One of the more valuable tools speech-language pathologists teach their clients is the art of self-disclosure. Research indicates people prefer to interact with stutterers who acknowledge their own stuttering. Publicizing one’s own stutter has long been a method for increasing comfort levels. For example: “Hi! My name is ____ and I stutter.”
Most of my clients find self-disclosure beneficial when speaking in front of a crowd at a formal presentation. The up-front statement takes the pressure off waiting for the first dysfluency and makes public speaking easier. Clients often remark, however, how these sentences come across as “awkward” and “just don’t feel right” in social situations. When asked to describe their experiences using self-disclosure statements in social situations, clients say:
- “[Publicizing my stutter] helped during a classroom presentation, but I just couldn’t do it anywhere else.”
- “I don’t know … it felt too awkward. Like I couldn’t find the right way to say ‘I stutter.’”
- “It’s kind of a weird first impression to make.”
- “I like using self-disclosure because it shortens the amount of time it takes for listeners to figure out what is going on … but sometimes it is hard to find the right words to fit the situation.”
During a session and/or for homework assignments, I ask my clients to explore and invent different self-disclosure statements. I want them to find a natural, easy-to-say version to fit any speaking situation. Generally speaking, if a disclosure statement feels natural, people will more likely use it. Statements can be brief, funny, serious or abrupt. The only rule in developing a self-disclosure statement is to never apologize for stuttering.
I discovered a new approach toward self-disclosure in an unlikely place not long ago. Comedian Drew Lynch (a person who stutters who was a runner-up in last September’s “America’s Got Talent finale) created a YouTube series called “Dog Vlog.” In the episode titled “Why My Stutter is Getting Better,” he rants about people who continually and excitedly inform him that he’s “getting better.” Amidst his comical anecdotes (and occasional profanities), he explains that his stuttering isn’t changing; rather, his listeners just “get used to it.”
So how can Lynch’s insightful rant benefit me?
Lynch’s thoughts on listener acceptance inspired me to put a twist on the typical disclosure statement. Listeners get used to stuttering given some time. Increased exposure to any unexpected occurrence gradually decreases shock value and expands comfort zones. Considering these ideas, I suggest a revised self-disclosure statement to my clients:
“I stutter … give it a minute. You’ll get used to it.”
I think it works brilliantly for social situations—perhaps even formal presentations—to alleviate awkwardness. The statement comes across as casual and not at all stuffy. It takes the pressure and responsibility away from the person who stutters. The sentence also relays the speaker’s comfort with stuttering and assigns the listener an active role in the conversation. The listener’s job involves expanding their comfort zone and getting used to it.
My clients who experimented with the statement generally report positive results: “Yeah … I like that,” “It’s a concise way of telling people that I am comfortable with my stuttering and soon they will be too,” and “It does a lot with just a few short words.”
Here’s what I learned and how I hope other SLPs can benefit from this different approach to a stuttering disclosure statement:
- Encourage your clients to personalize their self-disclosure statements to make them comfortable and easy to use.
- Develop a variety of statements to fit different situations.
- Role-play self-disclosure statements in sessions, so your client feels more prepared outside of treatment.
- Consider timing of statements, as well as wording, when practicing self-disclosure.
- Check in with your client frequently to find out if they become comfortable publicizing their stutter.
- If they don’t use disclosure statements, find out why and how you can help.
Tricia Hedinger, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Knoxville. She specializes in fluency disorders and directs a summer camp for children with communication disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org