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Stuttering Misconceptions: The Nuanced, Not-Always-Obvious Edition

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Let's go beyond the basic myths, facts, and misconceptions surrounding stuttering and talk about some of the 'nuanced' or not-so-obvious things...

Stuttering more actually can be progress.

Can we toss out ‘fluency’ or amount of perceived stuttering out the window when we consider ‘progress,’ please? Not only does stuttering vary, but for many people, stuttering more is actually very much a part of their stuttering journeys. Stuttering more could mean someone is saying more of what they want to say, speaking more, using less tricks or concealing less, desensitizing to showing stuttering, working towards greater identity acceptance— the list goes on!

Be careful with words like, 'brave,' 'courageous,' 'inspirational.'

Many things those who stutter do to work towards greater acceptance, battle stigma and stereotyping, own who they are [the list goes on] are inspirational; however, we too often see these descriptive terms misused by the media in a way that perpetuates misunderstanding and stigma, conjures pity, and feels patronizing. Labeling just the act of speaking and stuttering as ‘brave,’ when it is simply the way someone who stutters speaks, is not doing anything to shift how people see stuttering. Let’s normalize stuttering as a characteristic, or a part of someone who stutters’ speech and just listen [and value] what they have to say.

'______ suffers with stuttering' has got to go.

Let’s add in ‘Despite stuttering ______,’ here as well. We not only see these negative connotations misused in heart-tugging headlines, but we also see it used within our own field of speech-language pathology. ‘Suffers’ continues to attach negative meaning to stuttering, does nothing to educate society on the facts, makes assumptions about someone’s lived experience, continues to send an underlying message of less-than, and perpetuates the false narrative that stuttering is just something to ‘work harder’ to ‘fix.’ Can we be [insert relevant descriptive term] AND just stutter? Can we have important things to say and stutter?

What we praise and sort as 'good' and 'bad' requires thought and nuance.

THIS! How we internally sort ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘success’ or ‘failure’ as they relate to stuttering can be incredibly important to consider deeper and more specifically. Similarly, what our environment (including SLPs, families, friends) praise or see as a preferred outcome can shape how we see things, and can also perpetuate huge misconceptions that have significant impact on the individual and society’s views as a whole. Stop praising fluency, or saying it’s a ‘good day’ just because there is less [visible] stuttering. Equally, it’s not a ‘bad’ day or someone must not be ‘working hard enough’ if they are more stuttery.

It is OKAY to stutter, but stuttering doesn't always have to be okay.

It is OKAY TO STUTTER. This is one of the most powerful things people can hear— to hear that stuttering is not your fault, that you can stutter and be an effective communicator, and be successful, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that stuttering always has to be okay, or feel okay, or that we ‘should’ or ‘need’ to feel positive about it necessarily. Making space for all the feels is so important. How you feel is how you feel, and that is totally okay. This may shift over time, ebb and flow, and that is equally okay.

It's not about the tools, or more practice, or 'motivation.'

We give ‘tools’ far too much [undeserved] weight and ‘credit’ within stuttering therapy as a field. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who stutters who has said, ‘wow that easy onset has changed my life, I use it all the time.’ There’s a lot here, but simply, it’s not the tools. It’s never been about the tools. It’s not about ‘practicing said tools harder, or if someone is not ‘using them’ it’s because they ‘lack motivation.’ It’s about empowering the individual to speak more, to learn more about, get curious about how they approach/ react/ respond to stuttering, learning to advocate, shifting to ‘owning’ stuttering more rather than running away. More here, but food for thought!

Listeners, please just listen.

People often ask, ‘what can listeners do?’

The answer is pretty simple, just listen as you would to anyone else. Please do not finish words, or do anything non-verbally like leaning in, looking away, or excessively nodding that would make someone who stutters feel different or less than. While usually well-intentioned, they continue to send the message that those who stutter ‘need help’ or are less effective communicators. So, listeners, just listen 🙂

People who stutter are not necessarily 'soft spoken' or 'shy.'

Stuttering in a society that does not understand stuttering can be hard. It can lead some people who stutter to shy away from communication situations, or say less than they may want— however, these ways of coping do not make someone ‘shy’ or ‘soft spoken’ inherently. Please do not make over-generalizations about someone’s personality, or about people who stutter as a whole. Equally, there are stutterers who are talkative, outgoing, etc. Your personality is independent from your stuttering and the full spectrum of personality exists [and is separate from stuttering] among those who stutter.

Stuttering isn't something to be 'fixed.'

SLPs can easily feel like their role is to ‘fix’ those they work with [spoiler alert: it is not]. This may be slightly more applicable in other areas of the field we work in; however, in stuttering, it’s actually an approach that is harmful. I recently met with an adult whose first question to me was ‘you’re not trying to fix me, right? I’ve had years of that when I was younger, and it really traumatized me.’ When SLPs take the ‘fix it’ route, they’re basically reiterating the messages that have perpetuated the difficulty for those who stutter for so long already (fluency > stuttering, you must not be working ‘hard enough’ to ‘fix it,’ stuttering is your fault, fluency is the goal, etc….), layering the already layered self-guilt, even thicker. We need to understand what our role is as SLPs, but most important, we need to understand what it is not.

What else would you add to the list? What feels misunderstood or oversimplified in your experience?

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