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‘Stuttering meets stereotype, stigma and discrimination’ by Kenneth O. St. Louis

Rachel Everard | 29.11.2016

Review by Rachel Everard, speech and language therapist at City Lit.

Stuttering Meets Sterotype, Stigma, and Discrimination: An Overview of Attitude ResearchAs a person who stammers, I have always been naturally interested in (and I must admit sometimes fearful about) how I am perceived by others, and this curiosity is probably shared by many other people who stammer. As a speech and language therapist working with adults who stammer and training other therapists to work with adults who stammer, I need to know what research is telling us about overall attitudes to stammering. And this is the book that provides the answers in a balanced, accessible and thorough way.

Based on the inaugural Stuttering Attitudes Research Symposium held in the US back in 2013, Stuttering meets stereotype, stigma and discrimination: an overview of attitude research brings together the presentations and papers shared by eminent researchers from around the world at this event. The book’s editor, Kenneth St Louis, a person who stammers himself, clinician and researcher writes: ‘the overarching purposes of the symposium were to take stock of what has been so far in stuttering attitude research and to identify areas where further research would be most fruitful.’ (p. xiv)  The book builds on both purposes and in my opinion, is relevant to researchers, people who stammer and speech and language therapists. For a long time we have known that stereotyping, stigma and discrimination exist in relation to stammering and that there is important work going on to mitigate the discrimination experienced by people who stammer, but this is the first time research in this area has been collated within one publication.

It is the first time research in this area has been collated within one publication.

The book can at first seem daunting and some chapters are easier to digest than others. However the fact that each chapter is discrete, written by a different contributor, means that you can pick and choose what to read according to your interest. Each of the four sections is clearly described as follows:

Part 1: Review
Part 2: Research: attitudes of the non-stuttering public
Part 3: Research: attitudes of professionals
Part 4: Research: attitudes of people who stutter and/or their family or friends
At the end, there is a useful annotated bibliography which includes 76 published studies on the topic of attitudes towards people who stutter.

I hope just by listing the main sections of the book I have already whetted your appetite to dip in and read individual chapters. I believe a good starting-point is the chapter Stigma and Stuttering: Conceptualizations, Applications and Coping by Michael Boyle and Gordon Blood. This gives a detailed description of stigma, how it applies to stammering and explores the relationship between public stigma (ie what does the public think about people who stammer) and self-stigma (ie what do people who stammer think about stammering) and the complex relationship between the two. 

Rodney Gabel’s chapter Job Discrimination Associated with Stuttering in Adults makes sobering reading but is counterbalanced by Stephanie Hughes and Edward Strugalla’s fascinating research described in Recognizing Positive Aspects of Stuttering: A Survey of the General Public. The positive aspects identified include compassion, motivation and perseverance, key points to remember when faced with other research studies which frequently stereotype people who stammer as being shy, nervous, withdrawn and anxious. 

The positive aspects [of stammering] identified include compassion, motivation and perseverance.

Another chapter which caught my interest is Qualitative Analysis of Covert Stuttering: Workplace Implications and Saving Face written by Jill Douglass and John Tetnowski. It explores the reasons for people with more covert stammering to conceal their stammering in the workplace, whilst recognising the benefits of becoming more open, despite the challenges this brings. These benefits reflect some of the key messages given by the Employers Stammering Network, an important British Stammering Association initiative which aims to create a culture where it is ‘OK to stammer’ at work. 

These are just a few of my personal highlights, chosen from many stimulating, diverse and absorbing topics, and I would strongly recommend you take a close look at what each chapter has to offer.

So what is the book telling us? That as people who stammer, whether children or adults, we are likely to experience stereotyping, stigma and discrimination at school and in the workplace wherever we live in the world, and that this situation is recognised as unacceptable and something needs to be done. By working together – people who stammer, researchers and clinicians – we can make a difference to societal attitudes towards stammering. 

By working together – people who stammer, researchers and clinicians – we can make a difference to societal attitudes towards stammering.

Stammering Pride and Prejudice

In recognition of the need to work together, my colleagues Carolyn Cheasman and Sam Simpson and I organised a one-day conference called Stammering Pride and Prejudice in early November 2016 where we brought together some of the leading voices in the field, including some of those who contributed to the book. The conference was well attended by therapists and people who stammer alike and we hope to continue the work through future study days – if you are interested in being involved, please get in touch (speechtherapy@citylit.ac.uk; 020 7492 2578). 

Furthermore, Patrick Campbell, Chris Constantino and Sam Simpson are currently co-editing a ground-breaking publication, Stammering Pride and Prejudice,  which sets out to explore stammering from a social model perspective.  The book is due out late 2017, but you can follow #pppride on Twitter for regular updates or email stammeringprideandprejudice@gmail.com for further information.

For those of you who stammer and who would like to explore how to challenge the stereotyping, stigma and discrimination on a personal level, City Lit is holding a 5-week evening course called You have a voice – self-empowerment for people who stammer taking place in May 2017. Please follow this link for further information: www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/you-have-a-voice-self-empowerment-for-people-w...

‘Stuttering meets stereotype, stigma and discrimination: an overview of attitude research’ by Kenneth O. St. Louis. West Virginia University Press, 2015.