life” should be taken into consideration. I am currently involved in a research project that is based on the quality of life for people with aphasia (a language disorder due to traumatic brain injury) and it is evident that this aspect needs to be more incorporated within our field. I wish your SLP from long ago, had spent more time working on self-advocacy, confidence, and acceptance with you. Perhaps if this were taken into consideration, your experience may have been better. Your experience has really jump-started my thinking about working with future clients, and I thank you for that. Is there any comments or additional advice you have for me?
    Best wishes,
    Jade

    • Jade,
      Thank you for your comments. My advice would be to keep reading different perspectives and incorporating them into your practice.
      Elizabeth

  27. Elizabeth,
    Thank you for sharing your perspective. As many others who have commented, I am also a future SLP. At my internship, it’s easy for me to become focused on making sure I’m doing things “right.” I don’t ever want to forget how important it is to consider my client’s feelings. There are a few kids who I can tell get so annoyed that they have to come work with me. I’ve decided to spend more time talking with them about what they don’t like about speech therapy and how I can make it better for them. Your post was a great reminder for me. Thank you!
    Kayla J

    • That’s great Kayla. You might want to see if they would like you to come to their classroom. Maybe they would feel better working in a more authentic environment.
      Elizabeth

  28. Elizabeth,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper and replies to questions asked. You said that the speech therapy you received in college was more helpful, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to describe this experience a little more. Did the SLP you saw then do anything that made you more comfortable than previous SLPs, and were the techniques you learned new to you, or, if not, were they presented to you in better ways?

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences,
    Autumn

    • Autumn,

      That’s a great question and I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. I think I was more ready to work on using techniques. For one, I sought it out rather than having it imposed on me. I also think the therapist was more of an equal rather that adult/child.

      Elizabeth

  29. Hi Elizabeth,
    I am a speech pathology graduate student and your message about speech therapy being perceived as negative and causing shame of your stuttering is a powerful reminder to me that as I go into this profession I need to be aware of the messages (even those unspoken) that I may be giving to my client and the way different therapies are approached. Thank you for helping to make me more cognizant of this issue.
    Wendy

    • Wendy,

      Thank you. I hope it didn’t come across that it was the only cause of shame. I got the message that stuttering was bad from many different directions, not just my SLP.
      I think it’s so wonderful that so many future SLPs are reading these papers and realizing that they need to be careful about the messages they send. Thank you.
      Elizabeth

  30. Thank you Elizabeth!
    Yes, stammering is subversive! And a little subversion of this established order will be such a good thing!
    Your paper reminded me of Did I stutter website.(http://www.didistutter.org/)
    You have rightly pointed out: All we need is people listening to us respectfully. In stead, we have been given more and more, better and better (?), therapies – client centered therapy, “programs” with life long support, DAF, FAF, masker.. what not!
    One thing I must concede – therapists are a determined lot, and very enterprising!
    In India, only 10% pws ever get to see a therapist, because of their shortage; Now, I think, may be it is a blessing in disguise?

    Thanks for your sharing..

  31. Wow, Elizabeth! This is amazing and eye-opening! I am a graduate student studying speech-language pathology, and it is invaluable information for me to read this coming from someone who has experienced it firsthand. I don’t want to be the clinician that makes a child feel like they have to be ashamed of their stutter or feel afraid to let their voice be heard. I am learning more and more about the importance of facilitating acceptance and encouraging clients to embrace who they are. I found it very powerful when you said, “It’s true oppression to expect us to change or hide our stutters for the convenience and comfort of others.” I want my clients to feel like they are able to communicate effectively and comfortably because that will satisfy them, not because it will satisfy other people! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Sierra Kamplain