By: Lori Melnitsky, MA CCC-SLP
It’s nice to be back! I just recently renewed my membership in the National Stuttering Association and am really enjoying receiving the newsletters and excited about attending a convention in the future. I am a Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) and a person who stutters. I would like to relate an experience that occurred early in my career.
Many years ago I had relocated to upstate NY from Long Island. The stress of being out of my comfort zone, an unexpected death in the family, and moving away from my family was tremendous. I left a secure job at a school where I was surrounded by a supportive staff and worked with wonderful parents and children. I stuttered badly in graduate school, but was able to regain control when I started working. After I moved, my stuttering came back with a vengeance, blocking, head jerking, prolongations, and interjections. I was honest when I interviewed with both bosses and told them I stuttered. Interestingly, during the job interview on Long Island I was fairly dysfluent, but I looked my interviewers in the eye and communicated effectively. I said what I needed to say and they responded with respect and patience. They said they were happy to hire me as many parents needed education about stuttering and they thought I would be a good role model for people who stutter. The interview upstate was led by a Speech Pathologist and I was fairly fluent. Looking back on it now, I should have voluntarily stuttered more since I was fairly fluent during the interview. Of course, I had no idea my stress level would increase so dramatically in such a short time.
When my boss at my upstate job heard me stutter first at a meeting, she was infuriated that I actually stuttered. She said that a few parents asked about my speech (which I later found out was 1 parent out of 20). I told her that I would educate them and put them at ease. I had done it before with much success. She refused to let me do this and told me I had to practice my previously learned fluency shaping techniques and be fluent. She had believed that I had been “cured” and couldn’t understand why I would still be dysfluent. I felt harassed and embarrassed. I let the shame and stress get to me and my stuttering became more severe. My self esteem followed the same path. My boss would monitor me at meetings and berate me afterwards for being dysfluent. When I was fluent at a meeting, I felt like I was a “good” person for not stuttering. It no longer became about what kind of therapist I was, but how fluent I was. Interestingly, I had several parents thank me for my understanding of their child’s communication difficulties, especially the ones who stuttered. Needless to say, my speech became worse and I wanted to give up.
Then one day when I had enough and the stress diminished slightly in my life, a little voice inside of me said “no, I will not give up.” I will not let ignorant people control my actions and ruin what I had worked so hard for. To make a long story short I went to work after that with a smile on my face. I tried to speak with confidence and continued to practice what I had learned. I said what I wanted to say. I still stuttered somewhat, but spoke with confidence and became a stronger therapist as a result. This gave me the confidence to look for a new job where I was viewed with respect and admiration, whether I stuttered or not. I wasn’t judged. I was actually respected for working so hard to overcome a communication difficulty that was so difficult to control at times.
It is now almost 15 years later, but I will never forget that experience. Although it wasn’t a situation I would wish on anyone, it taught me to toughen up. Fortunately, the professionals I have met since then have been for the most part open minded. If they’re not, I ignore it or at least try to. It is so important to educate people about stuttering. It has given me a sense of freedom. I love what I do and am so glad I persisted and persevered. Sometimes the path is not easy, but the end result is worth it.