About the Author:
Loryn McGill, M.S., CCC-SLP is the owner of OC Stuttering Center in Costa Mesa, CA providing therapy exclusively for people who stutter and at Chapman University she is an Adjunct Professor and teaches the graduate course in Fluency Disorders. She is the co-developer of the Childhood Stuttering Screening for Pediatricians (CSS-P) and has conducted international research examining the benefits of early identification of stuttering and its benefits as well as researched the use of medication in the treatment of stuttering. She is involved with FRIENDS, The Stuttering Foundation, and the NSA.
The bias and unwanted judgement that people who stutter face on the assumption of their speaking skills is well known. “The public’s negative reactions toward stuttering and people who stutter are relevant to the concept of stuttering being classified as a stigmatized disorder” (Boyle & Blood 2015).
The stigma of what it is to stutter runs deep within our society largely due to the way it has been portrayed in the media. With the presence of social media and the visibility of a US President who stutters; stuttering now has a platform to the likes of which we have never seen. The presence of highly visible people who stutter in politics, sports and film have assisted in propelling forward the effort to destigmatize stuttering. Despite the mainstream conversations taking place, there remains incorrect judgement about people who stutter (PWS) and their capabilities.
When my former client decided she wanted to be a speech and language pathologist (SLP), I cheered her all the way through her postbaccalaureate program knowing that she would be a wonderful colleague. The field of speech pathology has its foundational roots in stuttering and I was thrilled to support her journey from client to clinician.
During this past year I observed her through her application process as she faced blatant discrimination because she is a PWS. This experience has challenged my understanding of acceptance of those with various communication abilities within the field of speech pathology from fellow clinicians.
There is one instance that stands out the most. While waiting to hear back on acceptances, she was requested to have a second interview from a particular school. During this meeting she was told that there were some concerns and doubts that she could complete the graduate program in the typical two years; that it would take her two and a half to three years instead. She was told that she would have to do more to succeed in her clinic settings. Specifically, she would have to do video recordings and more clinic hours because of how she spoke. As a result of these imposed requirements her time in the program would be extended.
Fierce self-advocacy was demonstrated as she stated that she would not need more time and that she was not asking for any accommodations. She was told that her stuttering was a concern and that besides that she was an excellent candidate for the program. She had to challenge the beliefs of someone who should have been advocating for her abilities; not looking at her stuttering as a disability. Days later she was accepted into this program with a scholarship. She promptly declined.
The lack of awareness and understanding that was shown in thinking that she would need longer to complete graduate school because she stutters is simply unfounded and offensive; particularly coming from within the field. This school seemed to have an invisible requirement of fluency to be successful. A culture of acceptance and inclusiveness comes from the top and as Alison Ladavat wrote in her article Stuttering is a type of Neurodivergence, we need to, “Call out colleagues who perpetuate ableism in our field.”
It is because of the field of speech pathology that communication is accessible for so many.
The principles in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) mission statement include advocating for members and those they serve. Discrimination of any kind is wrong and discrimination against those who stutter by faculty creates bias within a program that is hypocritical of the work we commit to do as therapists.
It is our responsibility to make sure that students who stutter and those with other communication abilities are treated well within academic programs. We can take steps to educate faculty and staff about how to respond appropriately and ask questions about stuttering in a respectful manner. No one should be told that they have academic limitations because of how they communicate. There is clearly so much more work that needs to be done to continue destigmatizing stuttering and speaking up where bias exists is an important step in accountability.
Boyle, M. P., & Blood, G. W. (2015). Stigma and stuttering: Conceptualizations, applications, and coping. In Stuttering Meets Stereotype, Stigma, and Discrimination: An Overview of Attitude Research (pp. 43-70). West Virginia University Press.
Ladavat, A. (2021, May 28). Stuttering is a Type of Neurodivergence. Therapist Neurodiversity Collective.
Dubinske, S., & Lemke, A. (2008). Achieving excellence in Member Service: ASHA’s strategic pathway. The ASHA Leader, 13(1), 20-21.
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