The Bias Within – Loryn McGill

Loryn McGillAbout 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. 

 

References: 

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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The Bias Within – Loryn McGill — 40 Comments

  1. Hey, Loryn McGill!

    I just read your article and I am so sorry what happened to her. She seems like an intelligent woman who went through unfair treatment. I am so proud of her for following her dreams and to keep moving forward with her goals despite the ableism she has faced. I used to have a communicative disorder where I used to slur my words and speak too fast, but I am lucky that years of speech therapy has helped me And no longer have speech disorder ever since I was age 9. And I want to be an SLP to help others like they have helped me. I been through people treating me differently because they knew I had a disability, but I am not going to let it stop me from following my dreams. People who been through speech disorders are strong candidates for the program because they know what it is like to be one of the patients and can treat others through an empathetic lense.

    -Amber Yado

  2. Loryn,

    The topic you’ve proposed is such a critical one. Unfortunately, like your client and future colleague experienced, discrimination toward PWS in the SLP profession occurs more often than people think.

    In the realm of stigma and stuttering, attribution theory (Weiner, 1985; Weiner et al., 1988) might help to explain the discrediting attitudes that exist toward those who stutter in the profession. It posits that the more controllable a stigmatizing condition is perceived, the more anger and blame it will create in the public, and the less willingness to help and sympathy will be demonstrated.

    It was a mentor of mine who introduced me to attribution theory. She was also the person who helped give me the courage to become an SLP. For so long, I felt feelings of doubt and inadequacy due to stuttering. Like you, she would be the first to call out anyone perpetuating ableism. Her message to me was always clear: “You can do anything. It doesn’t matter that you stutter. You deserve to be here”.

    It sounds like your clients are truly lucky to have you. Thank you for being such a strong ally for people who stutter.

    -Randy

    Weiner, B., Perry, R. P., & Magnusson, J. (1988). An attributional analysis of reactions to stigmas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(5), 738–748. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.55.5.738

  3. Kudos to your client for the level of self-advocacy she demonstrated, but how disappointing to hear of the blatant discrimination in our own field, a field where we profess that communication is a human right in all its forms. So glad she had a mentor and ally in you!
    Ana Paula

  4. Hello Loryn!

    I wanted to start off by saying how proud I am of your former client for continuing her goal of becoming an SLP even though the school had concerns with her stutter. I personally think that those who have a stutter, other speech disorder, or went through speech therapy tend to make really good SLP’s because they have a personal experience that not many other people have. After the school told your client that it would take longer for her to complete the program because of her stutter, did that make her feel embarrassed or less than? Did that make her not want to talk anymore or did that push her to work harder?

    Thanks!
    Abbey Higginbotham

    • Hi Abbey!
      My former client is thriving in her current graduate program as a first year student. She has always committed herself to advocacy for people who stutter and is very involved in self-help organizations. This experience is something that had no doubt shaped her but will not, and has not defined her. She is looking forward to the near future when she is a therapist for PWS.

  5. Hey, Loryn!

    As someone who watched someone go through this experience, you have seen what it was like for someone to get discriminated against. What are some ways, in your opinion, that schools can improve to treat people who stutter fairly?

    – Amber Yado

  6. Hello Loryn,

    That is such an eye opener. For me, it is hard to fathom the fact that the programs that should know most about stuttering showed great ignorance and lack of knowledge. There is definitely a lack of knowledge in society. Hopefully more advocates and knowledge is spread soon to be an eye opener for everyone. Did your former client get into any other grad schools?
    Thank you,
    Jena Alejandro

  7. Hello Loryn!

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It is upsetting to hear that a school in our field would discriminate against a person we are suppose to be advocating for. However, it is amazing to hear that she stood up for herself and showed them that she is more than her stutter. Do you think it is up to the individual to educate themself or the people in the field to educate them? Or do you think both? And how do you think we can hold people accountable for their biases?

    – Kaitlyn

    • Hi Kaitlyn,
      I believe that self-advocacy is always important and as you know, education can take on many forms. It is our responsibility on the faculty side to teach inclusiveness and speak up when we see discrimination taking place. We all have implicit bias and it is important to consider the experiences from the point of view from the individual(s) being stereotyped. Loryn

  8. Hi Loryn,
    I am currently a 2nd year SLP graduate student and I thought this was such an important story to share. It is shocking to think that the people who are supposed to be advocating for a PWS the most are the ones possibly doing the most harm. In fluency courses taken throughout graduate school, one thing I have taken away the most is being an effective active listener. For many people who stutter it can become isolating in a society that may view it negatively. What is something you as a clinician use/used to educate others of the stigmas of stuttering? Thank you!
    -Bailey

    • Hi Bailey,
      Thank you for your feedback! I believe in action and PWS challenge the perceptions of others everyday by participating and speaking up. Sometimes mentioning that one stutters is a great way to start an informative exchange. Loryn

  9. Hi Loryn,
    I appreciate that you shared this story even though it’s really disheartening to know that a student experienced ableism within the field. I’m currently a post-bac student myself working toward becoming an SLP. One thing that I appreciate about Cal State Fullerton’s post-bac program is that we are required to take a Special Educations class. One of the assignments for the class was that we were required to take Harvard University’s bias-test. This test really brought forth hidden stereotypes that we as students had about people different from us. We were made to face the results of our thoughts and feelings about those who exist in this world differently from us. This is something, I believe that all SLP students should do. Even the smallest discomfort of knowing our biases can help us reframe how we think so that we may be better, more aware, and resourceful clinicians moving forward. It should be encouraged not hindered that people with communication challenges be a part of this field. That we have an open mind, are inclusive, and have broadened perspectives on how people with communication challenges being a part of this field could actually lead to advances in this field in terms of treatment and management options. My question is a bit broad but rooted in the context of your article. Has there been any changes or efforts made on how the people within the SLP field currently view this field in how it can be more inclusive for diverse populations, including those with communication challenges?
    I look forward to reading your response, thank you.

    ~Elilta Zellalem

    • Hi Elilta,
      It sounds like the experience of taking the bias test was very positive for you and would have many positive broader implications! To answer your question, I believe participation in online forums such as this, attending conferences and just talking with people are all steps towards inclusiveness and understanding. Also speaking out when we see something that is not right is so very important. As clinicians we encourage our clients to advocate for what they need to be successful communicators in all sorts of setting. By example, we need to participate in creating inclusiveness by our words and actions. Loryn

  10. Hello, I am a second-year graduate student at Stephen F. Austin State University. This article was fascinating and heartbreaking to read. I am shocked at how clinicians/others reacted to a person who stutters in the graduate application process. Our job is to advocate for our clients and help them reach their goals, not hinder them! I am so sorry about your former client’s experience, and I hope they continue to follow their dreams. One question I have is, how can we advocate/counsel our clients when they experience biases? Also, How did the biases affect your client’s view on the field of speech-language pathology?

    Thank you,
    Kaitlin Campbell

    • Hi Kaitlin,
      Thank you for reading and for your question. My client is wonderfully resilient in part to her amazingly supportive family and friends. She also has been involved in the stuttering community since she was in elementary school and has many friends who stutter. She knows what she is capable of by knowing her own abilities and by knowing many other SLP’s in the field who stutter. It was important to acknowledge that her experience was very very painful but not defining of her abilities. Loryn

  11. Hello, I am a student studying to become a Speech Pathologist and I found this story that you shared to be very eye opening. I was shocked to learn that your client had received such a hard time gaining credentials with becoming a clinician. I would have never thought that this bias would be so large in the professional setting but I hope she kept moving forward with this dream. I was wondering if this has always been a problem in the professional workforce with discrimination? Thank you for sharing, I look forward to your response. -Alissa Cain

    • Hi Alissa,
      People who stutter face discrimination in the workplace, educational setting and socially. Bias towards stuttering is sadly something that happens and I hope that with the presence that stuttering now has in the media we are able to work towards changing public perception. Loryn

  12. Loryn,
    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I am so sorry to hear what happened to that particular student and completely agree that our field needs to advance in terms of addressing the implicit biases towards fluent individuals. I was so impressed and proud to hear that the student declined the offer for graduate school based on how she was negatively treated. I believe moving forward, we as a profession need to advocate more for PWS in both the realms of the clients we have as well as individuals in the profession who stutter. I went to undergraduate school with a PWS in my cohort and she brought a unique perspective to the group that should never be penalized like the individual in this story. Do you have any additional ideas on how we as a profession can better advocate for the implicit bias within the field? -Liz Stein

    • Hi Liz,
      Thank you for your comments! To answer your question, I think we really need to call out bias when we see it. It can be scary and hard to do but so very important. If we expect our clients to advocate for themselves then we need to advocate for them. Also, I believe that programs would benefit from discussing this topic and the role that bias plays not only in our professional relationships but personal as well. Loryn

  13. Hi Loryn,
    This was such an eye opening story, I am studying to become a speech pathologist and was unaware of the lack of awareness in our field. I have a friend who is hard of hearing and plans to become a SLP, I am hoping she is a strong advocate for herself and continues to pursue her dreams. I hope this for your client as well! How do you think we can best educated professionals in the field and bring awareness to issues like this? Looking forward to your response and thank you for sharing!

    • Hi!
      How exciting for your friend and I am glad that you will support her journey. I believe participation in online forums such as this, attending conferences and just talking with people are all steps towards inclusiveness and understanding. Also speaking out when we see something that is not right is so very important. As clinicians we encourage our clients to advocate for what they need to be successful communicators in all sorts of setting. By example, we need to participate in creating inclusiveness by our words and actions. Loryn

  14. Hi Loryn,

    Thank you for sharing this insightful story that has highlighted some of the issues in the field of speech language pathology. I think it is amazing that even as a post bac student your former client was able to self advocate and realize that after facing discrimination that graduate program was not the right placement for her. I think she will make a great clinician that will be able to offer valuable treatment and counseling as a speech therapist that has a communication difficulty herself. Is she focused on fluency disorders treatment as an SLP or another area of focus in the field?

    • Hi!
      Thank you for your comment. To answer your question, she is planning on working with people who stutter. If I am fortunate enough we will some day work together,
      Loryn

  15. Hi Loryn – great paper!

    I am just waiting for the moment when the fluent world wakes up, shakes the cobwebs out of their heads and recognizes that it’s fluent bias and fluent privilege that most often erects those barriers that we who stutter face.

    There continues to be so much stigma surrounding stuttering and workplaces and institutions of higher learning often fuel that, as noted in your example above. Of course a person who stutters can complete grad school in the expected time frame as everyone else.

    You may know, I’ve done a lot of employment advocacy through NSA initiatives, largely our “We Stutter @ Work”. We done many webinars on inclusion etiquette in the workplace and recently we did one on “Stuttering in Academia”.

    Until the world truly understands that stuttering is just the way we talk and merely a different kind of conversation, then we will still need to stand in the coat rooms and ask people to check their bias at the door.

    Thanks for such a good reflection.

    Pam

    • Hi Pam!
      I couldn’t agree more with your reflection! There is so much stigma and I really appreciate all the work you have done through the NSA! We will continue to work to expand tolerance and decrease bias.
      Much appreciated,
      Loryn

  16. Hi Loryn,

    I am about to start my Master’s program in Speech-Language Pathology and I am SHOCKED at the ableism in our community, especially in a field where our purpose is to advocate for all forms of fluency and communication! It makes me so happy to read that she denied their admission. Yay for self-advocacy!

    What do you think is the best for us as clinicians to help eradicate this bias within our field, especially since we should already have it gone? When it comes down to it, should we call out our colleagues on their ignorance?

    Suzanne Perez

    • Hi Suzanne,
      Congratulations on starting your program! I would like to think that every interaction creates an opportunity for education with the hope to do things differently in the future. We all have bias and may be unaware until we are faced with them. It is important that we speak up when we see people treated unfairly.
      Loryn

  17. Hi Loryn,

    how awful for your former client to have had that happen to her. however, her self advocating is unmatched!! kudos to her 🙂
    as for the school, i am shocked to say the least for their blatant show of ableism towards a great candidate for their program. in times like these, it blows my mind that things like that are still happening.
    As an SLP undergrad student myself, i strive for inclusivity and respect among all. i think its important to cheer each other on, support your fellow colleagues, and push your students to be the best they can be.

    thank you so much for your time! what is something you would suggest to other students in their journey of self advocation?

    Annika Paz

    • Hi Annika,
      Congrats on entering the field. Self-advocacy is something that takes practice and is so important for clinicians and clients. From fighting for services for a child to asking people to wait while you finish a sentence is all part of it. We have the opportunity to be have a voice, we should be using it.
      Loryn

  18. Hello Loryn,
    That is unfortunate to hear about what happened to your former client. As people who work with a lot of PWS, I expected more understanding and knowledge of the matter from them. I strongly admire your former client’s ability to self-advocate in a program that should know more about her condition and how their stuttering does not automatically equate to their inability to perform well in graduate school. I agree that despite the huge platform being given to stuttering, there is still a lot more work needed in order to destigmatize stuttering and to raise more awareness.

  19. Hi Loryn,

    I enjoyed reading your work above and I have an understanding of the emotions your client felt. I am also a PWS who stutters and I am currently a senior in my undergraduate program for Communication Disorders. There has been so mnay people in my life who told me I could never become an SLP because I stutter. I just know that PWS bring so much to the table and are more than capable of becoming great SLPs. The stigma and bias does run deep, and I hope that in the years to come we get to make it better. Thank you for all that you do for people who stutter!

    All the best,

    Carlie

  20. Hi Carlie,
    You becoming an SLP is part of reducing the stigma. At the FRIENDS conferences I always ask the panel of speakers, ” Can you be a good communicator and still stutter? ” Of course the answer is yes! We know this to be true, we just need to continue to show everyone else. Best, Loryn

  21. Hey Loryn,

    I am a graduate student in a Speech Language Pathology program and I am in my fluency class now. I am amazed how a stutter can cause a person with a stutter to not be able to finish their schooling in a timely manner just because of that persons stutter. I enjoyed reading your post.

    Thank you

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