As a speech and language therapist who works in the field of stuttering who doesn’t stutter, I’ve lately taken an interest in the notion of “dysfluency pride” or “stuttering pride”. I have been drawn to “stuttering pride” because of the similarities I see in the “gay pride” movement. As a gay man who felt a lot of shame about my own identity growing up, I noticed some common parallels that people who stutter and the LGBTQI faced (feeling isolated, passing as fluent or passing as straight because of societal pressure).
Many definitions of stuttering unknowingly situate stuttering as something that needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘treated’. For example the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems (ICD-10) defines stuttering as “a speech disorder characterized by frequent sound or syllable repetitions, sound prolongations, or other dysfluencies that are inappropriate for the individual’s age. Similarly, the US National Library of Medicine’s website, MedlinePlus states that stuttering is “a speech disorder in which sounds, syllable, or words are repeated or last longer than normal. These problems cause a break in the flow of speech (called dysfluency)” (author’s own italicised words for emphasis).
Although helpful in the medical world, where science’s role is to fix the human body and to reduce impairment, these definitions do nothing to reduce the stigma attached to stuttering. One can look at how far the Deaf community has come along with human rights, advocacy and resistance against the removal of sign language (promotion of oral education). I often read about Deaf pride and the acceptance that being deaf is seen as a unique difference rather that a disorder that needs to be treated. An excellent book that discusses the tension between the medical model and the social model of disability is Andrew Solomon’s book, Far From the Tree. One of my favourite quotes from Solomon’s book is “Fixing is the illness model; acceptance is the identity model; which way any family goes reflects their assumptions and resources.” (pg. 37). Solomon’s book uncovers the complex journey parents embark on when their children are radically different to themselves. Solomon interviews parents of children with Autism, parents of children who are Deaf and many other parents of children who are different. Stuttering does not feature in Solomon’s book, but the content is relatable to parents of children who stutter nonetheless.
Following the International Stuttering Association World Congress/National Stuttering Association in Atlanta (July 5th – July 10th), my hope is that one day the world understands stuttering as much as it understands deafness. In the Deaf community, the use of sign language is central to Deaf identity, and attempts to limit its use are viewed as an attack. In a similar vein, for a person who stutters, stuttering is central to Stuttering identity and that society’s expectation for communication to be fluent places unfair demands on people who stutter.
I conclude this post with a wonderful poem by a student who I’ve been working with. This remarkable individual has taken ownership of her stutter and together we are working on ‘letting her stuttering out’ and for her to ‘give herself permission to stutter.’ I encourage you to see stuttering as a unique difference, one that celebrates diversity of the human race and one that teaches the world how to really listen.
Stuttering by Brenna (aged 10)
Stuttering is good, stuttering is bad,
Stuttering can make you happy, stuttering can make you sad.
Stuttering can teach, stuttering can learn,
Stuttering can cost, stuttering can earn,
Stuttering can grow, stuttering can shrink,
Stuttering can be stupid, but it can make you think,
Stuttering can be anger, stuttering can be fine
Stuttering belongs to lots of people, but stuttering is mine…
Voon Pang, Bsc HCS, MNZSTA, CPSP is a speech-language pathologist at the Stuttering & Treatment Research Trust in Auckland, New Zealand. Voon blogs for the Stuttering Foundation of America and has travelled to the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to be better equipped at helping those who stutter.