“Stuttering is not bad. But sometimes, it is inconvenient.”
Our NSA group is working on a (very exciting) project, and we met awhile back to discuss things like strategy, marketing, and online presence. Stephanie, our SEO expert, had done some research on the terms most associated with stuttering in Google searches.
"Fix my stuttering" and "cure my stuttering" were the most-searched terms.
This gave us somewhat of a dilemma, since as the NSA we are all about acceptance, which is pretty much the opposite of eradicating stuttering with a magic cure. Nonetheless, Google doth not lie, and it is clear that the majority of Googlers out there want a very specific type of answer to their stuttering questions.
As a speech therapist, and a chapter leader for the NSA, I sometimes feel caught between two separate stuttering camps: the "cure" camp, and the acceptance camp. I have no qualms stating that I cannot cure your stutter. And, I am a huge fan of the NSA and strongly believe that acceptance is the ultimate "fix" for stuttering.
So, if I can't cure it, and I believe that acceptance is the most powerful position out there...why am I a stuttering-specialized speech therapist?
Sometimes, stuttering stings
I had breakfast last week with one of my favorite SLPs, Connie Dugan. She shared a phrase that has stuck with me all week: "Stuttering is not bad. But sometimes, it is inconvenient."
I recall watching a video from a FRIENDS conference in my graduate fluency disorders class. Children were sharing their experiences with stuttering. One child told his story to the leader, who then shared it with the group at the child's request. This 8-year-old boy recounted the story of how he and a friend were playing in the woods and discovered a bees' nest. His friend thought it would be fun to throw rocks at the nest, and picked up some rocks in preparation to hurl them at the target. The boy thought this was a terrible idea, and tried to yell "Stop!" to his friend.
But, he blocked, and was unable to get a sound out. His friend threw the rock, and the bees swarmed.
Is it bad that this boy stutters? No. Stuttering is not a reflection of intelligence, ability, or self-worth. But, in this moment, might things have turned out better if he was able to get his words out? Almost certainly.
As an SLP who is involved with the NSA, I have met individuals from the most extreme opposite ends of the cure-acceptance spectrum. As an SLP, I've talked to people who desperately want to be rid of their stutter, period. As an NSA'er, I've met many awesome folks who are "loud and proud" with their stuttering, and are an inspiring tour-de-force of strength and vulnerability.
And, still others who constantly wrestle with the issues of acceptance and practicality. Depending on your job, hobbies, or life situation, there may be times when stuttering poses a genuine problem.
A physician friend of mine recently shared how she developed a "system" with a fellow physician coworker who stuttered. They each had particular verbal aspects of their jobs that they disliked, so she always did one and he did the other. I asked who ran the codes (i.e., when a patient crashes). She thought for a moment, then answered, "Actually, I guess I always ran the codes...I'm not sure how that would have worked otherwise."
Of course, it's entirely possible that this individual would have no problems running a code, but her conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that there are, sometimes, situations which require rapid, efficient pronunciation of syllables.
Personally, I don't believe that acknowledging difficulties related to stuttering in any way diminishes one's ability to accept a stutter. Acceptance does not equate to a blind belief that "everything is awesome".
My choice to be a speech-language pathologist who focuses on stuttering (and acceptance of stuttering) reflects what I call "positive pragmatism". At the most fundamental level, I do believe that acceptance is the most powerful and effective solution for stuttering. Freeing yourself of shame, anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, and allowing yourself the freedom to say what you want to say, are far more important than expertise with easy onsets and cancellations.
On my intake form for new patients, I ask, "What are your goals for a speech therapy program?" The two most common answers I receive are "To not be held back because of my speech" and "To say what I want to say, when I want to say it."
In many cases, achieving #1 requires acceptance, as does the first part of #2. The second part of #2, however, hinges on the physical practicalities of stuttering. You can accept the fact that you block, but it's still nice to have an exit strategy so you can move on to the next part of your message. For some people, learning to avoid substitutions is easier if they know they have tools to tackle that potentially tricky word.
This approach to stuttering is called "management" among holistic fluency therapists. The goal of management is not to eliminate or prevent stuttering, but rather to minimize the impact of the stutter, both psychologically (acceptance!) and physically (speech techniques).
Be the best stutterer you can
I sometimes tell kids (and adults!) that one of the goals of therapy is to become really good at stuttering. Not only does this frame stuttering in a more positive, accepting light, but it provides a realistic, attainable challenge that is something you can be proud of.
Ultimately, how you want to stutter is a decision that is unique for every individual. Some speakers are comfortable with their natural stuttering habits and don't feel a need for speech therapy. Others may decide they want some therapy to modify their patterns and habits. And, of course, some people change their speech all on their own, no therapy required!
Management, ultimately, is what you do with your speech. It may or may not involve speech therapy. Management requires acceptance and acknowledgement-- you can't evaluate your speech until you've acknowledged and accepted it for what it is. Once you've accepted it, you have choices for what kind of speaker you want to be. "Manage" is kind of a boring word, so I like to use the word "cultivate" instead.
Acceptance is the foundation to stuttering management. It is just the beginning. Management is about what comes next.
How will you cultivate your speech?
To learn more about speech IRL's acceptance + management group therapy stuttering program, click here.