- Lori Melnitsky
Do We Tell Employers That We Stutter?
I have recently gotten many calls from adults out of work. It is a tough economy, and my heart goes to those suffering. Many have asked me my opinion disclosing that they stutter during an initial or phone interview. I thought I would share a story concerning my second job after receiving my master's degree many years ago.
I will start with my first job out of school. When I graduated in 1992, there were more jobs than speech pathologists. I interviewed at UCP and got to the interview two hours early. I went into a coffee shop and breathed for two hours. The precision of my speech tools was still rough then, so I knew my fluency would be shaky at best. When I went into the room, I was approached by two women (two was always harder than one). They seemed very pleasant, but I started blocking when I started to answer their questions. I immediately explained that I stuttered and had to use certain tools to talk. I was so nervous that I couldn't say if I used my fluency tools of easy onsets and continuous phonation, but the self-disclosure improved my fluency. They said they wanted to do outreach on stuttering for preschool children and liked my experience with developmentally delayed adults. They offered me the job two days later. What an awesome start to my career.
My colleagues knew I stuttered and respected me for it. At that time, I was dating my husband, who lived in Binghamton ( I lived in LI). The strain of a long-distance relationship was becoming difficult, so I moved upstate after four months of working and looked for a job. I sent out resumes and had three interviews set up within two weeks. I interviewed at a few places and was hired by a rehabilitation site. It sounded like a great opportunity. They treated children and adults with other speech pathologists on staff who seemed supportive and educated. I thought it would be a terrific learning environment. One huge problem: I was fluent in this interview and never even mentioned my stuttering. I quickly moved upstate and started working. I should mention that the woman who interviewed me was an SLP who had worked in the field for over 12 years.
Everything was fine until my mother n law, unfortunately, became very ill with cancer. My then-fiance had to spend many days on LI with his mother, and I was alone in a strange city and a new job. Within a few weeks, my stuttering increased, and I had difficulty maintaining fluency during speech and language evaluations with parents. Yes, it is true-I stuttered during these evaluations. Looking back, I should have been open and honest with these parents, but I still was experiencing shame about stuttering.
One day I got called into my boss' office. I will call this woman Anna. Anna abruptly told me that two parents had inquired about my stuttering, which would not be tolerated. I told her I stuttered and was trying to work on my fluency. I also told her my future mother-in-law was terminally ill with cancer, which was very stressful. She told me this was a for-profit rehabilitation facility, and they would not tolerate losing money. I looked at her and promised that I would try to improve my fluency. (this was ridiculous because I was selling my soul to the devil, so to speak) This was the beginning of what I now call mental and verbal abuse, but also a very painful situation I learned from. She kept harassing me and telling me I had to be fluent. She always ensured her office door was closed, and we were alone when she spoke to me. Guess what? As you might have guessed, my fluency decreased. I decided to practice 45 minutes a day, and I will say after a month, it helped. My easy onsets and full breaths were back, and my fluency improved. Anna was always testing me, but I did excel. She would attend school district meetings with me and listen to my fluency. I was very fluent and also spoke very well. I was not going to let her win. No Way!!!!! The situations that were hardest for me were weekly department meetings because I felt like the speech pathologists were always judging my expertise based on how fluent I was.
I had a supervisor for my clinical fellowship year (this is needed to get your permanent license). Anna was always pressuring this woman to make sure I was fluent. I would have left sooner, but I promised myself I would finish and get my permanent license no matter what. To make a very long story short, I became permanently licensed, married my husband, and my mother-in-law, unfortunately, passed away six months before we got married. (That was worse than any stuttering).
When I returned from my honeymoon, my supervisory period was almost over. My immediate supervisor told me Anna was bad-mouthing me. At the same time, I knew I could invoke the American Disability Act if she fooled around with termination related to stuttering. I had talked to a lawyer at that point and didn't hide the fact. A month later, I became permanently licensed and interviewed at Boces by a wonderful special education administrator named Elaine. She hired me on the spot. I was mostly fluent during this interview, but I learned my lesson. I said that I wasn't sure if she noticed that I stuttered, but I wanted her to know it was why I became a speech pathologist. I also added that it didn't interfere with my job. She looked at me with warm compassion, said she wasn't worried, and figured that was why I chose the profession. She also said it was why she was hiring me. I worked there for over a year before I moved back to LI. I attended meetings and worked with children who stuttered and had articulation issues and learning disabilities. I have to say this woman was wonderful to work for. She had compassion I had never seen before. I went to meetings and spoke not only fluently but effectively. Did I ever stutter? Sure, I did, but I wasn't ashamed of it.
In conclusion, we have to accept who we are. I suggest educating your interviewer on the fact that you stutter, but I also don't suggest dwelling on it. They are there to hear what you can offer their company. I will never work for or with anyone again who doesn't accept me for who I am. I do not and will not judge my self-worth on how fluent my speech is. However, I learned I wanted to be as fluent as possible. That is why I never gave up. This is why I teach more fluency shaping tools than stuttering modification tools. I am open to whatever helps my clients, but I don't think you should think that improved fluency isn't possible. This is why I talk to the teens, especially about projecting their voice confidently, desensitizing themselves to phone conversations, and educating their parents and friends. I try to give all children and adults an increased sense of self-worth and control of their lives. I hope I can provide positive memories of successful speaking situations. Anyway, you are probably tired of hearing me lecture by now. I would love to hear from others regarding this topic.
For more information, don't hesitate to contact me at (516) 776-0184 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org