Understanding Stuttering through Dyslexia: Finding Hope and Inspiring Dreams

About the authors:

Tessa ByrdAuthor: Tessa Byrd is currently a first semester graduate student striving to attain her Master’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA). For her Bachelors of Science Degree, she studied Communication Sciences and Disorders at the same university. She fell in love with the program and decided the charming school tucked into the mountains was her heaven. Tessa is blessed with two loving, supportive parents who just moved to North Carolina. She is eager to work with all people who have communication disorders and is particularly interested in serving people who stutter.
David ShapiroFaculty Sponsor: David A. Shapiro, Ph.D., CCC/Speech-Language Pathologist, is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a Board Certified Fluency Specialist, and the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor at Western Carolina University (North Carolina, USA). For 37 years, Dr. Shapiro has taught workshops, provided clinical service, and conducted research on six continents. His book, Stuttering Intervention: A Collaborative Journey to Fluency Freedom (2011, PRO-ED, www.proedinc.com) is in its 2nd edition and continues to find a wide international audience. Dr. Shapiro is actively involved in the International Fluency Association (IFA) and International Stuttering Association (ISA), received IFA’s Award of Distinction for Outstanding Clinician, and is currently serving as IFA’s President for 2013-2014. Dr. Shapiro is a person who stutters, has two adult children with his wife, Kay, and lives near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Honestly, when I first heard about the opportunity to submit a paper to the 2014 ISAD Conference – We Speak with One Voice – I was hesitant. I am not a person who stutters, so I did not feel worthy. However, I have carried my own label, dyslexia. Although the two disorders are unique, the underlying emotional pain connects the two. Through the lens of dyslexia, it seems possible to gain a perspective into the reality and challenges associated with stuttering. This became clear to me the semester I declared a major in Communication Sciences and Disorders.

When I was a freshman in college, I shadowed a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who worked for a school on a small island near the Equator. She was inspiring. In my short month of observations, she made tremendous strides in a variety of school-age populations including children with articulation disorders, phonological disorders, and autism spectrum disorders. However, she made little progress with her client who stuttered. She did not enjoy fluency therapy and often complained before and after treatment. It shocked me; she was eager to work with her other clients, but not this one. Her client who stuttered was a darling middle school girl who was sweeter than Splenda, which is three hundred times sweeter than sugar. The client and clinician were both frustrated with the lack of progress. The client was tracking her progress on a graph, but this was not motivating to her. It appeared that her disfluencies were increasing with treatment. In the session I observed, the tension in the room was so thick I could have cut it with a knife. During the session, the girl’s eyes occasionally filled with tears and her muscles tensed as she fought to keep the teardrops from falling. Understanding the pain that cannot be expressed in words, my heart pounded with pain for her. The girl was a younger version of me.

I had gone to middle school in the very same building and it seemed that nothing had changed over the years. My mind flashed back to the reading therapy I was forced to endure in the same jail cell of classroom. The therapy room was made of concrete and there were no windows, which contributed to the dark atmosphere. I was convinced then that Hell was filled with timed reading samples followed by people asking me to explain why I thought my reading was not improving. Every session I struggled through a reading activity and tracked my “progress.” There were never any significant improvements.  My clinician routinely asked why my reading scores were not improving. I hated that question. It felt like my heart was branded with the word “failure” each time the question was asked. Furthermore, the question was insulting. If I knew why my reading was not improving, I would have quickly made the necessary adjustments. I wanted nothing more than to be released from reading therapy. With every silent, passing minute, I thought of escape plans. I wondered if the girl who sat in my old seat felt the same way that I had years before.

Observing the middle school girl in stuttering therapy, I saw the clinician tap her pen on the graph being used to track the girl’s fluency, and the clinician asked the girl to explain why she was not improving. “There it is again, that hateful question!” Again I felt the sting and again my heart burned with the word “failure.” That question hurt just as intensely six years later and from a different seat. Everything within me wanted to comfort the girl, but how could I explain that I understood and felt her pain? I was never a person who stuttered. Her eyes could not contain her tears any longer. They started to fall, and the girl struggled through an answer about how it had been a hard week. I blinked hard and looked at the twitching, sterile florescent lights on the ceiling. I had used the same excuse, almost word for word, six years ago. The repeat of history and the pain witnessed in the very same room were undeniable. This was her jail, the same jail that had been mine. The clinician instructed me to go down the hall and pick up a box of tissues. I do not know what was said when I was gone, but when I returned the girl’s tears had stopped. The session ended, but the pain lingered in her eyes – and mine.

When I was alone with the clinician, we started to talk about fluency treatment. I was a freshman in college and had limited knowledge about stuttering. To my surprise, she told me she did not have much training in fluency disorders. I did not know then how common a scenario that was – and it continues today. She tried to educate herself by finding research-based treatment methods, but she still did not consider herself an expert. She pulled a folder out of her desk that was filled with seemingly thousands of papers. She had copies of articles and research reports, but I could not understand how so much research could lead to such a lack of progress for this little girl.

The answer did not come until my last year of college while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. I had the great fortune of studying fluency and voice disorders with Dr. David Shapiro. On the first day of class he asked, “What does it mean to have a communication disorder?” “What does it mean to stutter?” He asked us to consider how we could possibly expect to impact the communication and life of a person who stutters unless we stopped long enough to consider and to get as close as we could to the reality, to the world, to the paradigm of stuttering. I probed that question and have every day since. At the time the question was asked, rushing back to me were the tensions that could be cut with a knife, the hateful question, the inescapable and windowless jail cell, the graphs that confirmed my lack of progress, my fading hope, my heart that routinely was branded with the word “failure,” my tears, the florescent lights, and my prayer to be released from reading therapy.

Indeed the emotions tied to stuttering seem similar to those bound to dyslexia. It is difficult to live on a planet where the road to success is paved with personal challenge. To be successful in most careers, one must be able to read efficiently and to speak fluently. It can be daunting to grasp desperately at the bricks paving the path to success and to fall time and time again. I often felt like I was living in a world that was not meant for me because of who I am. I think people who stutter often feel the same way.

However, I think my personal experience is helping me to understand, if not get closer to, the world of stuttering. I think SLPs must work to understand what stuttering is and what it means to stutter so they can see through the eyes of the people they are committed to serve. To understand what it means to have a communication disorder, I have thought about the meaning of communication success. For me, communication success means hope. We SLPs, if we are willing to learn with and from a person who stutters, can be an avenue for bringing a light of hope to another person. That is success. Potentially, that hope can spring from SLPs everywhere.

Fluency therapy can inspire dreams. When a dream truly has embraced the heart of a man, or middle school girl, or a family, nothing can stop it from being fulfilled. Neither stuttering nor dyslexia can stop a dreamer. Sometimes it takes someone to help light that spark, that light of hope. There is hope in all of us. I hope that as I become an SLP, I will always work to get as close as I can to the reality of another person’s world and that I will be able to bring hope to someone who might feel hopeless, just like I did. The path to success is marked with loose bricks. Those are the bricks of hope. Even dreamers may slip and fall sometimes, but they always can stand up, sometimes with guidance, and dream on. Without hope, therapy is a jail cell; with hope, dreams can be set free.

I don’t often reflect on how I found hope and the ability to dream. Perhaps this conference is an opportunity for such reflection. It wasn’t until eighth grade. At church I met a saint of a woman who volunteered to be my Sunday school teacher. She had an odd name. The first time I heard her name, I thought she might be a monster and I would find another jail cell. However, she was simply angelic. Sunday school became my safe zone. It was a place that was free of judgment and snide, hurtful comments. In reading therapy, I had to discuss why my reading was poor, choppy, and broken, but in Sunday school, I was encouraged to analyze the content of what was being read. That shifted the attention away from my disability and onto my ability. I discovered that I had abilities! The Sunday school teacher often told me that I was unique, and that I was good at analyzing the readings and concepts in a deep, meaningful manner. I had never heard such a thing; I was taken aback. That was the first positive thing anyone had ever said about my reading.

I wish I could say that through extreme dedication, passion, and perseverance, I became an exceptional reader. That would not be the truth. I still do not like reading. I am sure a herd of snails could charge through a field of caramel faster than I can read. However, that is not the point; the point is that I read. I read because I have hope. Hope can come from anywhere and anyone. My hope was set ablaze through one remarkable woman. She saw a part of me that I did not know existed, and she encouraged me to build on my strengths instead of dwell on my weaknesses. I know traditional therapy often focuses on improving weaknesses, and I understand the value of achieving a level of competence. But isn’t it a disservice to dismiss a person from therapy before enabling him or her to acknowledge and pursue strengths? In a world that is designed around strengths, all people can succeed. Sometimes it takes one remarkable person to shine a light on one’s strengths. One kind woman lit up the hidden potential that was hibernating inside my soul. Hope can be found beyond a person’s challenges, struggles, or disabilities. It is found in potential. There is always potential, and that is always a reason for hope.

It is my sincerest wish that anyone who is reading this and is still in a metaphoric jail cell understands the truth. If no one has ever told you, then let me be the first. You are more than your weaknesses, and you are more than your insecurity. You have potential and you have talent that is uniquely your own. There are so many beautiful things dancing within your heart that are beating to be set free. That is why hearts beat. The heart pumps potential through your veins. Your pulse makes it evident that you have the potential to achieve your own objectives and to make the world a better place. Truly I hope you understand your value. It took someone whispering those words into my jail cell before I found hope, and when I found hope, my dreams found freedom.

My dream is to inspire others to dream. I still have so much to learn about becoming an SLP and showing people that I care, and I am convinced I am in the perfect profession. Most things in life require communication in one form or another and most dreams do too. By enabling people to realize their communication freedom, I am opening a door of potential so that their dreams can pass through. I am so blessed to be in graduate school and committed to a profession where I can help others find hope and make their dreams come true.

Thank you so much for reading my thoughts and reflecting with me. I hope, together, we might consider a few questions:

  • Dyslexia is my stuttering. What is yours?
  • How can SLPs help their clients who stutter realize their dreams and hidden potential?
  • How can one person inspire hope in another?
  • How can safe zones be created, and what qualities are necessary to make a zone safe? Are these qualities professional and/or personal?
  • What are the advantages of approaching therapy from the perspective of a person’s strengths? Are there limitations?
  • How can a clinician balance focusing on strengths with approaching each person’s challenges?
  • How can people who stutter help SLPs understand what it means to stutter?
  • How can both the SLP and the person who stutters contribute to the success of the clinical experience?

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Understanding Stuttering through Dyslexia: Finding Hope and Inspiring Dreams — 35 Comments

  1. Hi Tessa,
    I am currently in a post-baccalaureate program for communicative disorders and reading your article has further inspired and motivated me. It made me realize the power we have to make a client feel accepted. It also helped me understand how careful we must be to not show frustration or lack of hope; if we even feel a sense of either of these, something needs to change because the client’s self-esteem will be affected. When reading about your observation of the SLP and the girl who stutters, I almost felt the tension in that room and I wish that SLP would have done something different to prevent that. Do you think it was more the clinician’s attitude than lack of expertise in stuttering that influenced her therapy with this patient? Also, Dr. Shapiro helped you understand the feelings that accompany stuttering- do you think similar education would have helped the clinician provide more effective therapy for this girl?

    Thank you for sharing this article,
    Nicole Praefke

    • Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for your questions and comments. Honestly, I believe our attitudes toward our clients are as important as the therapy itself. Letting clients know we care about them and believe in them can make all the difference. You raised a wonderful point in your second question. Understanding the client’s perspective should improve the relationship between the client and clinician. How can we know how to give our clients what they need if we do not try to understand who they are and how they feel? I had an awesome teacher in elementary school; she gave me private reading lessons after class. In our time together it was clear she cared about me and tried to understand my challenges. Although I was still substantially behind the expectations for my grade when I moved to Guam, we made much more progress in that safe environment. Taking time to understand the challenges of another person can always be powerful.

      Thanks again,

  2. Tessa,

    I wanted to first thank you for writing such an inspirational paper. I am also a first-semester graduate student studying speech-language pathology. You stated that your dream is to help others to dream, and I believe that you are certainly doing so. Although I do not stutter or have dyslexia, your post gives me hope to never give up and to persevere through life’s everyday challenges. You mentioned that your Sunday school teacher shifted your attention away from your disability onto your ability and allowed you to recognize your strengths rather than weaknesses. Do you think therapy would have been more successful for this middle school girl if her SLP had the same outlook on therapy? Also, you stated that the SLP admitted to not having much training in fluency disorders. ASHA’s Code of Ethics for SLPs states, “Individuals shall engage in only those aspects of the professions that are within the scope of their professional practice and competence, considering their level of education, training, and experience.” After acknowledging her lack of training, shouldn’t this SLP have referred this particular client to an SLP with more knowledge and expertise in stuttering?

    • Hello Stefanie,

      Thank you for your kind words. Concerning your first question, I believe identifying the girl’s strengths would have made a great difference. It would have built a stronger relationship between the client and clinician. The relationship would have facilitated a safe environment, and that safe environment would have been more conducive for growth. I’ve given a lot of thought to your second question. Referral is a valid option in the United States, but unfortunately it was likely not possible on the island. The island was very small; there probably wasn’t a fluency specialist there. Given that chunk of information, even if I was not a fluency expert I still would have tried to help the sweet girl. I wasn’t sure what the “ASHA” answer was, so Dr. Shapiro helped me. It is still ethical to give therapy if the SLP relies on his/her training, research, and consults with fluency experts. Experts don’t become experts over night. We all need a beginning and ours is now! Thank you for those great questions and for helping me learn something new.


  3. Hi Tessa,

    Thank you for your insight. It was heartbreaking to read about the experiences for you and the young girl who stuttered. Thankfully, joy was also sprinkled in your story.

    Your topic certainly caught my attention. My spouse has both dyslexia and a fluency disorder. I’ve always had an intense curiosity about the relationship of the two. It recently come to my attention that maybe I myself stutter more than typically. Or maybe it’s just situational? I will freeze in some speaking situations, and in others I can ramble on without knowing. Maybe I could be considered a person who clutters? Often it is from an anxiety that fuels my vocalizations in certain situations. Maybe it is the anxiety that would be my stuttering. But then again, maybe I do have a fluency disorder. I do have a father that stuttered, and to be honest, I didn’t really ever notice enough to label his disfluencies as stuttering.

    I wonder if the clinician felt such a desire to “cure” the young girl you wrote about. For her, she may have felt herself a failure because of wanting to make a difference, and from her view about stuttering.

    We can all hope that through bringing the issues out in the open, we can all strive for positive experiences. It’s wonderful to hear how through your hardship, you found hope. It sounds like you are in the perfect field, and now you can instill the same hope you received on others.

    Best regards,


    • Hi Cammi,

      Thank you for your comment. You might be right. The clinician probably was frustrated with the little girl as well as with herself. The tension probably arouse, at least in part, due to the perceived feeling of being a failure because of the lack of progress she was making with her client. That is an interesting piece of the puzzle to consider.

      Concerning the other part of your comment, I’ve been told my grandfather stuttered when he was young. The link between the dyslexia and stuttering interests me as well. If you are concerned about having a fluency disorder, then maybe talking with someone could be an option you might want to explore. My email address is tlbyrd1@catamount.wcu.edu. If you email me, then I could ask about a SLP in your area.


      • Tessa,

        Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your willingness to serve on this forum as you gain experience for your future. I think as a current SLP graduate student, I have reflected on my own disfluencies as I’ve gained knowledge about fluency disorders, and I am challenged to improve my own skills so I can serve others even better. That may mean therapy for myself. 😉 I value your commitment to work through your challenges with dyslexia and help others with communication disorders. It would be great to stay in touch! The best to you!

  4. Hi Tessa,
    I am an adult who stutters and I loved this paper. You captured the importance of being present with the person you are working with, and not just fulfilling a requirement for therapy or data collection. Stuttering is a complex disorder, one that is so much more than what does or doesn’t come out of our mouths. The feelings of shame, inadequacy, frustration and fear are often more overwhelming than the stuttering itself.

    When I did some therapy for the first time as an adult a few years ago, I had clinicians who were only interested in teaching me fluency targets and who needed to collect data and therefore counted my disfluencies. I hated it, and felt like a non-person. I found the courage to speak up and asked that the counting be done in another way, so I didn’t feel such a disconnect while we were in therapy. They wound up videotaping my sessions and during their counting after I had left.

    I learned a lot about therapy, and in fact wrote a paper on it for ISAD 2009. (http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/mertz122.html)

    Like you suggest, people who stutter can teach SLPs about stuttering and should. Students who only take one course on fluency disorders and get little to no time working with people who stutter will be like the therapist you wrote about – disliking fluency disorders and perhaps even intimidated by working with someone who stutters.

    I think it’s fantastic that you wrote this paper and shared the parallel feelings between stuttering and dyslexia. Your own experiences are going to make you a more compassionate, informed therapist willing to look holistically at the people you will work with. And you’re so luck to have worked with David Shapiro. I’ve heard him speak at NSA conferences and have read previous ISAD papers he has written.

    I hope you will take some time and look at my ISAD contribution for this year, called “Be Memorable.” I’d love to hear your feedback.


    • Hi Pam,

      Thank you for your beautiful words. You are right; working with Dr. Shapiro is a wonderful experience. I read the article you sent and watched the video you submitted. You are an amazing person. I hope one day I can be as confident, loving, and generous as you. The way you use your story to invest in others and teach them is remarkable. I sent the article you posted, in the comment above, to some of my friends. I feel like all graduate students that are going into this field should read it.


  5. Hi Tessa,

    I really loved reading your story. I have had a very similar experience to yours. My stuttering has been an anxiety disorder that I let become my label for far too long. I also went into this profession because I had a part of me that understood what it felt like to struggle with something and I have never regretted it. I love what I do. While I was reading your story I was wondering a couple of things. I know this would be really difficult to do, but did you ever have a chance to share with the therapist you were observing what it feels like to be asked why you’re not improving? I wonder if she had known how hurtful it was to be asked that question if she would have reconsidered her approach with the middle school girl. Often I think it’s easier for therapists to be empathetic when they have experienced something difficult as well. I know some therapists just haven’t had the experience to know how to react in a situation. My second question is do you know what type of setting you would like to work in when you have finished school? Do you have a particular interest in fluency?

    Once again, thank you so much for sharing. Your story was beautiful and well written.


    • Hi Heather,

      Thank you for reading my article and submitting some questions. I am so glad to hear that you love the profession. To answer your first question, I didn’t want her to know about the challenges I faced with reading. I wanted to make a good impression, and I felt like telling her about my challenges with reading would do the opposite. Since the girl was crying, it didn’t occur to me, at the time, that the clinician could have not understood the impact of the question, but that is possible. We talked about the fluency treatment, but I didn’t tell her my side of the story. I’ve thought about it more than a few times; if I could go back in time, then I would tell her about the therapy I received and how hurtful it was. Concerning your second question, unfortunately I don’t know. I’ve been asking myself the same thing. There are so many interesting areas and people to help. I am having a hard time narrowing it down. What setting do you work in now?

      Thanks again,

      • Hello Tessa,

        Like Heather, my stuttering has been in the form of an anxiety disorder. A big part of the struggle for me is seeking treatment. Much like people who stutter or have other disabling disorders, the challenge is finding someone that can help and WANTS to help. As a clinician, I believe showing up to therapy and doing your job consists of much more than taking data and going through the steps (as you mentioned).

        I think focusing on strengths allows the person to start to see that it is not all bad, all the time. For me, at my worst moments, I feel that anxiety has consumed my entire life. However, having someone to encourage me to refocus and see the positives allows me to work more rationally through the negatives. I believe the same would be true for stuttering. By focusing on positive aspects of the person, they will begin to learn to cope with the negatives in a healthier manner.

        No one likes to feel like they are trapped or constantly failing, so I think being encouraging and understanding will go a long way in fluency therapy. Your paper was beautifully written and had a great message for people who stutter and for people who have a different form of a disability!

        Thank you!
        Katie Kozulla
        UW-Stevens Point speech-language pathology graduate student

        • Hi Katie,

          Thank you for your lovely message. It is clear that you understand the importance of making a difference. We all have something that can help us relate to others who are trying to overcome a struggle. I think that is how we can show them we care and make the biggest difference possible. Having someone to encourage you can make all the difference. I would enjoy staying in touch with you. If you would like, then feel free to email me at tlbyrd1@catamount.wcu.edu.


  6. Hi Tessa,

    I also went to undergraduate at Western Carolina University and now am attending graduate school at Appalachian State University. I am now in a fluency class with Dr. Joesph Klein and we just finished an assignment involving pseudostuttering. I found this to be a very impacting assignment, that helped me better understand the world of those that stutter. What are your thoughts about this?

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hello Kassidy,

      Warm greetings from Catamount Country! What was your assignment involving pseudostuttering? I researched it a bit after I read your question, but I seem to be having a hard time understanding it still. Are you asking me what I think of teaching pseudostuttering to clients, using it as a desensitization technique, as a stuttering inhibitor, or as something else? I hope all is well in Boone!


      • Tessa, Thanks for your response! I’m sorry for my vague question. The pseudostuttering project consisted of voluntary stuttering during 3 phone calls and 3 visits to local businesses using prolongations, blocking, and repetitions. What are your thoughts about this for clients/ and or for clinicians?


        • That sounds like such an eye opening experience! It would be interesting to consider the reactions of people who listened to you and the emotions you experienced. I think pseudostuttering can benefit the client, and anything that can help is an excellent idea. Each client is different, so what might work for one client might not work for another. I would take special care to explain it to clients so they do not feel embarrassed or mocked. It’s probably a good idea to ask clients if they want to use that strategy. That would allow them a little more power in therapy. If they say yes, then I say go for it! What are you thoughts?


  7. Hi Tessa,
    I am a graduate student in SLP at Fort Hays State University and am currently in a fluency class. I love your view point of acknowledging strengths and to build on those strengths. You mentioned that you did not really like the way “progress” was charted. How would you recommend an SLP give feedback when progress is not being made?

    • Hi Christina,

      Thank you for your comment and question. I think tracking fluencies rather than disfluencies is an excellent place to begin. It focuses on what the client is doing well rather than areas he or she needs to improve. There are always strengths and they always need to be addressed. If progress is not being made, then I would suggest a new strategy. One that I like involves the clinician using the disfluencies and letting the client correct the clinician. That allows the client to internalize the treatment without receiving the criticism. I saw an excellent example a few days ago. The clinician was working with a child, and they used puppets to receive the disfluencies corrections rather than the clinician correcting the client. It seems less threatening. I hope this helps.


  8. Hi Tessa,

    I am also a first semester graduate student studying to be a speech therapist. I want to thank-you for sharing such a beautiful essay with incredibly inspiring insights and metaphors. I am enrolled in my second fluency course and have learned about the many theories and treatment techniques used in fluency therapy. I never really considered focusing on a client’s abilities rather than their disability. Therapy for any communication disorder focuses on ‘fixing the problems’, but I agree with you that as SLPs, we need to step back from this approach. Your recommendation about creating and sharing in the dreams of your client is wonderful. You posed the question: “How can a clinician balance focusing on strengths with approaching each person’s challenges?” First of all, I think that as SLPs, we need to treat each client uniquely. By developing rapport and getting to know your client, you will learn their strengths. Allowing your clients to be active in the goal making process and treatment techniques is important. That way you can step back from approaching their challenges and focus on their strengths. A motivated client will partake in self-help and gradually accept themselves for who they are (just like you seemingly did). I sincerely hope that I will have the opportunity to work along with my clients to reach their dreams with them.

    Thanks again!


    • Hello Emily,

      Thank you for your beautiful and insightful comment. You are so right. A motivated client will engage is self-help, and that is where the magic begins to happen. Being able to help others learn to communicate is such a blessing. I cannot think of another job I would rather have. Keep it up and keep dreaming!


  9. Tessa!!
    For others reading, I am a CSD graduate student with Tessa. I just wanted to tell you thank you for sharing your story and something so personal about yourself! You rock girl. This is amazing to see how far you have come and how you have connected your personal story with the field. You are going to make an amazing SLP!

    -Kate Carreno

    • Kate, you are always a ray of sunshine. Thank you for your kind comment. I know you have a beautiful story too. You are going to make an amazing SLP as well. We are in this together!


  10. Hi Tessa!

    This story has been such a pleasure to read. It was well written and inspiring. I am in the graduate program at Appalachian and am currently have a placement in the schools. I appreciate the genuine concern and desire to help those with some form of a communication disorder. I am curious as to what type of therapy the speech therapist in the school you mentioned used? Was it more of a traditional method or did she support voluntary stuttering and discuss negative attitudes and feelings? I am currently in a fluency class and we are learning about different types of therapy. Do you think if she would have switched to a different therapy the child would have seen improvements or changes in her attitude?

    Thank you for posting this story! It was so nice to read 🙂

    • Hi Amy,

      Thank you for your sweet comment and question. To be honest, I am not sure what strategy the clinician was using. I suppose the girl’s feelings were questioned, but it was in a hurtful manner. It almost felt like an interrogation. I agree thoughts and feelings should be addressed, but emphasis should be placed on compassion. Sometimes I think the way we do something is more important than what we do. This was one of those situations.

      Thanks again,

  11. Thank you Tessa for sharing your beautiful article! I am so honored to be on the graduate school journey with you (I am also a first year MS student at WCU). I agree that as clinicians we must focus on our client’s strengths. As your article implies, this perspective applies to all our clients, not just those that stutter. I also really like the idea of creating “safe zones.” These zones are clearly the opposite of the therapy “jail” that you experienced and later observed. In our field we are under a lot of pressure to collect data and show results, but if our clients dread therapy and leave feeling frustrated it means that we are failing them, no matter what the numbers say. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that we can make any progress toward our quantitative goals without first creating an encouraging, supportive environment. I believe that addressing feelings and attitudes should therefore be incorporated into our formal therapy goals and planning. Our clients must feel welcomed and supported at all times. Your question about how a clinician can balance focusing on strengths with approaching each person’s challenges is a complex one, but I believe that it starts with the establishment of a safe zone and constant positive reinforcement. Thanks again!

    • Hi Kristen,

      Thanks for reading my article! I agree with you. The numbers only tell part of the story. What good is a mountain of data if the clients feel like they communicate poorly, and they are not going to use what they learn outside of the therapy room? Safe zones are so important. An inspirational woman named Pam showed me an article she wrote about how clinicians can create that safe environment. It is posted in a comment above, but to avoid confusion I’ll put it right here. http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/mertz122.html

      Thanks again,

  12. Tessa,

    Thank you for sharing this beautifully written paper. As a grad student training to become an SLP I can only hope that I can be the clinician to focus on a client’s strengths rather than dwell on their weaknesses. You have done an excellent job of explaining the difference. Good luck to you!
    K. Mortensen

    • Hi K. Mortensen,

      Thank you for commenting on my article. I think hoping to be that clinician is more than half the battle. It shows the desire to grow and learn, and when that desire is there progress is inevitable. We are all in a learning process that I don’t believe ever ends. I know I still have a long way to go. Good luck to you as well!

      Thanks again,

  13. Hi Tessa,

    I am also a graduate student studying to be a speech language pathologist. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I appreciate your opinion that therapists must focus on client’s strengths as well as weaknesses. I think that since we are taught about disabilities it may sometimes be easy to forget about abilities but it is imperative we point out our client’s strengths in order for treatment to be successful. In order to focus on a client’s strengths we should make all goals attainable but some more easily attainable than others. If the client is able to succeed hopefully he or she will the therapist and want to work towards more challenging goals.

    • Hello Aviva,

      Thank you for reading my story and posting a kind comment. I like how you mentioned that some goals should be easier to obtain than others. I never thought of it like that before, but it is true. Small successes lead to larger successes, and success can be one of the most motivating factors for a client. Thanks for make that connection!


  14. Tessa,

    First I would just like to say that I think your paper was wonderful! I too believe that hope is needed within therapy. As a graduate student studying to be a speech therapist too I hope that I will be able to instill in my client’s the hope they need to success. I have dyslexia and see it as a way for me to better understand my future clients. By going through the struggles of learning I have a foundation to relate to my clients. I am not ashamed to say I have dyslexia and I hope one day I can help a client not be ashamed to say they stutter. If we as future SLPs are able to give our clients hope and improve their communication skills

    • Sorry I accidentally submitted without finishing my post.


      First I would just like to say that I think your paper was wonderful! I too believe that hope is needed within therapy. As a graduate student studying to be a speech therapist too I hope that I will be able to instill in my client’s the hope they need to success.

      Dyslexia is my stutter too. I do see my dyslexia as a way for me to better understand my future clients. By going through the struggles of learning I have a foundation to relate to my clients. I am not ashamed to say I have dyslexia and I hope one day I can help a client not be ashamed to say they stutter. If we as future SLPs are able to give our clients hope and improve their communication skills I think that is the greatest thing ever.

      It saddens me that the SLP working with the little girl who stuttered wasn’t able to instill hope in this little girl. In class, I have learned that if you do not feel comfortable giving therapy in a certain area to not do so or to take continuing education classes in it to increase your knowledge and ability. Do you know why that particular SLP continued to skill give therapy even though she wasn’t that familiar with it? Do you believe that they little girl would of had a different experience if she had a different SLP that had more training in fluency therapy?

      • Hi Catherinec,

        Thank you for your heartfelt comment and beautiful questions. It’s interesting that we both have dyslexia, want to become SLPs, and work with people who stutter. Reading your comment made me feel like I had a long lost twin.
        Concerning your question, it was a small island. There probably wasn’t a fluency specialist there. If she didn’t help the girl, then I don’t know if the girl would have received therapy. I’m sure the clinician wanted to help her, but was frustrated with the lack of progress. More training would have been beneficial, but I think changing the clinician’s attitude would have made a bigger difference. I hope that answers your questions. I know the conference ends tomorrow. If you would like to continue our conversation or stay in touch my email is tlbyrd1@catamount.wcu.edu.

        Thanks again,