New places on the map – how ‘Stammering Pride and Prejudice’ changed my work as a therapist

I have been a speech and language therapist for 30 years now working with people who stammer of all ages. I like the idea that everything I learned about stuttering and its therapy resembles a map. When I  listened to Sam Simpson’s keynote talk at the ECSF Symposium in Antwerp in 2020, it felt that this map had enlarged by a great amount of landmass that I had never been aware of nor travelled to before:  seeing the social model of disability applied to stuttering was a total game changer.

For most of my professional career my residence on this imaginary stuttering map was on modification island. Reducing avoidance and struggle was a big part of my work and I felt that this was already following the right path. When working with children who stutter, I like the KIDS approach by Patricia Sandrieser and Peter Schneider (with KIDS being an acronym for “Kinder dürfen stottern” – Kids are allowed to stammer). So, from my perspective, I was challenging societal misconceptions on stammering and empowering people who stammer – one of the good guys, right?

But there was always a small germ of doubt: preaching acceptance of stuttering – but still labelling clients as deviant by the help of diagnostic tools measuring the number of their stammered syllables… Taking pride in being acclaimed for my expertise and the amount of educational training I have participated in – without having access to the inside of the stuttering experience…

And Sam’s talk in Antwerp that morning confirmed my self-doubt. Being trained to look at stuttering through the lens of the medical model, I derived my whole professional status from the view that stammering was something that should be treated. Had I been perpetuating a narrative of gatekeeping between so-called ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ speech behaviour? Had the therapy that I considered successful instead done harm to my clients by allocating to them the role of the ones who had to change to fit into a society which insists on fluent speech being a key requirement for full participation? I ordered Stammering Pride and Prejudice: Difference Not Defect immediately after returning home. It contained a lot of additional food for thought. The concept of “stuttering gain” as introduced by Chris Constantino seemed an audacious concept to me: enjoying that stammering was “throwing a wrench” into everyday small talk and also enjoying the intimacy it fostered in conversations? But the quote from the book that resonated the most was Erin Schick’s “When I stutter, I speak my own language fluently.”

You can’t unring a bell, so carrying on as usual was not an option after that. I started to let the new thoughts sink in, introduce them to fellow colleagues, clients and self-help activists in my city. The reactions were divergent. I was happy to receive very positive feedback from a great number of extremely knowledgeable colleagues at the ivs, a German board of stuttering therapists. I had vivid discussions and some criticism, which led to more thinking and helped me to update my therapeutic self-understanding by and by, implementing ideas of a stronger alliance with my clients and the stammering community as a whole without neglecting my expertise as a speech and language therapist that I had developed throughout my working life. Stammering Pride and Prejudice was a boost to the approach that I had already been using: that stuttering therapy should be a collaborative and empowering journey rather than some sort of superficial correction process.

A few weeks ago, I learned that as a result of my promotion of the book there is a German edition in the works – and I am thrilled by the prospect that Stammering Pride and Prejudice will hopefully be available to a bigger number of people here in Germany soon. So, I’d like to thank Sam and the other editors and everyone who contributed to the book for the seeds that you all planted by sharing your stories, ideas and art.

Armin Bings, SPRACHLOTSE – Praxis für Logopädie