How to be a Fluent Ally to People Who Stutter (an illustrated guide) (Elizabeth Wislar, Hope Gerlach)

About the Authors:

Elizabeth Wislar is a person who stutters and a teacher of students with disablities. She lives in Athens, Ga. USA with her husband and daughter. She loves to draw, write, run, cook and read. She is a co-leader for the Athens NSA chapter and writes a blog about being a teacher who stutters.
Hope Gerlach, M.S. is a doctoral student at The University of Iowa. She has bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Speech and Hearing Sciences from Indiana University and a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Purdue University. Her specific research interests include social justice issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders and the relationships between stuttering, stigma, and identity. She is actively involved in the National Stuttering Association and FRIENDS.

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How to be a Fluent Ally to People Who Stutter (an illustrated guide) (Elizabeth Wislar, Hope Gerlach) — 71 Comments

  1. I love this! I often use the word “advocates” but the word “allies” is so much more powerful. Thank you for this wonderful visual representation!

    • Hi Ana-

      Thank you for taking the time to read our comic. I also like the words “advocacy” & “advocate”, but we decided to go with “allyship” and “ally” for a few reasons. One thing we like about these terms is that they emphasize the role of supportive others doing things with and not for people who stutter. We like the way that the “ally” terms privilege the autonomy and agency of people who stutter.

      Thanks for reading and please consider sharing the comic on October 22nd!

      -Hope

  2. Elizabeth and Hope – this is wonderful. It is so helpful to have a visual illustration of what it means to support people who stutter. I think the piece that the NSA published on Allies along with this will go a long way towards helping potential allies why this is so important. I remember years ago, my then 15 year old nephew “stood up” for me when my step-father made a negative comment about my stuttering. I am pretty sure my step-father did not mean it maliciously, but he hurt my feelings and my nephew noticed. He said something like, “Hey, that wasn’t cool,” to my step-father. I further heard him remark to his mother why had my step-father been so mean. It was the first time someone in my family had been an ally for me. This is such important work that you are both doing. Thank you.

    • Pam – thanks for taking the time to read and respond. And thanks for your kind comments. I’m looking forward to sitting down and reading your paper within the next few days. Looking forward to chatting soon.

      -Hope

  3. I love this illustrated guide! I am a graduate student in the Speech Language Pathology program and as a person who does not stutter, I am always interested in information on how to be a better advocate or “ally” to a person who stutters. I think a wonderful way to advocate is to educate! Thanks for sharing.

    • Lindsay- thanks for your comment. It’s so great to know young clinicians are thinking about and getting involved with advocacy. If you ever want to talk more about ways you can get involved with advocacy for people who stutter, feel free to email me at hope-gerlach@uiowa.edu. Please consider sharing our comic on October 22nd!

  4. Elizabeth and Hope,
    What a wonderful resource you have made for us “allies”! I love how you use the word “ally”; it provides much more meaning for this type of supporter.

    Although I believe this guide is geared more for adults to help other adults, I believe parents could use this resource to educate children too. Perhaps a child has a sibling, friend, or classmate who stutters; the parent could use some of the ideas and examples (or a variation of the ideas/examples) provided in this guide to give the child ways to advocate for their sibling, friend, or classmate during a moment of stuttering.

    Bravo! We are one step closer to a world who understands stuttering because of your work.

    Thank you,
    Sarah

    • Sarah- thanks for your comment. You bring up some great points and ideas about tailoring examples of allyship to parents and children. Your comment prompted Elizabeth and I to have a conversation about future directions for additional comics. Thank you!

  5. Good job! I think you should make another one. I know Courtney. My name is Stella and I am 10. I stutter. I mostly block and I really like your illustrations. I am wondering, how do you draw that so well?!?!?!?!?!?!? AMAZING 😉

    • Hi Stella,

      Thanks for reading our comic. I know Courtney too! She is a friend of mine. Elizabeth is really good at illustrations, isn’t she? Maybe she can tell you more about how she learned to draw so well, but I bet lots of practice has helped her become a great illustrator. Do you have any talents?

      We’re thinking about making another comic that’s just for kids and teenagers. Maybe you could help us come up with some ideas for it. What do your friends do or say that make you feel like it’s okay to stutter? Can you think of a time when a friend or teacher supported you when you were having a hard time with talking?

      Thanks for reading our comic!

    • Thank you Stella! I actually went to art school for college and even though I became a teacher, I still draw a lot.

      I want to thank you, because your comment has inspired me and Hope to start a new project!

      Thanks for helping Stella contact us Courtney!

  6. I love this! As a graduate speech-language pathology student that just completed a pseudostuttering project, one of my first thoughts was “How do I help?” I am a fluent speaker, but after my experience, I’ve gained a lot of perspective on what it could be like to be a person who stutters. Aside from educating fluent people about people who stutter, I’ve been wondering what I can do in specific situations. This post outlines some great places to start, and also demonstrates that every person who stutters may have different preferences depending on the situation. Thank you!

  7. I loved this! The illustrations really lend a hand to better understanding of the role of allies. I was wondering when a PWS needs emotional support concerning stuttering, what is the best advice or words of support we as allies can offer?
    Thanks so much for your insight!

    • Hi johnsonle2,

      Hmm.. good question. I think the best thing you can do is listen to the person and create a non-judgemental space for him or her to talk about stuttering. Then, if the person is open to talking more about stuttering, ask open-ended questions so you can better understand his or her unique experience. For example “How can I support you?” “Is there anything I can do to help?”

      I’m sure there are lots of other great answers to your question. This is just the thought that immediately pops into my mind.

  8. This illustrated guide is such a great resource-thank you! The illustrations really add to it and make it even more user friendly! I think this would be a great resource to use when explaining stuttering to family members, teachers, classmates, coworkers, etc. because it not only explains how someone who stutters may feel, but also tells what the individual who does not stutter can do to help. From your experiences, what do you think is the most important thing an ally can do? As a person who does not stutter, it is always so helpful to gain insight on the best way to help!

    • Thank you for your comments. I think the most important thing an ally can do is exactly what you are doing– ask. Ask the person who stutters what they want from an ally and try to follow their lead.
      Elizabeth

  9. Elizabeth and Hope,
    I am in my first semester of graduate school at Illinois State to become an SLP and I was drawn to your post because it mentioned creative expression and I thought it would have a good visual. Turns out I was right and your resource is phenomenal!! Thank you for giving me useful examples of how to be an ally. I feel like it will be extremely helpful as I move forward in my professional career to explain these concepts to parents, teachers, clients, and coworkers. I’m not gonna lie, I haven’t had too much experience with PWS, but I’m currently in a stuttering course in graduate school and we had to “pseudostutter” for an assignment for class. It really opened up my eyes to some of the struggles PWS might face and how having an ally in social situations would really help! I have two questions for the both of you: 1. How useful do you think an assignment like “pseudostuttering” is for those training in my field or related fields? 2. What do you think is the single most important thing an ally can do for someone who stutters?

    Thanks for this resource again 🙂

    • Emilie,
      Thank you for all your positive comments!
      Pseudostuttering comes up a lot in conversations at stuttering conferences and meetings with other people who stutter. I think the consensus is that it can be helpful, but for SLPs to be cautious about thinking they understand stuttering after a few experiences. As a fluent person, you can never really simulate that loss of control or fear of getting really blocked. Nor can you simulate an entire lifetime of experiences. Does that make sense?
      As far as the single most important thing allies can do, I am so happy this keeps getting asked. Please ask the people who stutter what they want as individuals. Everyone is going to have a different idea.
      Elizabeth

  10. Elizabeth and Hope, you guys know how much I admire both of you for your contributions to the stuttering community. This comic is amazing! I think it would be wonderful to use with families (and friends) of children and adults who stutter. Fantastic work, I will definitely be sharing this one! 🙂

  11. I agree with a previous commenter, language is important and the word ally seems to better fit than advocate when you wish to play more of a role as friend as opposed to (just) a professional. Sometimes the focus is just on the PWS in uncomfortable moments or moments of discrimination but I appreciate your commentary on what an ally can do in these situations. It is invaluable to be prepared for these scenarios because they often catch us off guard and result in feelings of regret for inaction or our in-the-moment reaction. Thank you for helping us allies understand how to be good allies!

  12. Language is important. I really like Ally–thank you for adding your booklet to the list of resources for the stuttering community.

    Kindly,
    Michael

    • Michael,
      Thank you. It is only because of groundbreakers like you that we are even in a place where we can discuss allys and allyships!
      Elizabeth

  13. Elizabeth and Hope,

    I absolutely love your way of detailing what an ally is to PWS. I am a first year graduate student at Illinois State University and have loved learning about the importance of becoming an ally to clients, especially PWS, through my stuttering course. In my course, I have participated in a pseudostutter experience, in which I had to stutter in public. Though I am not a PWS, this experience gave me a glimpse into what PWS go through day to day.It has also urged me to want to help those who do stutter.
    I think that this could be a great tool to use in introductory courses to stuttering as well as a great resource for teachers to use to increase awareness of stuttering, and to advocate for any students they have that stutter.
    I know a lot of my friends who are now teachers incorporate diversity into their lesson plans. I think that this would be a great way to expose kids to stuttering and alliance, in a fun way. The comic is informative and cute!

    Have you two ever considered using your comic for that audience?

    Using this comic would also be great to share within friends and families who know or have a PWS in their life!

    Love, love, love your comic and your contributions to the stuttering community. 🙂

    Michelle

    • Thank you Michelle
      Becuase of so many comments like this, Hope and I are planning some follow up projects directed at many of the groups you mention.
      Elizabeth

  14. What a wonderful and beautifully-illustrated book with a very important message! My name is Judy Kuster and I have resources about stuttering online on the Stuttering Home Page (www.stutteringhomepage.com) and also on http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster2/sptherapy.html#library where I have several freely-available Online Books for Children about Specific Speech-Language-Hearing Disorders. I’m wondering if I can have permission to include your book on my resource with proper attribution. It could either be a PDF as it appears to be on this ISAD online conference or possibly made into a PPT or some other kind of an online book that children who stutter, their clinicians and parents would be able to download or simply access online. I suppose I could simply link to the URL of your paper if that is what you would prefer. Please contact me at judith.kuster@mnsu.edu Thank you for your consideration!

  15. Hi Hope and Elizabeth,
    I am currently an SLP graduate student. What a great way to illustrate the importance of fluent allies for people who stutter. The more allies the better! This made me realize how many different frustrating situations PWS have to overcome in their everyday life. Have you ever thought about presenting this to a group of teachers or clinicians? I would love to share this with the other students in my cohort. Also, what do you think the best way (as a future SLP clinician) to become allies with a client who stutters?
    Thanks,
    Megan

    • Thank you Megan,
      Yes, absolutely share this. I think it would be a great resource for teachers and SLPs. Personally, I think the best thing a clinician can do is ask their client how they can help.
      Elizabeth

  16. I love this book! Thank you so much for sharing this illustrated concept in such a way we could share with clients. Speaking of that, is there a way or format we could use this with your permission? There are a limited number of people who stutter on my caseload, but many who need to read this and learn what it means to be an ally! Thanks so much,

    Kacie Adkins

  17. Elizabeth and Hope,

    Thank you for a wonderful interpretation on such an important topic! I love how you used the illustrations to convey your opinion on what it means to be a good ally for PWS. As a graduate student and future speech-language pathologist, I realize the importance of being an ally for PWS both in daily life as well in my professional career. Thank you for providing this easily understandable and awesome resource for people to build their awareness of stuttering.

    Morgan

  18. Hi Elizabeth and Hope!

    Your illustrations were so helpful in showing what an ally for a PWS should look like! This is definitely something that I plan to share and come back to in the future. I feel that this could be beneficial to share with families of PWS, showing them a detailed description of how to be an ally for their family member.
    Do you feel that SLPs can be successful allies to their clients who stutter? What would your recommendations for a soon-to-be SLP be to become an ally rather than just an advocate?

    Thanks for sharing!
    Marshall

    • Hi Marshall.

      Great questions. I am sure SLPs can be great allies to clients who stutter (and many already are). I think that what makes the word “ally” so special is that it emphasizes solidarity. That, as clinicians, we are working in tandem with our clients and not doing things to them or for them; that we respect that they are the experts on their own stuttering; and that we are willing to do whatever we ask them to do (e.g. pseudostuttering, approaching strangers to speak to them, being vulnerable).
      Have a great day!
      -Hope

    • Thanks!
      I think listening to what people who stutter want from their allies is the best since everyone is different.

      I do think SLPs can be good allies, but they need to remember that not all people who stutter need to see SLPs. That should be completely optional. I also believe that the wants and needs of people who stutter should drive the therapy.

      -Elizabeth

  19. Elizabeth and Hope-
    This was an amazing presentation on how we can help our friends who struggle with stuttering. I loved the comic format and the simple examples of what we can do to be better “ally’s” to people who stutter. I even showed this to my kids and loved that it was so simple and easy for even young kids to understand. I think by starting with educating young kids we can hopefully change the mindset that this new generation has about PWS. Great job!

    • Kristen- Thanks for the comment. We agree that starting education early can be a powerful tool to reduce stigma. Hopefully we can make a comic directly for kids in the near future!

  20. What a fun, simple, and informative piece of information! You knocked it out of the park Elizabeth and Hope. I’m just wondering what your plans are to distribute your illustrations to reach as many people as possible?

    Meghan

    • Hi Meghan!
      We’re hoping to get printable versions of the comic uploaded to this webpage soon. Do you have any other ideas to help us reach a wider audience?
      -Hope

  21. Elizabeth and Hope,

    I am currently a SLP graduate student at Appalachian State University. I loved your comic and respect the ideas it illustrates. I think this would be a wonderful resource for future clients and their families. I was wondering what your favorite thing was about collaborating on this project?

    Thank you,
    Julia

    • Dr. Klein is at Appalachian State, right? I’m a bit jealous you get to learn from him! He is incredible.

      Also, great question. I have 2 favorite parts. First – it’s been really great to get to know Elizabeth on a more personal level. She has other comics about stuttering and I’ve been a big fan of her work for a while.
      One of my favorite comics of hers is here:

      https://thestutteringteacher.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/10-most-ridiculous-things-i-did-not-to-stutter/

      Second- this collaboration has helped me to develop a greater appreciation for using comics as a story telling tool. Unfortunately I’m not a great illustrator, but I might try to learn!

      -Hope

    • Julia,
      Thanks! That’s such a great question. Personally, I loved getting to know Hope better. We only met this summer at the NSA conference in Dallas. I’m looking forward to years of friendship and collaboration.

      Elizabeth

  22. Hi Hope and Elizabeth,

    I love the information one can gather from your illustrations. I always think of ways I can try to make it easier for those who stutter, but begin to second guess my strategies. I don’t want to step on toes or make them feel inadequate because of their speech by bringing to light their stutter. I am a SLP graduate student and consistently learn about the importance of acceptance in the world of stuttering. Is there any advice you would give to family members, or friends, to utilize in order to improve their child’s acceptance of their stutter at home or when they are in public?

    Thank you!
    Maddie

    • Maddie,
      I can only speak from my own experience, but talking about stuttering is very helpful. When the topic is avoided, it feels like something to be ashamed of. At first it might feel awkward, but the more it’s talked about, the less weird it will feel for everyone. As for advice, I would follow the lead of the person who stutters. For young children, let them know what their options are (making a presentation for the class, talking about it with a group of friends etc.).

      Elizabeth

  23. Thank you for creating this illustrated guide. I think it is very practical, easy to follow, and a good way to initiate a conversation with a friend or a relative who stutters. I especially liked the tip about asking the person specifically what they would like the ally to do in certain situations, which takes into consideration each person’s preferences. These tips also seem applicable for people who want to be an ally to anyone who is from a diverse background.

  24. Hello, I am an SLP graduate student taking a stuttering class right now. We are often reminded that acceptance is important. This is a powerful message displayed in a fun way. I view being an ally for people who stutter as very important. I like how you remind people that it’s important to ask the person if they would like help. I have a cousin who stutters and his mom has asked me many questions. I have directed her to several of the websites in your story. I will be sharing this with her as well! Thank you for sharing these great tips. Do you have any other tips directed at school-age children in particular?

  25. Hi!

    I really love your comic. Many times in therapy we have an idea about what we want to teach/work on, and then we have to figure out how to make it applicable to our client. It can be even more challenging to make education for family members and the general population interesting and motivational. This is a resource I will definitely be using, as it fits right in with the how-to/life hack/buzzfeed list style inforgraphics being made about anything and everything right now – perfect for children and adults alike! I was curious, what inspired you to choose this format?

    Thanks,
    Haley

    These are all great tips for

  26. Hi Hope and Elizabeth!

    I am currently an SLP graduate student in a fluency course. We have been discussing how important it is with self confidence and self acceptance. I love this illustration and think it would be a great resource for everybody. What is the best way to approach a stutterer about advocating what’s best for them?

    Thank you!

  27. Hope & Elizabeth,

    This was such a unique and innovative resource! Thank you for providing such helpful examples regarding how to be a fluent “ally.” I especially enjoyed how you focused on asking questions. This shows the individuals who stutter that you care about their independence and value their opinions. This has significantly impacted my understanding regarding how to assist individuals who stutter.

  28. Hello Hope and Elizabeth!

    Thank you for this wonderful resource for allyship and advocacy regarding PWS. As a SLP graduate student, I think that this guide illustrates important scenarios and recommendations that can be applicable and useful in all of my encounters with PWS clients. I think that this illustration is easy to follow and has inspired me to consistently advocate for my clients with varying diagnoses in multiple contexts and scenarios.

    Thanks you!

    Makenzie

  29. Thank you so much for this incredible resource. I am a graduate student clinician and know that this will be a resource that I will keep and re-examine as I mature and develop as a clinician. The illustrations and scenarios depicted in the guidebook really emphasize the need for fluent allies to be conscious, active and involved when combating prejudiced statements made by people who do not understand stuttering. One of the most powerful aspects of this guidebook is one of the messages it brings to the forefront: allies have to take the initiative to step into situations that might be uncomfortable to truly support and stand in solidarity with a person who stutters. I certainly think this is the area that I need to improve and develop as an ally, as in those tough moments, formulating a clear, concise response to a negative comment can be difficult to accomplish so that the negative statement is refuted, and so that the person who made the comment learns more about stuttering. Seeing calm, clear examples of ways to deal with poor word choices and rude comments was definitely inspiring. Thank you.

  30. Elizabeth and Hope,

    My name is Marissa Pardini and I am a graduate student studying speech-language pathology at Appalachian State. I thoroughly enjoyed your story/illustration on how to be an ally to PWS. As I am learning to be an SLP, it will be important for me to have the skills to be an effective ally.

    How would you go about teaching these skills to a parents, SLPs, teachers, and other people who work with PWS?

    Thank you,
    Marissa Pardini

  31. Wow! What a powerful post. I love how the illustrations portray real life examples of when an ally can provide social and emotional support. Do you have any suggestions on how to help a child find an ally inside the classroom?

  32. Elizabeth and Hope,

    I am currently a communication sciences and disorders graduate student enrolled in a fluency course. Your piece was very well done. I really like that you both chose the term ally. People who do not stutter will never know the impact it has, but we still have a responsibility to share what we know, to educate others. You’re guidelines were straight to the point, and now I have no excuses! Thanks for posting this and keeping people who don’t stutter accountable for making the world aware of stuttering.

    Elaine

  33. Elizabeth and Hope,

    I love your piece! I appreciate that you chose “ally” as opposed to “advocate” as it conveys a much more personal relationship. This comic is an approachable and accessible resource to promote “allyship” to PWS. I can see how it could possibly be translated into use with parents and children, and (based on the comments above) it seems like you may have plans to create something along those lines. I look forward seeing it!

    Thank you,
    Gina

  34. This was an enjoyable and informative comic to read! This comic is great to help educate family members and friends of PWS on what they can do. I am currently in my second year of the speech language pathology program at Appalachian State University and will graduate in may. Do you have any additional resources I can turn to for when I am working with a PWS?

    Thank you!

  35. As a graduate student studying speech-language pathology, and currently taking a fluency disorders course, I am learning so much about stuttering and becoming an advocate for people who stutter. Now I can say that I am becoming an ALLY for PWS! This comic was a great guide to ways that I can become a true ally. Thank you for including some great resources to websites that can provide me with ways to further educate myself about stuttering. I enjoyed visiting these websites and will keep them handy as I continue participating and learning about stuttering. I saw that you are sharing a printable version of your comic. I would love to have a copy of the comic to share with others in my community. My email is mellcass@isu.edu
    Thank you!

  36. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve created a visual display of how to be an ally. I am always trying to create better visuals to draw people into research and convey a point; this was fantastic! I would love to know more about what inspired you both to create this and how you came up with the basis for these ideas.

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