About the author: Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP, is a trilingual speech-language pathologist and a clinical assistant professor in the field of speech-language pathology. She has extensive experience working with individuals with communication disorders, particularly bilingual children. Her specialized interests include articulation disorders, stuttering, early language-literacy, and bilingualism.
When I think about a world that understands stuttering, I consider my own journey of coming to understand stuttering as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and as a mother whose son went through a period of marked disfluencies in his own speech. As a young therapist, I did not understand the multifactorial nature of stuttering or the multifaceted impact of stuttering on a person’s life. My approach was limited to external strategies or “tools” to manage what seemed to be unpredictable communication challenges. These challenges were also largely addressed in the context of contrived therapy experiences. This written reflection is my attempt to portray the importance of SLPs growing in their own understanding. My desire is that we may help individuals who stutter find what’s already within and accessible to them to become effective communicators, with or without stuttering, in the context of meaningful life experiences.
Prisms refract light. Though my understanding of physics and the properties of light waves is meager, when I see a rainbow, I understand the refraction of light. Water droplets refract light, breaking it into its spectrum colors, and subsequently, unveiling a stunning sight.
This summer I was able to participate, for the second time, in a therapeutic summer camp for youth who stutter (Camp Shout Out). I am always amazed at how much I learn when surrounded by 50 young people who stutter as well as dozens of dedicated speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and graduate students who are passionate about serving them.
I returned home with the picture of a prism in my mind. As I sought to understand prisms, I learned that originally it was believed that white light was colorless and that prisms themselves produced color. Through Sir Isaac Newton’s revolutionary experiments, it was discovered that the colors already existed in the incoming light. In other words, the prism did not create colors; instead it separated colors that were already there.
I witnessed a lot of “refraction” during this year’s camp experience. What stood out to me the most was the emphasis on guiding children and teens, to access what was already present within them, in order that they might become the best communicators possible. Instead of being guided to “pick up speech tools” to manage their speech, they were guided to engage in tangible actions that were readily available and within reach, which yielded effective communication. I marveled as I watched SLPs and graduate students become prisms, not creating color but making present colors beautifully visible in young people.
You might be thinking to yourself, what are these present colors that can sometimes appear as colorless light? The simplest yet most powerful one is the breath – merely attending to the breath and letting the natural “phrase of exhalation” be the “phrase of talking” (Kristin Chmela, SLP and fluency specialist). Another action was tangibly acknowledging and reinforcing the evidence of assertiveness and confidence such as powerful voices, strong handshakes, sustained eye contact, tall postures, and courage to take on difficult speaking situations. The concrete acknowledgment of positive thoughts and actions is amazingly transformative.
In a nutshell, through the intentional process of observing, noticing, modeling, encouraging, guiding, and praising powerful actions, we saw young people access their limitless potential within. As I strive to grow as a therapist, I desire to be a prism, that the true colors of individuals I serve may shine brightly – and that the world may better understand stuttering!
(For my previous reflection on Camp Shout Out, see An Avalanche of Transformation available at http://isad.isastutter.org/isad-2015/papers-presented-by-2015/creative-expression/an-avalanche-of-transformation/)
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