A Poem about Ableism – Tiffani Kittilstved

Tiffani KittilstvedAbout the Author:

Tiffani Kittilstved, M.S., CCC-SLP (she/her/hers) is a stutterer as well as a private practice Speech-Language Pathologist and a PhD student at Idaho State University. She’s based out of the Seattle, WA area where she specializes in working with children and adults who stutter. These experiences, along with her own personal experiences with stuttering, have motivated her current research interests, which include covert stuttering; ableism within society towards stutterers; the application of trauma-informed counseling approaches into therapy; and the intersectionality of identities among stutterers. Tiffani is also actively involved in the stuttering community, holding leadership positions within the National Stuttering Association and organizing One-Day Conferences through Friends, an Association of Young People who Stutter. She is excited to be a part of the ISAD conference for the 5th year, with this year’s submission being her first creative arts submission.

I walk down the street and see people looking at me 
They judge what they hear cause it doesn’t match what they see
Their silent stares scream words with their eyes
They don’t see the shame behind the tear that too quickly dries
Our society pretends that ableism towards us isn’t real
Yet we all have stories that make it hard to heal
Fluent speakers can pretend all they want
They’re afforded equal opportunity while we are not
Sometimes I just wish I didn’t have to deal with it all
I wonder how different I would be if only my words didn’t stall
What’s it like to be “normal”? I ask everyday
The answer evades me with each word that they say
“What’s wrong with you?” They ask as the words stop
 Others might laugh or pity me in a way that’s just over the top 
I cry out in frustration for what I can’t say
In response to a simple question like “How was your day?”
Others throw out words not caring how they sound
While I carefully craft my words, trying to talk around
I try to hide my stuttering because society says it’s bad
But a part of me dies every time I don’t say what I wish I had
It takes so much courage to just be myself and speak
But I’m sick and tired of people misjudging me as meek

Although what i’ve dealt with isn’t fair 
It makes it easier when that burden is something I choose to share
Finding community with other stutterers has changed my life 
Especially because ignorance in society is so rife
The way that we talk is completely okay 
I choose to believe that no matter what people say
What we have to say matters
If we can believe that, that time pressure shatters
Stuttering in our society is a radical act
We’re showing our authentic selves no matter the impact
We may never see the difference that that might make
As we push back on society’s ableism for our own sake
But we do this every time that we stutter freely
Even if people don’t respond ideally
We can’t let people’s negativity stop us from talking
Even if they never stop their gawking

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Comments

A Poem about Ableism – Tiffani Kittilstved — 17 Comments

  1. HI Tiffani,

    It is always great to see you active and your word in print. Thanks for the thoughtful and emotional poem. Poetry is a powerful form of expression that can help us visualize and connect with challenging content.
    I really enjoyed this line of your poem:
    “What we have to say matters
    If we can believe that, that time pressure shatters.”

    I did have a question, how does poetry influence your life? Either your own others’ poems?

    Also, do you enjoy creative endeavors?

    Be well. Be you!
    Thanks for sharing pieces of you.
    With compassion and kindness,
    Scott

    • Hi Scott,

      Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. To answer your question, I really don’t do or read poetry. Writing in this form was a new experience for me that I decided to try when I was in a creative and thoughtful mood one night (and then have just kept revising since). To be honest, sharing this was an extremely vulnerable act for me and one that I almost didn’t do this reason. I really don’t feel confident in my abilities to write poetry as I don’t know if I did it “right” in a technical sense but I decided to not let that perfectionism hold me back from expressing myself. I wanted to share my feelings about stuttering in this way and doing it in such a vulnerable way maybe made it even more significant for me. So I really do appreciate your feedback and encouragement.

      As for your other question about general creative endeavors, I enjoy expressing myself in writing mostly. I don’t consider myself very creative but I have, in the past, enjoyed expressing myself via music (I played piano mostly for years and that was how I expressed myself the most when I was younger). Nowadays I find that I prefer to express myself via writing (not poetry, just personal reflections mostly, similar to personal pieces I’ve written for ISAD in the past). I feel that just being able to express your feelings – in whatever form that takes – is like a detox of sorts. Being able to express how I feel about stuttering is like a container for those feelings and it allows me to be more integrated with them rather than struggling against them so much.

      I hope this makes sense. I’d love to hear your (or others) experiences with creative expressions and how that impacts you and your perspectives on stuttering.

      Best,

      Tiffani

  2. I love this, Tiffani! I was so moved by the way you set it up in two parts, helping to illustrate the everyday challenges you and other PWS face – and I especially love your point about how your efforts towards openness, community and authenticity may or may not change the world, but you most certainly benefit.

    Cheers to you from Atlanta!
    Carl

    • Thanks for your comment, encouragement, and feedback Carl! I decided to divide it up into two parts as it illustrates how there are conflicting (perhaps even contradictory) parts to how we view stuttering and how those can simultaneously both exist in a meaningful way. It’s my attempt to capture the complexity of living with a stutter in an ableist society.

      Thanks for your interaction on my piece! 🙂

      Best,

      Tiffani

  3. Hi Tiffany,

    Thank you much for sharing your poetry! As a future SLP-CCC, I love the impact you are making in stuttering community and helping others find their voice 🙂

  4. Hello Tiffani, many thanks for your highly expressive and emotional poem! May I ask if the writing of your poem had an effect on your speech or fluency? I’m interested in emotional expression as a treatment tool. Journaling (writing about one’s issues) is said to have therapeutic value and I’ve personally found it beneficial; I journal daily so as to verbalize and express my day to day problems and feelings, in order to get it all out of my system and reduce stress levels.

  5. Tiffani,

    I loved reading your poem. Do you have this posted anywhere that I can hear you read it personally? I am always interested to hear the voice of the author as I think it brings a new dimension to my understanding.

    Thank you for sharing these raw words with us all!
    Kylee, SLP Graduate student

  6. Hi Tiffani,

    I am a graduate student studying speech-language pathology. I am currently enrolled in our stuttering course and as a part of our course requirements, I was assigned your poem in honor of ISAD. I was so excited to read your poem and see how the experience of stuttering can manifest in a creative outlet.

    Thank you so much for your expressive and emotive lyrics. I can feel your frustration and even more so, your passion for advocating for people who stutter. Would you ever feel comfortable reading your work aloud? I believe hearing you read your poem aloud would have a profound effect on listeners.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Ceci

  7. Hi Tiffani,
    I am a graduate student studying Speech Language Pathology at the University of South Carolina. This semester I am enrolled in a stuttering class where we are assigned readings from the ISAD and have to reflect on each reading. What an honor to be assigned one of your wonderful poems. This poem was very powerful. Your vulnerability and honesty was stunning in the words you wrote. I could feel the emotion and was completely moved. I would love to hear you read this aloud. Is there anywhere I can listen? My favorite line in this poem was, “What we have to say matters.” Society has inhibited people who stutter and has belittled their worth because of their speech. What people who stutter say does matter, just as it does matter for anyone else. This poem does a wonderful job in letting the reader know that a person who stutters should not feel unworthy because they speak differently. I will always keep this poem in my inventory of poems to share for families or clients who need to read these beautiful words.
    Thank you for sharing,
    Alexis

  8. Hi Tiffani!

    Like the comment above, I am also a graduate student studying speech-language pathology and was assigned to read your poem in my stuttering course. I enjoyed reading your poem so much and it overlapped well with the content we are learning in our course. We recently had a guest speaker who also emphasized the importance of finding a community of other people who stutter.

    I also enjoyed reading your “about the author” and we have a lot of similar interests such as covert stuttering and counseling approaches. In your clinical practice, do you focus more on counseling, stuttering modification/fluency shaping or blend of the two? SLP to SLP-to-be, do you have any advice you’d like to share regarding clinical practice?

    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story!
    Karsyn

  9. Wow. Thank you for sharing. Your words are so meaningful, both typed and spoken. I love your lines “We’re showing our authentic selves no matter the impact” and “We can’t let people’s negativity stop us from talking
    Even if they never stop their gawking”. No one should have to change who they are because it’s hard for others to accept. Being authentically you is the happiest way to live.

  10. Tiffani I loved this poem! I read in your response to another person above that this is the first time you’ve written poetry. I have to say, I never would have known that by reading this. I found the illustrative scenes, rich depictions of emotion and the meter to flow well and create a captivating depiction of your reactions to ableism.

    I’m an SLP graduate student at Idaho State University and we recently had a class discussion in our fluency class on ableism. During the discussion, I gained a new perspective on how hurtful it can be. What really struck me was how painful it can be even when the person committing the ableism has good intentions. I spotted some illustrations of that in your poem, such as when you said “I walk down the street and see people looking at me/They judge what they hear cause it doesn’t match what they see” or “Others might…pity me in a way that’s just over the top.”

    Reading about your experience in this poem is a good reminder of why it’s important to be mindful of my own biases. I am not a person who stutters, but I want to be an advocate for any clients that come in my door to have the confidence to be their authentic selves. For clients who stutter, demonstrating that I believe what they have to say is important and they can speak freely without judgement with me will hopefully help start that process if they’ve lost that confidence.

    Thank you for sharing this. Sharing personal experiences in a public space like this takes great courage, as does doing it in a new creative form. I’m grateful that you did both.

  11. I have loved seeing all the different types of creative expressions. I realized how powerful it is to use art to express our thoughts/feelings/emotions in all different kinds of mediums. My favorite line was the last one, “Even if people don’t respond ideally. We can’t let people’s negativity stop us from talking. Even if they never stop their gawking” it gave me goosebumps.

    I do think any textbook could have the same effect on me as this poem. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Hello Tiffani!
    I am a Speech Language Pathologist student currently earning my masters degree. I like how you compared your life and perspectives to fluent speakers through this piece. As a professional you could have come at this from a clinical perspective but I think through this poem you have made more of an impact. Through your vulnerability you have educated your readers in a way definitions and terms never could. I firstly like how you emphasized the importance of being apart of the stuttering community. I can really tell from this event how strong the stuttering community is and the impact you all are making. Secondly I think your statements about ableism are so very true. As a fluent speaker I have realized how much I take speaking for granted from your poem. I wanted to become an SLP to help people be able to speak their mind and not be stuck in it. Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    Dawn

  13. Hi Tiffani,

    This poem is incredible! The emotion you weaved throughout it is palpable. It means a lot to me hearing first-hand experiences from PWS, but this is the first poem I have read. While sharing difficult and traumatic experiences is not easy, expressing them through unique and creative forms definitely adds an element of beauty. As an SLP student, I would love to help clients one day to discover ways to express their feelings and emotions in therapeutic ways such as through poetry. I truly appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to share this beautiful poem.

    Kelsey

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