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Speech in the Schools

Window into Stuttering

Published June 25, 2015 3:07 PM by Teresa Roberts

As clinicians, many of us do not have a societally recognized form of disability. We have the privilege of able-ness. Our work ensures daily contact with individuals who may be identified by society and/or may self-identify as individuals with a disability.  

Even though providing therapeutic services is our calling, we are still only able to see life events from the viewpoint of ability. We make assumptions and hypotheses about what it could feel like to have communication challenges, but we can’t truly know how we would react in the same situations.

On recent Friday night, I was fortunate to be able to attend the premier The Way We Talk, a documentary about stuttering by Michael Turner. He narrates his journey to understand stuttering with footage from his life and travels, as he challenges his personal beliefs and feelings. He describes how he moves from a place of never mentioning stuttering out loud to anyone, to filming a documentary on the subject.

Prompted by a question from his friend about what it feels like to stutter, the filmmaker explores his family history, his childhood, and the national and international stuttering community. He talks with a geneticist in Washington, D.C., who explains the 80% heritability rate for stuttering, and initiates a conversation with his mother, who also stutters, about how she felt raising a child who stutters.

The movie features Glenn Weybright, a speech language pathologist, and person who stutters. Excerpts of therapy sessions and interviews with clients provide a glimpse into teaching the tools to manage stuttering, and the frustrations of not being able to speak fluently, quickly and spontaneously.

SEE ALSO: Finding School-Based Stuttering Resources 

In the documentary, Turner meets with children at Camp SAY: Stuttering Association for the Young, a summer camp for children and adolescents who stutter. He also travels to Japan where he attends a local stuttering support group, which shows how cultural views of disability may include honoring the gift of imperfection. There are poignant moments where the film captures the honesty and bravery that are part of growth and change.

Turner was at the film premier and received a standing ovation. A man in the audience, a person who stutters, thanked him for giving voice to his thoughts. This man and his wife were expecting their first child, and he had been dwelling on concerns about the possibility of having a child who stutters. He was inspired by the movie and expressed renewed hope and joy. Another audience member asked about the theme of vulnerability throughout the film, reminding us of the societal pressures for ableism, and the desire to hide any perceived flaws.

Hearing firsthand about what it feels like to be considered as having a communication disorder reinforces the idea that, for many of us, we are still outsiders. The shared community is the community of individuals we serve. We have the honor of being welcomed into this community through our work. Personal accounts give us insight.  Promoting and sharing stories of how we view ability and disability may change societal views for all of us.

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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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