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Changing the status quo

Episode #250: GASP! Fluency! How did a word that’s used in universities, science, speech-language pathology circles, to describe stuttering, cluttering, and other communication – if you pardon the expression – disorders (GASP!) grow to become a traumatic word to some? Hint: from well-meaning people throughout our lives punishing us for not speaking fluently, or speech language pathologists focussing solely on getting rid of the stutter and not on the experience and mental well-being of the whole person.

Join me as I chat about this with Jean-François Leblanc and Stephanie Lebsack who are part of the organizing team of the Joint World Congress on Stuttering and Cluttering, or JWCSC for short, which is scheduled to take place in Montreal, Canada from July 22 to 25, 2021 May 27 to 30, 2022 (full disclosure – I’m on the organizing team as well).

The JWCSC aims to be a game changer bringing together academics, researchers, speech language pathologists, people who clutter, and people who stutter to collaborate in creating a better world for people who clutter and stutter. A world that understands what we go through. A world where we are researched with and not researched at.

Earlier this year, we had announced a new name for the congress which became the JWCSC. A name that replaced the word “fluency” with the more people-first, “stuttering and cluttering”. The original name was not received very well. On one hand, “fluency” is a long-used clinical, industry term. On the other hand, it’s a harsh, deeply scarred memory of being forced to speak “properly” and dare not to be caught stuttering. It can also imply that stuttering and cluttering is wrong.

A case of PC language? Not quite.

“The word fluency in the SLP world is oftentimes used as a title”, Stephanie shares. Stephanie is an SLP with a big heart for people who stutter an clutter. “This is a term that’s used for when I look up ‘fluency’ I can find courses to take to further my specialization. People who stutter who do have a problem with the term were saying ‘however, we’re traumatized by this term’ and stuttering is a personal experience. We can’t dismiss that. And so we have to learn in this conversation to all respect our personal as we move forward.”

“People who were always encouraged to be fluent – and that word fluency strikes a ring to them and trauma response. Fluent, fluent, fluent, fluent [‘Why are you still stuttering, why aren’t you using your speech tools, stop talking like that.’].”

However, some people who stutter have no problem with fluency. “If someone strives for greater fluency because it’s hard for them to speak, and if speech therapy makes their life easier and they’re aiming for more fluency, I cannot blame them and I cannot judge them”, shares Jean-François, a person who stutters.

“And I totally agree with Stephanie that the role of the speech language pathologist is to adapt to each and every client and offer the different options and then let the client choose or decide what he or she wants to do to make her life better and easier.”

“If it’s greater fluency because for that person it’s really hard to go to the grocery store and ask where are the cereals or bread and so forth, will probably still stutter but will make her speech easier. So that’s why when I say that fluency word has become radioactive, I myself cannot judge someone who wants to be more fluent.”

Jean-François adds as a side note: “Personally, I have much more of a problem with the word ‘overcoming’ than ‘fluency’ because when mainstream media uses that term, the general public thinks ‘OK he has overcome his stuttering so that person does not stutter anymore.’ So it’s misused. And I don’t like when mainstream media uses that term because the public will understand something different than the actual situation and I think we should work with the media to say be careful with that term.”

We are planning to further explore the use of the term fluency, client choice, and the space in between the medical and social models of disabilities at the JWCSC congress.

Oh, Stephanie, Jean-François, and I also talk about the colours behind the JWCSC logo!

Links mentioned on this episode:

What are your thoughts on the word fluency?

I hope to see you in Montreal, pandemic-willing.

P.S. Views expressed by myself and my fellow co-organizers on this episode do not necessarily reflect those of the International Cluttering Association, International Fluency Association, International Stuttering Association, Association bégaiement communication, and Canadian Stuttering Association partnering to put on the JWCSC.

cover of a book

This episode is brought to you by my book, Stuttering is Cool: A Guide to Stuttering in a Fast-Talking World. Filled with practical tips – and Franky Banky comics! – in reducing your fears of stuttering and achieving all your goals regardless of, if you pardon the expression, fluency. Buy your copy now!

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