Stuttering Gain (Christopher Constantino)

constantinoAbout the author: Christopher Constantino, CCC-SLP, is a person who stutters living in Memphis, Tennessee. He is PhD candidate at the University of Memphis, speech language pathologist at Shelby County Schools, StutterTalk cohost, and chapter leader of the Memphis NSA chapter. His research interests include the production of disability, counseling, and the facilitation of agency. Chris enjoys riding his bicycle.

Stuttering Gain

[1]

The ability to foster stuttering pride comes down to one very simple question: do we gain anything from stuttering? Instead of saying that stuttering is OK, can we bring ourselves to say that stuttering is good or advantageous? What experiences do we have access to that fluent people do not? What would we lose by ceasing to stutter? No doubt, this is a hard project. All our lives society has taught us that stuttering is worse than fluency. Stuttering is defined as a disordered form of fluent speech, speech that fails to achieve some predetermined percentage of fluent syllables. However, this is a false dichotomy. Yes, fluency is more common. Yes, stuttering can be hard. Blocking is tough. Getting stuck is frustrating. Nevertheless, stuttering is so much more that our disfluencies. Professionals and the general public talk about our speech as lacking fluency; instead, we should talk about our speech as gaining stutters. Until we have a reason to stutter, until we are able to say that we choose to stutter freely and openly because it benefits us, our speech will always be defined as the negative opposite of fluency.

Although this may be difficult, it is not as ridiculous as it sounds. We start by insisting that the difference between stuttered speech and fluent speech is qualitative, not quantitative. Fluent speech is not the normal form of speech from which stuttering detracts. Stuttering is not merely a less fluent or more disfluent way of communicating. It is an entirely different way of communicating. The difference between stuttering and fluency is not a matter of quantity of disfluency; rather it is in the quality of experience. The experience of stuttering, the effort, the unpredictability, the movement of tongue and lips, the flood of memories, the quickening of pulse, this is all so much more than part-word repetition, prolongations, and blocks. The experiences we have while stuttering are something fluent speakers do not have access to and I am glad to have them. Stuttering adds to our speech.

What strikes me about our stuttering is its ability to disrupt the expected flow of a conversation. Much of human communication is routine and automatic. People speak without actually saying anything, they engage in a ritualized exchange of mundane phrases in a rehearsed rhythm that requires little thought. Speaking is used to keep others at a distance rather than to bring us closer together. Heuristic phrases and trite clichés turn potentially new and exciting situations into familiar and rehearsed routines. We would rather act out a routine, “Hi, how are you,” than actually speak to someone.

Luckily for us, stuttering shatters this ritual. The irregular rhythms of our speech allow for open and honest communication unburdened by meaningless, stereotyped phrases. When people speak to us, it breaks them out of their routine. They cannot anticipate our responses. They hear our words more clearly than the words of fluent speakers because they are less predictable. Our stuttering introduces novelty and excitement into conversations making them instantly more interesting and memorable for our speaking partners. This is something we gain by stuttering.

The unexpectedness of stuttering forces both listener and speaker into a space of trust and vulnerability. They must both give up control of the situation. The person speaking does not know when and for how long they will stutter. Likewise, the person listening does not know when to expect a stutter. In order for both people to communicate, they must trust one another. This ability to make normal, everyday conversations intimate and sincere is unavailable to the fluent speaker. While talking about the weather, we bare our souls. While stuttering on our names during a handshake, we change an introduction into an intimate moment of vulnerability – the handshake becomes a hug. Fluent speakers do not have access to that. Just by saying hello, we deeply connect with another person.

Every moment of stuttering is an exercise in trust, a verbal trust fall. We are asking the person we are speaking with to catch us. When they do, we build trust and strengthen the relationship. Luckily, if they happen to let us fall, we do not hit the ground. We may get embarrassed, but we will not get hurt. Vulnerability does not come without risks. In order to be truly vulnerable we must take a chance. Fortunately, with stuttering the rewards greatly outweigh the risks. The risk of stuttering and not being listened to is a funny look. The reward of stuttering and being heard is a deeply intimate connection with another human being. I encourage us to take this risk.

Our stuttered words carry more weight than our fluent words. Their irregular rhythm makes them memorable. Our pauses, hesitations, and silences carry semantic weight; they are meaningful and purposeful. They say, “I am not perfect.” They say, “I take risks.” They say, “I trust you”. They say, “Uncertainty is ok”. The silence of stuttering should not be viewed, “as a lack, an absence, or negation but rather as an important and even vital aspect of the fabric of discourse” (Mazzei, 2007, p. xii). This silence can be both humbling and strong. This silence is not simply what happens when we stop talking. It has a function. There is a beauty in this silence. It is the beauty of words not yet spoken. The beauty of an unsung song, a not yet painted picture, “the all-permeating silence of unwritten poetry” (Picard, 2002, p. 68). In the silence of our stuttering is the potential of what is yet to come.

We express “as much by what is between words as by the words themselves” (Merleau-Ponty, 1960/1964, p. 45). By what we do not and cannot readily say, as by what we say. This silence gives the words we do manage to say more meaning, it acts as the negative space around which our words are shown in stark relief. Our silence is “pregnant with what is to be said but cannot be said, just yet” (Mazzei, 2007, p. 35). To stutter is to impregnate our pauses with meaning and to give our words greater value. Fluent speakers do not have access to this. This is something we gain by stuttering.

All we have to do to make a profoundly humble and vulnerable connection with someone else is to speak and to stutter. Our stuttering is an open door, an invitation for others to relate to us in ways they would be unable to if we did not stutter. Our stutters allow us to build deeper and more personal connections than we would be able to as fluent speakers.

I have had many deeply personal conversations with other people because my stuttering allowed them to feel comfortable talking with me. They have explicitly told me that my stuttering has made me approachable and relatable. Listening to me share my stutter with them allows them the space to share personal stories of their own with me. I once met a man with a family history of a certain mental disorder who was terrified he may have it as well. He said he overanalyzes every odd or paranoid thought he has, ever vigilant of signs and symptoms. He told me that because I stutter maybe I understand what it is like to grapple with a stigmatized disorder. We talked for hours and I made a connection I would never have made had I been fluent.

People have related my stuttering to their own struggles with race, sexuality, and gender. On a plane flight, a woman sitting next to me heard me stutter to the flight attendant. She asked me what stuttering was like and then shared with me some of her own tribulations. I have had people share intimate details of their lives without having to prompt or ask them. They hear me stutter and they know it is safe to open up and be vulnerable. I have come to know people better than I ever could have as a fluent speaker.

Perhaps most of all, if I did not stutter, I would not have had the pleasure of meeting all the lovely people in the stuttering community. The conversations I have at conferences and support group meetings change my life in profound ways. I have been to very few places where I have felt the kind of love that I feel around other people who stutter. What we have in our communities is special. It is valuable. My relationships with my stuttering friends make me a better person. Stuttering has given me friendships, it has given me opportunities, and it has brought me to places I never thought I would be.

Our stuttering is beautiful and powerful. We must encourage each other to keep on talking in spite of our difficulties. One percent of the population stutters. That is a lot of people. Yet we hear very little stuttering in our everyday lives. That is not because people who stutter are not out there, it is because the people who stutter who are out there are not talking. Every time we stutter, we make it a safer place for those people to talk. Every time we stutter, we show someone else what stuttering sounds like. Every time we stutter, we show someone how smart and funny people who stutter are. Every time we stutter, we make it easy for another person to stutter.

Stuttering pride means demanding recognition for what our voices add to the conversation not for what they lack. However, only when we come to value stuttering will our stuttering pride position become coherent. Other people will not value our stuttering if we cannot value it ourselves. Every time we stutter with a smile, we help spread our message. This will not be easy. Nevertheless, we assuage some of the difficulty when we are able to define what we gain from stuttering. Our stuttering offers us a richness of experience that we would be missing out on should we speak fluently. Our stuttering allows us to be vulnerable and intimate in ways that fluent people cannot be. It allows us to build relationships and communicate in ways that fluent people cannot communicate. Stuttering impregnates our silences with meaning and makes are words stand out. Stuttering makes our voices unique and one of a kind. Stuttering enhances communication and friendship in ways unavailable to the fluent speaker. What does your stuttering do for you?

References

Bauman, H.-D. L., & Murray, J. J. (2014). Deaf gain: Raising the stakes for human diversity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Bauman, H.-D. L., & Murray, J. M. (2009). Reframing: From hearing loss to deaf gain. Deaf Studies Digital Journal, 1(1), 1-10.

Mazzei, L. A. (2007). Inhabited silence in qualitative research: Putting poststructural theory to work (Vol. 318). New York: Peter Lang.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1960/1964). Signs. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Picard, M. (2002). The world of silence. Wichita, KS: eight day press.

 

[1] I am indebted to Dr. Beth Bienvenu (personal communication, May 15th, 2016)  of the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the Deaf community (Bauman & Murray, 2014; Bauman & Murray, 2009) for the succinct phrasing of “Stuttering Gain”

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Comments

Stuttering Gain (Christopher Constantino) — 47 Comments

  1. Wow! What a great perspective. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving us something to sink our teeth into about stuttering pride. I absolutely love the notion of “gain.” I couldn’t help but think, as I read this, how similar some of your points are to those I share in my paper about what if I woke up and didn’t stutter anymore. I too talk about the intimate connections we make. It is so true that we have much to gain from our stuttering. Two years ago, for this ISAD conference, I did a video and titled it “Be Memorable.”
    Stuttering affords us the opportunity to be memorable and that’s a good thing in today’s fast paced world where people barely know how to communicate anymore. We have something that makes us truly unique.
    Thank you for articulating this so well.

    • Well said Pam, communicating with a stutter is a sure way to have a memorable voice. Before cell phones, I used to call one of my good friend’s home to speak to him. Often his father would pick up, he’d say “Hello” and I would intend to introduce myself but all I would get out was the sound of strained vocal folds. He’d know exactly who it was and before I could finish my greeting he’d say, “Ryan, Chris is on the phone.”

  2. Hi Chris — I don’t want to speak for my son, but I will anyways :-)) I know that stuttering has made him a better person. He is the one people go to with their own challenges and because of that, he has learned compassion and how to establish boundaries (He’s learned that some people get a bit stuck in their challenges and there’s a limit to what he can do for them). He isn’t part of the stuttering community (and sometimes I wish he was as he would gain so much, as you and many others have) but he is immersed in his community as a junior in college studying astrophysics and having a blast (pun intended). For that we are thrilled. I would not have envisioned this 10 years ago when he most often chose not to speak to anyone. As an advocate for parents with children who stutter as part of my Voice Unearthed work, my focus is to help parents support their kids in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the challenge. I believe that much of the speech therapy done with kids today does just that — it adds layers of anxiety around communication. There are so many things speech therapists, parents, and other adults can do to keep kids talking and minimize the the exacerbation of the challenge – meaning not just the overt behavior, but the negative internal messages that contribute to one not fully living their lives. The irony to that is often this leads to less speech tension. I think this is where we can bring together the seemingly conflicting notions of telling a child that it’s really okay to stutter and to be proud while and at the same time, enlisting support that minimizes both the covert and overt behaviors and long-term impact without focusing on fixing. Do you agree?

    • I do Dori…In my PhD work I’ve been trying to develop I concept I call spontaneity. The idea is to have a construct describing our speech that doesn’t defer to fluency as the gold standard. People who stutter often do struggle to speak, but I would like to suggest they struggle not because they aren’t fluent, but because their speech is effortful and difficult regardless of fluency. That is, their speech is not spontaneous. Fluent speech can also lack spontaneity. Spontaneous speech is characterized by effortless production, little premeditation, and is enjoyable/meaningful, regardless of the presence or absence of stuttering. The idea is that it is possible to stutter spontaneously as well as with effort. It is also possible to speak fluently spontaneously and with effort. I think, by shifting the focus from fluency to spontaneity, we can come to value our stuttering while acknowledging the struggles that it sometimes brings.

  3. Hello Chris,
    I’m a fellow SLP who stutters (SLPWS? How’s that for an unwieldy acronym?!) Your paper gave me a lot to think about. “The difference between stuttering and fluency is not a matter of quantity of disfluency; rather it is in the quality of experience.” That is a real gem, and something I wish every SLP could recognize and understand. The distinction is absolutely critical in helping people become the best communicators they can be. I’m going to recommend that every SLP in my district read your paper. I hope our paths will cross before too long. Kind regards,
    Rob

    • Thank you for the kind words Rob. I am glad you found the paper helpful. Hope to meet you soon.

  4. This may be my favorite post in this conference. The idea that other people will not value our stuttering if we cannot value it ourselves is so important and seems to me to be at the heart of the stuttering pride movement. This idea goes so far beyond mere acceptance. Finding the positives may be really hard for some of us especially if we have had many unpleasant experiences talking to people in the past.‘Trust fall’ is such an apt analogy. Do you think speech therapy could be used to help people get to a place where we could work on learning to value our stuttering and begin to trust others?

    • I sure hope so. I see that as primary and integral goal to the therapeutic process.

  5. Hi Chris – this is such a wonderful perspective on stuttering. I thought you might like to know I’ve just used your paper within a therapy session with a young person who stutters. It led to a great discussion and lots of thoughts about what she herself has gained from her stutter. We will be exploring the concept of gain further together!!!

    • That’s wonderful! I’m glad you both found value in it. It can be so liberating to realize that we can embrace that which we’ve been trying to suppress. I’m excited for young people to take these ideas to new places.

  6. Hi Chris,

    I am so inspired by your perspective and knowledge on stuttering. I am a second year graduate student in a speech-language pathology program and must admit that before entering the program, I knew very little about fluency disorders. My very first clinic assignment was with an adult fluency client and I remember my supervisor reminding me at every meeting to instill the idea that “stuttering is okay!” in my client’s mind and that it should be the theme of our therapy sessions. I understand, now that I am further into my program, how important increasing confidence and perception of self is when working with clients with communication disorders. This comes with teaching that “stuttering is okay”, but teaching that “stuttering is MORE” takes it to another level. As user Elizabeth Wisler mentioned, your positive and inspiring perspective goes far beyond acceptance.

    I am interested in learning about how you came to develop such an insightful perspective on your stutter. If you feel so inclined, I would love to hear more about your journey that led you to where you are today.

    Lastly, as I have progressed through the Master’s program, I have had time to reflect on my practice as a graduate student clinician. Connecting with classmates who had more experience in this area than I did and participating in my Fluency Disorders class gave me a lot to think about in regard to how I approached treatment in my first semester! However, I cannot express how your paper has touched me and influenced the way that I will think about and approach fluency disorders as a clinician moving forward. Thank you.

    • Hello,

      Thank you so much for sharing, I am very grateful for your comments.

      My journey with stuttering has not been one of linear progress over time. I struggled terribly as a child up through adulthood and still do struggle. I received some therapy in early grade school but soon dropped out because I did not think it was helping nor did I like being pulled out of class. My primary coping mechanism with my stuttering was to try to avoid stuttering as much as possible and to grin and bear it when I couldn’t. As I aged, my speech become more and more effortful and my avoidance behaviors more and more convoluted.

      In high school, moved by a plea from my grandmother, I went back to speech therapy. I do not think I was ready or mature enough to tackle a lot of what was going on with my speech at that time but this therapy did plant the suggestion in my mind that stuttering might be ok and that desensitization activities (such as voluntary stuttering) might be beneficial. This therapy did not last long because I was soon off to college.

      Any progress I had made in high school was neglected as I went through college; with the exception of some increase in confidence. I still struggled quite severely and avoided a lot. Things kept on like this until graduate school in speech pathology.

      My first clinic placement was in an inpatient hospital setting. I was doing bedside examinations of new patients’ ability to swallow and safely ingest food by mouth. All well and good, except that I couldn’t communicate with my patients! I would walk into the room, go to the edge of the bed, open my mouth…..and block….and block….and block. My struggle behaviors were so severe that it would take me several minutes just to introduce myself. On top of this was my avoidance: I couldn’t make eye contact, admit that I stuttered to the patient, or say certain words. Needless to say, I was not doing well in my clinic placement. This led to perhaps the first time in my life where my stutter was actually preventing me from doing something I wanted to do…the proverbial rock bottom.

      I took a good hard look at my stutter and thought to myself….what can I do? I had always avoided seriously working on my speech for fear of failure but now I didn’t have a choice. I started with something easy; I thought that I could make eye contact. Once I was consistently doing that I thought I could probably tell my patients that I stutter. One step at a time I started looking at what I was doing while stuttering. I would pick something small and easy to work on and go from there. I slowly started to peel back all of the struggle and avoidance behaviors.

      Over years and years, this has led to where I am now. I am the first to admit that in the midst of my struggling and avoidance a stutter positive perspective would have been very difficult to cultivate. I still stutter quite a bit but the difference between now and then is night and day. My speech, though disfluent, is often spontaneous, that is, I am usually able to say what I want when I want without thinking about stuttering.

      I have put enough distance between where I am now and where I was that I am now able to see my stuttering differently. Since I am not thinking about how to not stutter while speaking, my cognitive resources are freed up to do other things. I am able to observe my stuttering’s effects on others. I am able to offer my stuttering to them, to share it with them. I am now more able too openly and comfortable stutter. I can delight in the surprise of an unexpected stutter or find humor in a particularly goofy manifestation of one. These experiences have all led me to see my stutter as a valuable part of myself, something that adds rather than detracts from my speech. I still have moments struggle and avoidance, the difference is that now I also have moments of joy and delight.

      I hope that with good role models and good therapy, others won’t have to take the long, lonely road I did. Perhaps they can learn what they gain from stuttering without having to first be almost silenced by it.

      Thank you again for your thoughts,

      Chris

  7. Chris,

    I loved reading your post! Your paper has been one of the most insightful I have read thus far. As a future SLP, I know this perspective is one that I will use with fluency clients. How old were you when you gained this insight and realized the communication gain that stuttering gives you? I am working with a 4th grader now who seems like he couldn’t care less that he stutters. Although I suppose his lack of caring is better than being upset by his stutter, I would love to share this idea with him to try to open his eyes to all that can be gained by learning to appreciate his stutter. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom!

    • Hi Kelsee,

      Thank you for your comments. I shared a bit of my journey with the poster above you. Unfortunately, I was well into my adulthood before I starting cultivating a stutter positive point of view. However, it is my hope that with the right role models and good therapy people who stutter can get there much sooner!

  8. Chris,
    This is amazing. For those of us who have reached a certain place with stuttering, it resonates like few things I have ever read. What would you say to someone who was in a different place with their stuttering, who told you, “You are crazy. I hate my stuttering. It just tells people that I am nervous and incompetent.”

    • Hi Dr. Klein,

      Your comment is well received. The point of my paper is not to suggest that we cannot or should not struggle with stuttering. Many people do struggle greatly, myself included, and their experiences must be valued and taken very seriously. I would say to someone who is struggling that the presence or absence of disfluency and the effort involved in speaking are two different things. It is possible to struggle and stutter but it is also possible to stutter spontaneously. Likewise, it is possible to be spontaneously fluent but also to speak fluently with a great deal of effort. My point is not that stuttering never leads to struggle and negative consequences but that it does not have to. Stuttering can take on other meanings that add to our lives rather than detract from them. While one does not have to speak effortlessly in order to gain from their stuttering, I imagine that the more one struggles to speak the more difficult it would be for these new meanings to manifest.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

  9. Hi Chris, I enjoyed reading your article. My questions are when did you realize that stuttering isn’t a disadvantage, and did the type of community where you grew up in impact your stutter.

    • Hello!

      My stuttering and I do not live in perfect harmony. I still struggle daily with avoidance and effortful, struggled speech. However, I have come a long way with my stuttering. I would say my attitude and speech has changed greatly over the last 7 years, from my early to late 20’s. And yes, I think being around supportive people who understand stuttering was certainly a blessing in my journey.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  10. Hi Chris,
    I am an SLP graduate student about to graduate and go out into the field. Thank you for your paper and point of view that you shared with us. That being said, How can listeners and SLP’s assist others in the acceptance of stuttering and deeper conversation?
    Thank you,
    Chelsea Jones

    • Hi Chelsea,

      I think simply by having these conversations with people who stutter. SLP’s are in a unique position because people who stutter come to them specifically for help with their stuttering. However, even the average listener has much to offer. I can’t speak for other people who stutter, but I find it so relieving when others acknowledge my stuttering with respectful curiosity. When I tell someone that I stutter and they respond with, “what’s that like,” I feel like I’ve won the lottery. Usually people downplay your comment, “You don’t stutter that bad,” tell you about their uncle who cured their stuttering by drinking spoiled lamb milk, or just don’t know what to say. I find an attitude of respectful curiosity very conducive to sharing and deep conversation.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  11. Hi Christopher,

    I enjoyed reading your article, thanks for sharing! Do you believe that the fast-pace of our world has an key role in the negative outlook of stuttering? With the need for quick answers at our hands, I wonder that the impatience will only become worse.

    Thanks,
    Emma

    • Hi Emma,

      That’s a good question. Perhaps a study of perceptions of stuttering over time could attempt to start answering it. Society seems to be becoming increasingly more receptive of difference and diversity. I hope this offsets any additional pressures put on us by the increased pace of life!

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  12. Hello Chris,

    Thanks a lot for your paper, and for the fresh perspective. There are a number of things that I agree with, and that are helpful reminders to me: Yes, we must encourage each other to keep on talking, and I really appreciate what you write about “Every time we stutter, we make it easy for another person to stutter”. There is certainly no need for us to hide our stuttering.

    However, I am perturbed by many of the generalizations that you made in your paper, and the way in which you seem to imply that PWS are in some ways better that people who don’t stutter. For example, you write that “Our stuttering allows us to be vulnerable and intimate in ways that fluent people cannot be. It allows us to build relationships and communicate in ways that fluent people cannot communicate”. On what basis are you claiming this? What is the research that supports such a general statement? I think that there is no evidence whatsoever that people who stutter can be vulnerable and intimate in ways that fluent people cannot. At our conferences, or when we speak publicly about our stuttering, we have wonderful opportunities to be vulnerable and intimate, but that does not mean that people who don’t stutter do not have that kind of opportunity, or do not have the capability to be just as vulnerable and intimate as us PWS.

    You write that “Stuttering impregnates our silences with meaning and makes are words stand out”. Here, too, there is simply so evidence to support such a claim, when that claim is being made in contract to non-stuttered speech. Good speakers use pauses, gestures, different timbre etc. to make words stand out, whether those people stutter or not. Many people who don’t stutter manage just fine to impart meaning to their words, and make them stand out. The statement “Every time we stutter, we show someone how smart and funny people who stutter are” strikes me as absurd in the extreme. Really? Every time I stutter I show someone how smart and funny I am?

    To be clear, I am grateful for what stuttering has given me: I have met wonderful people around the world, participated in and presented at conferences. What we have in our communities is, indeed, special. “People who stutter supporting each other” was one of past ISAD themes. And I agree, those experiences are valuable. I agree too that stuttering has given me/us opportunities, although I could just as easily claim that, for anyone, opportunities are out there waiting for us to recognize them. If I was a person that did not stutter, I would have other opportunities, and they would be equally as valuable. Value is what we make of the opportunity.

    There is much that I value in your writing. The vulnerability that we practice when we stutter openly can certainly enhance communication. However, it is not guaranteed to do so, as your paper implies. The quality of the discussion depends very much on the partners to it. The fact that I stutter does not automatically force my conversation partner and I into a space of trust and vulnerability. Neither does the lack of a stutter preclude a fluent person from the experience of trust and vulnerability in a conversation.

    Plenty people who stutter engage in heuristic phrases and cliches. This is common to human communication. Sometimes it’s without substance, and sometimes it can serve as a wonderful icebreaker.

    When you write about PWS having access to experiences that people who don’t stutter, you create an Us-and-Them divide. This is not beneficial. We are not better in any way than people who don’t stutter. We do not automatically have access to higher quality communications because we stutter. In fact, your suggestion that we do trivializes the immense struggle that many of us go through.

    Stuttering can add to our experience of life. It does not mean we are better (or worse) than others. Stuttering is certainly not worse than so-called fluency; it just IS. I do not agree that stuttering is “simply” another way of speaking. Try telling that to a person struggling on every syllable, like me on one of my more struggled days. It’s almost insulting. I would strongly encourage a PWS who struggles mightily, to explore ways of making the struggle less. That does not mean that stuttering is bad or that we should try not to stutter. Stuttering is not bad, and is not good. It simply is. And we don’t have to hide it.

    With respect,
    Hanan

    • Hanan,

      Fluent speakers and people who stutter have different speaking experiences. When we open up our mouths to speak the result is different. I am not saying that people who stutter are better than fluent speakers. I am saying we have been led to believe that our experiences are worse and that fluency can improve them. I am suggesting that our experiences are not worse but different. Fluent speakers have access to experiences that we do not and people who stutter have access to experiences that fluent speakers do not. I then give some examples. I think the main thrust of your critique is that fluent speakers can be vulnerable and intimate and use silence for effect as well as stutterers. That is not my point. My point is that stuttering in and of itself can accomplish these things. Fluent speakers, by definition, cannot accomplish these things by stuttering. I can use my stutter to be intimate, a fluent speaker cannot. I can use my stutter to be humble, a fluent speaker cannot. I can use my stutter to show vulnerability, a fluent speaker cannot. Yes, they can be intimate, humble, and vulnerable in other ways, but not by stuttering. And yes, stuttering does not always accomplish these things, I can stutter with avoidance, struggle, and anxiety. These things can become a wedge separating me from the person with whom I am communicating. My point is that not only do they not have to separate us but that they can bring us closer together. There are other ways we can experience our stuttering.

      The us-vs-them divide that you speak of already exists. Research is clear that, compared to fluent speakers, people who stutter experience a marked reduction in quality of life, personal agency, ability to communicate with others, decreased income, limited job opportunities, and discrimination in their everyday life (Allard & Williams, 2008; Blood, Blood, Tellis, & Gabel, 2003; Blumgart, Tran, & Craig, 2010; Craig, Tran, & Craig, 2003; Klein & Hood, 2004; MacKinnon, Hall, & MacIntyre, 2007; St. Louis, 2005; St. Louis, Reichel, Yaruss, & Lubker, 2009). In order for people who stutter and fluent speakers to truly be treated as equals we need to be able to articulate why we are equals. You state that, “stuttering is certainly not worse than so-called fluency,” but this begs the question: why not? Why is stuttering not just a worse way of speaking than fluency? It is these questions I am attempting to answer in my paper. I take you assertion that stuttered speech and fluent speech are equal as my starting point and try to show why they are equal. My thesis question is what do we gain by stuttering?

      To address your last point, you seemed to have collapsed stuttering and struggling into a single concept. It is possible to stutter without struggle and it is possible to speak fluently with great struggle. The presence or absence of a stutter and the effort or spontaneity of speech are two different things. The topic of my paper was stuttering not struggling. You and I agree that struggling with speech can be devastating and stuttering can contribute to the effort and struggle involved in speaking. I absolutely support your suggestion that people who stutter explore ways of mitigating their struggle. In addition to being a person who stutters, I am also a therapist. I believe strongly in my profession. My point is that one does not have to be fluent to be free from struggle.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  13. Chris-

    Thank you for sharing your piece. I found your post the most powerful and I felt I was able to relate to you although I do not stutter. What resonated with me the most was when you state, “That is not because people who stutter are not out there, it is because the people who stutter who are out there are not talking. Every time we stutter, we make it a safer place for those people to talk. Every time we stutter, we show someone else what stuttering sounds like.” These are important points because I feel by giving awareness to stuttering, it opens doors for other PWS to openly talk about their experiences, struggles, and perspectives. It’s as almost as if you’re reclaiming what it means to be a PWS and move forward with it, but this time in such a positive light.

    Do you have any tips/suggestions for someone younger, perhaps an adolescent in middle school/early high school, who may be going through a similar experience as you have? Kids tend to be more blunt and brutal during these years and the peer pressure may be more difficult to deal with for some. I recall being in middle school and being self conscious about a few things. What advice can you give these younger kids who may be struggling?

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Best,
    Angie

    • Hi Angelina,

      Thank you for your kind words. You’re right that adolescence can be quite brutal. However, I find that kids are often more courageous than we give them credit for. Often they are very capable of having high-level conversations about peer pressure and what kinds of speech are and are not valued in society. Also, both kids and adults learn best through experience. I am quite confident that it is easier to speak when we relate to our stuttering in an open, positive way rather than through avoidance. This can be demonstrated to young adults by having them practice two different types of tasks: 1) Where they practice acknowledging their stuttering and use voluntary stuttering, and 2) Where they are told they must stutter as little as possible. Have them contrast these experiences, which was easier? In which was their speech more spontaneous and easy? Reducing avoidance is a long, difficult road and the pressures to be fluent are intense. There will be no easy solutions. Nonetheless, I’ve met many great kids with very healthy relationships with their stuttering. Meeting our kids their age who stutter and getting involved with self-help and support is always a good idea as well.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  14. Hello Chris,
    I really enjoyed reading your paper! I loved your perspective and never thought about stuttering that way until this paper. I am a first year graduate student in speech-language pathology and I am currently in a fluency course. We are talking about the different types of emotions that can come from a PWS. I think this paper could change a lot of people’s perspectives. I think people do become more vulnerable and want to share stories they normally would not. I think individuals like to know that everyone has their own insecurities.
    My question for you is when did you start to notice people opening up to you and sharing deeper feelings and stories, that individuals normally do not share with someone they just met?
    Thank you,
    Nicole

    • Good question Nicole. People were probably opening up to me for a long time before I noticed. When my struggle with speaking was greater my thoughts were focused inward. I was distracted by self-consciousness, embarrassment, shame, and guilt. The more comfortable I become with my stutter the more mindful I am able to be in a conversation. When my cognitive resources are freed to focus on the other person rather than myself, I am better able to notice their reactions. I am able to see the difference in treatment I receive when meeting someone new when I happen to be fluent vs when I happen stutter. I am better able to listen and be receptive to the other person. What’s tough about stuttering is we often do not open ourselves up due to our own insecurities. If I am guarded others will not open up to me. It is only when we are comfortable enough with ourselves to share our vulnerabilities with others that they will begin to reciprocate.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

  15. Hi Christopher,

    I found your perspective on stuttering to be interesting and admiring! I think that embracing what makes us different is much more beneficial and healthy than trying to make it go away. I am currently going to school to become a speech-language pathologist, and your paper has really made me think about how I would want to approach therapy with any future fluency clients that I may have. I love the idea of helping people who stutter accept stuttering as a strength rather than a weakness. You said in your paper that stuttering is unique and adds meaning to a conversation, and I think that is such a great message to send to people who stutter who may be struggling to communicate.

    Thank you,
    Lauren

  16. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspective! I’m a student currently taking my first course on fluency and stuttering so your outlook was very enlightening. While there are many people promoting the acceptance of and pride in stuttering, there are likely many (myself included) who have not looked at stuttering from your point of view- as its own distinct way of communicating with special gains and elements that fluent speakers do not experience.

    Your comment describing how most human communication is “routine and automatic” and how people often speak without really saying anything reminded me of a scene in the documentary “The Way We Talk” where a friend of the narrator (a person who stutters) said he felt that the narrator’s speech was always more deliberate and meaningful compared to how most fluent people spoke. I also thought your description of stuttering as an exercise in trust and vulnerability was very powerful. I agree that these are special qualities that many fluent people do not share.

    I look forward to learning more about stuttering and the attitudes and feelings surrounding it. Thanks again!

    Sincerely,
    Amanda

  17. Thank you for this new perspective on stuttering! I am a first year graduate student studying Speech-Language Pathology and currently taking a fluency course right now. To me, this perspective is empowering because it forces people to think about conversation rather than simply going through the motions of an interaction. I especially liked your analogy of a “verbal trust fall” because we often forget how much of a risk it is for people who stutter to have a connection with someone. This is due to the fact we so often go through the routine of conversation. Stuttering is a powerful key that allows others the option to unlock and share their own tribulations. Very well written viewpoint on stuttering.

    • Shay,

      Yes, I am very interested in how stuttering helps disrupt the routine of conversation and perhaps helps to deconstruct the act and make it more meaningful. Thank you for your comments.

      Sincerely,
      Chris

  18. This is a beautiful piece of work Christopher. The way you describe the disruptive experience of stuttering makes it sound exotic. The idea that idea that having a stutter makes impregnates silence with meaning is a great concept. I also have noticed how carelessly people use and waste their words everyday. Having a stutter certainly gives an appreciation and respect for the power of communication that escapes so many people Thank you for sharing this with us.

  19. Hello Chris,

    Thank you so much for sharing this perspective! It is one that I can say I have never considered before. I am a first year speech-language pathology graduate student currently taking my second fluency disorders class, and I have to say this perspective kind of blew my mind. We talk about acceptance and why stuttering shouldn’t be viewed negatively, but how you describe the deep personal connections that result from the vulnerability of stuttering is more than acceptance. It conveys a love of stuttering. As a “fluent speaker” I even found myself feeling slightly jealous of these powerful human interactions. You have inspired me to be the “catcher” in the “verbal trust fall” in my future experiences with clients who stutter.

    • Your comment made me smile, especially your description of feeling a slight jealousy, what a role reversal! I think that gets to the essence of what I’m trying to tackle here. As long as people who stutter want to be fluent and fluent speakers don’t want to stutter the two ways of speaking will never truly be treated with the same respect. In contemporary discourse, it is reasonable for a person to express a desire to be fluent. Is it reasonable for a person to want to stutter? That’s the question I try to answer with this paper.

  20. Hi Chris,

    Your piece was the first one I read when the conference went live on Oct 1st and I’m still thinking about it. As a fellow PWS, I very much felt connected to what you wrote. You describe the experience of stuttering in an exceptionally eloquent manner and I love your focus on “stuttering gain,” as I believe this is an under appreciated topic. I very much agree with your description of stuttering as a qualitatively (rather than quantitatively) different experience to fluency. And I love your explanation of the trust required in a conversation with a PWS — that every moment of stuttering is a “verbal trust fall.” I’ve never heard stuttering described quite in that way and I immediately knew what you meant. By speaking and stuttering, we expose ourselves in a way that people who don’t stutter don’t do and this makes “simple” verbal interactions anything but trite. I’ve found that how I stutter (and the degree to which I avoid stuttering) in my interactions communicates to me the comfort I feel with my listener. If I feel comfortable with my listener, I avoid stuttering less and consequently stutter more (and often more intensely) because I trust that my listener will still accept me regardless of how I speak.

    I also wanted to tell you that I got a lot out of your response to lemstep’s comment above where you describe your personal stuttering journey – particularly your “rock bottom” of struggling to say your name while doing bedside exams. I’m in school to become a clinical psychologist and I very much identified with how you wrote that description, as I have many fears and self doubts regarding clinical work. It is encouraging for me to see how you have progressed in your journey as well as your candor that it was not a linear process (as I’ve found my own journey to be far from linear).

    All the best,
    Susannah

    • Susannah,

      Thank you so much for sharing some of your story. You are quite right that stuttering makes “simple” verbal interactions anything but trite. Sometimes the authenticity that stuttering adds to an interaction is welcome; however, sometimes we are not ready to be vulnerable and it can be very difficult. I wish you the best of luck with your career in clinical psychology. Perhaps your stuttering will help you to develop a closer connection with your clients and strengthen the therapeutic alliance.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

  21. Hello Christopher,

    This was a very interesting a thought-provoking piece to read. I have never heard of a view on stuttering quite like yours but you have convinced me that stuttering can be a gain rather than a loss. I think your point of the various aspects of stuttering enhancing speech is an excellent one. It is true; most individuals are caught in the dullness of speech and don’t really put thought into everyday conversation. Stuttering can add interest to speech and definitely adds many different feelings and emotions in the speaker as well as the listener. This does not mean stuttering is not a tremendous challenge, however, I believe your take on the challenge must make the experiences that much easier (though I cannot as someone who does not stutter for someone who does).

    Thank you for helping me gain a new perspective,
    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      I want to echo your point, that I am not suggesting that stuttering cannot be or should not be a challenge. However, like you say, it becomes less so when we are able to derive new positive meanings from the experience.

      Thank you for your comments,
      Chris

  22. Thank you for sharing your feelings towards stuttering. You helped me to see stuttering in such a different perspective when you spoke about the intimacy of conversation and how a person who stutters has to think about every word and the meaning of what they are going to say. I really liked when you said, instead of reciting Hi How are you? You have to put so much more thought and effort into everything, including talking about the weather. Do you find that when your talking to a fluent person they are able to meet you at the same level of intimate conversation as you?
    Thank you,
    Nicole

    • Hi Nicole,

      Yes I do. The intimacy of a conversation is in control of both speakers. If one speaker is guarded the conversation will stay superficial no matter how open the other speaker is. Fluent speakers have just as much of an ability to be intimate as people who stutter. Of course, they can’t be intimate by stuttering but they can be intimate in other ways. I find that when I am speaking to a humble, open person I am more likely to feel comfortable sharing my stuttering. In the same vein, I think the more I am vulnerable and share my stuttering the more my speaking partner is invited to be open as well. Intimacy is achieved through mutual openness.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

  23. Chris,

    This is beautifully said. Your ideas bring light to a disorder where we are so often in the dark.

    Although I agree with much of what you say, I do have a couple questions, just playing devil’s advocate here 🙂

    In order for a PWS to experience “stuttering gain,” it seems that they must have a good amount of acceptance of their stuttering, in order to stutter openly and talk about stuttering openly. If a person is severely blocking and not acknowledging it, in my experience the listener is just left confused and no one gains anything. I had an experience where this happened. I was at a friend’s going away party and blocked for a long time on saying goodbye to a friend. A bystander heard this exchange and gave me a strange look. I then left the apartment, and in the hallway I heard the bystander laughing and saying, “Wow, that was so weird. What was wrong with that girl?” I immediately turned around, and with a lot of courage, went back in. I explained to her that I stutter and told her what stuttering is. To make a long conversation short, she felt pretty awful and then thanked me for educating her. She said she will never let this happen to another person who stutters. Stuttering gain? I think so, but it took a huge amount of acceptance of my stuttering to be able to do this. Alternatively, I imagine one could argue that adopting the stuttering gain mentality could help facilitate acceptance.

    How can we teach this to kids and teens? Stuttering is often something they are not proud of, and intimacy in dialogue is unlikely among teens. As I was reading, I was thinking how this could be used in speech therapy. Do you think there would be a way to modify it in teen stuttering groups?

  24. Hello again Chris,

    I stand by the positive comments I made about your paper on Oct. 5. I still think your point that “The difference between stuttering and fluency is not a matter of quantity of disfluency; rather it is in the quality of experience,” is a real gem and something that I wish every SLP could understand. However, having reread your paper and the exchanges between you and Hanan, I find it hard not to take seriously Hanan’s claim that you appear to suggest that people who stutter are in some ways better than people who don’t. It is clear that you feel that stuttering adds to our communication, and you appear to savor the experiences we can have that fluent speakers do not have access to; I would never want to take that experience away from you. Still, you do seem to imply the superiority of PWS when you make unsubstantiated claims such as, “our stutters allow us to build deeper and more personal connections than we would be able to as fluent speakers.” Perhaps such an implication is inevitable, given the topic at hand; when one turns the tables on stuttering and fluency in such a way, is stuttering’s gain not necessarily fluency’s loss? However, I take you at your word that you didn’t mean to imply that we are any better. I think the misunderstanding arises because of the nature of what you actually end up arguing in favor of in your paper.

    What you really appear to advocate in “Stuttering Gain,” is high self-esteem – feeling good about oneself through a positive comparison of self (in this case, PWS) to others (people who don’t stutter). The main problem with having high self-esteem, as Dr. Kristin Neff observes, is that it requires feeling special and above average. Since everyone can’t be special and above average all at once, we develop a “self-enhancement bias,” which refers to the tendency to think that we are superior to others on a wide variety of dimensions. The need to feel superior means that we’ll puff ourselves up by putting others down, which is what I’m afraid happens, for example, when we imagine that “our stuttered words are heard more clearly than those of fluent speakers.” I trust you will ascribe such examples to merely “suggesting that our experiences are not worse but different,” but to my eye, they involve some (unintended) self-enhancement bias, too.

    A merciful alternative to the need for self-esteem is the gift of self-compassion. According to Neff, self-compassion involves being kind to ourselves when life goes awry or we notice something about ourselves we’d like to change, rather than being self-critical. Self-compassion does not require that we see ourselves positively, or as better than other people. Instead, self-compassion develops a sense of intrinsic self-worth that is always available to provide nurturing, comfort, and care, and to help us address our challenges. This is what I need. I think many of us do.

    As for me, I plan to stick with the “real world” as I see it, where stuttering, as you suggest, is often hard, frustrating, and tough. I am all in favor of looking on the bright side, and for making lemonade out of life’s lemons. However, I do not believe we need to gussy up the gifts that stuttering bestows on us in order to feel good about ourselves. What we really need is self-compassion.

    All the best,

    Rob

  25. Mr. Constantino, Your essay is one that I plan to forever keep in my back pocket to share with clients and clinicians. You have blown my mind. Your statement that stuttering can create deep human connections is nothing short of revolutionary. So many people find stuttering alienating but you have re-framed it into the reverse so beautifully.

    Thank you,
    Julie Spencer