Day 4 of #100daysofwalking and stammer podcasts

A screenshot of the Stuttering Foundation logo beside details of the podcast which reads
“Stuttering Foundation podcast. Episode date 9th Nov 2021 with Dr. Hope Gerlach-Houck,
Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University and Sara MacIntyre, M.A., CCC-SLP

Day 4 of #100daysofwalking and stammer-related podcasts.

These reflections are my own thoughts and views, and whilst I hope to convey the content with accuracy, I do recommend that you listen to the episode so that you can take your own thoughts and ideas from it. I do not want to skew the good work being done by any inaccuracies or misinterpretations on my part.

I have listened to many podcasts from the Stuttering Foundation so I decided to see what recent episodes were available. I immediately spotted an episode with Dr. Hope Gerlach-Houck and hesitated no further. I have heard Hope speak previously and really resonated with her. I have also read some of her articles about stammering, stigma and also intersectionality with the autistic community and neurodiversity movement. I really admire her previous work so was excited to hear this episode with Hope discussing her recent research on exploring concealment, stigma and identity. I made the right choice! I had to pause many times during my walk because I wanted to type in some quotes into my phone for future reference. My gloves don’t have touchscreen so I had to stand in the wet grassy verge of the Irish countryside and pull off my high-vis gloves to get my phone out and tap out the inspiring nuggets with my reluctantly cold unbidding hands. That’s dedication (well, I think it is anyway!). I described this episode in my tweets as: “Very philosophical experience, a feast for my neural synapses! More lightbulb moments than a Christmas tree!”. I think I said “oh” out loud as I listened to any interesting point that Hope made and each time I did so, I imagined a cartoon lightbulb flashing above my head. I had an amusing segue daydream whereby I imagined myself as a cartoon meeting Daniele Rossi’s Franky Banky cartoon fox, where we talked about this episode and had cartoon lightbulbs flashing above our heads. Now you see why I need the discipline that writing the Tweets and blog entries gives to my focus! I digress – let me resume with some of the aforementioned quotes from Dr. Hope Gerlach-Houck followed by my reflections on the podcast.

“​Stigma research is not complete if you aren’t accounting for intersectional stigma”.

(MacIntyre and Gerlach-Houck, 2021, 8:05)

“For people who stutter  this isn’t the only identity they have”.

(MacIntyre and Gerlach-Houck, 2021, 8:12)

“You can’t study the experience of stuttering in a vacuum”.

(MacIntyre and Gerlach-Houck, 2021, 8:23)

​”Stuttering intersects with other systems of privilege and oppression.” 

(MacIntyre and Gerlach-Houck, 2021, 8:29)

Hope begins by sharing the influence from research in other fields about stigmatised identifies, such as a person with HIV. A stigmatised identity is one which makes a person feel different from the others surrounding them. She highlighted that there is an urgency in the need to respond to the health inequities that coincide with identities that are stigmatised, including the stigma of stuttering.

Hope goes on to discuss intersectionality with stammering. I understand this to mean the combination of different identities and social constructs such as gender, race, sexuality, health etc. Each of these identities can generate privilege or oppression and these systems are fluid depending on our environment. Hope shared a personal story about travelling on a different school bus due to a change in family circumstances. She recalled being worried about explaining her presence on the new bus route. When a fellow student inevitably asked her why she was on a new route, she remembered a sense of panic, both in trying to decide what her answer should be but also the urgency of assessing the risk of each response. She relates that people with a stigmatised identity/identities make these snap decisions of risk and measure safety of disclosure versus concealment on a regular basis.

The next segment is full of useful ideas for me as a Speech and Language Therapist. I urge any SLP/SLT/student to listen to this episode of this segment alone. Hope explains the dual role of concealment that can provide further obstacles for a person such as changing your name to avoid stammering. Although this can conceal the identity as a person who stammers, it could create additional issues because the person is likely going to have to reveal their true name and explain why they used a false name. However, sometimes concealment can be protective with minimal negative implications, such as pretending to think during a speech block. As an SLT and ally, I really struggle with my desire to honour each individual’s own hopes and wishes alongside my heartfelt belief that stammered speech is not a pathology of speech. Whilst I want to work with my clients to reduce avoidance and self-stigma, I also respect that each person has unique lived experiences and that different levels of concealment are a necessity for some. Hope reflects on the use of well-intentioned policing of concealment by SLTs and I resolve to audit myself on this in future. Hope suggests some respectful ways to have an open and honest conversation about the concealments being made with an evaluation of how much help or hindrance they are. She describes the fine line between encouraging our clients to step out of their comfort zone so they can move towards their goals, but without causing stress or overwhelm. Hope describes this as gentle nudging and I think this is lovely way of viewing it. In my work, I acknowledge each client as an individual and genuinely try to honour their best hopes. I am an advocate for openly stammering without shame and I admit I find it difficult to focus on goals which are all focused on achieving fluency. However, this is not my choice to make and I so I tentatively navigate ways to remain true to a client’s own goals whilst gently nudging and exploring other layers of the stammering onion/the iceberg/your analogy of choice. It felt validating that I am not the only therapist using a client-centred approach whilst treading between the medical model and social model. I reflected on my own practice and how I try to balance my enthusiasm for activism and advocacy for stammering pride, without policing individuality and personal choice. This is one of the reasons I want to listen to stammer-related podcasts for 100 days. I want to gain as many perspectives as possible in order to examine my own biases so that I can continually reflect and gently nudge my way to being a responsive, respectful and helpful therapist.

My final thoughts as the episode ended was how impressive it is that Hope takes her her enthusiasm, curiosity and collaborative mindset into her research practice. She really has committed to being a fantastic ally and for using research to create positive social change. I could only wish to be able to do that.

Link to podcast: “Research Update: Exploring Concealment of Stuttering, Stigma, Identity, and Well-Being”……