About the presenter: Yolanda Boone, M.S., CCC-SLP has a B.S. in Communication Disorders and Sciences from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville and an MS in Speech and Language Pathology from Fontbonne University. She began her career at St. Louis Public Schools Speech and Language Pathologist. She is currently employed at Rehab Choice, Inc and A to Z Therapy, LLC. Yolanda founded For Peds Sake, LLC - a private Speech and Language clinic catering to underprivileged children and their families and serving the St. Louis community by providing free annual screenings and public awareness/education about Speech/Language and Hearing Disorders in partnership with Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. and Molina Healthcare.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

What you can't see you sure can't hear: The journey of an SLP who Stutters

by Yolanda Boone
from Missouri, USA

I never saw myself becoming a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP). I fell in love with the profession through my own personal experience with an SLP from kindergarten until my first year of high school. Who wouldn't have? My speech teacher (as we students called her) was smart and incredibly creative and fun. I had so much excitement in my 60-minute sessions with her every week. She even picked me up on the weekends to play games, dine out at restaurants and go to stores or children's events with her daughter who was my age. It wasn't until later I figured out she was only trying to place me in a variety of speaking situations. She was so dedicated to helping me become a more confident communicator, speaker and person who stutters (PWS). She was everything I wanted to be professionally and everything I wanted to grow to be. There was only one problem -- she was not a person who stutters. I could never see an SLP with a fluency disorder. I had never heard of it. It simply did not mix. It was like oil and water, candy and vegetables, potatoes and pasta -- the two just did not make sense to me. I was extremely narrow minded at the time and all I could see was an SLP and PWS. Surely, there was so much more to see. I had to do years of soul searching, self-development and develop a deep sense of trust in myself to collectively envision the two. After all -- I knew I was not just a person who stuttered, or did I?

My sophomore year of college I was officially declared undecided. I was the girl with many talents that one career could satisfy them all. I was creative, artistic, fun and I loved people and science. I considered cosmetology, forensic science and fashion design to name a few. Working in a hospital since graduation as a Certified Nursing Assistant put me in the mindset that I was destined to become a nurse. Helping others came naturally for me. The patients always complimented how great my bedside mannerisms were and how my smile and personality was the highlight of their stay in the hospital. Most of all they complimented on how I always paid attention to the small things they needed such as having lunch with them, holding conversations about their interests and getting to know them as people instead of patients. I saw a lot more in the healing process. I figured the patient had to be treated as a person to maintain their dignity while they were in a hospital bed. Early on, I learned it was the access to meaningful communication that drew my patients to me. We developed strong patient-caregiver relationships. They believed in me and I believed that I was great at what I did. Reluctantly, I accepted a full scholarship to the University Of Missouri St. Louis School Of Nursing. I also halfheartedly declined a scholarship to the nation's largest fashion design school in Denton, Texas. The thought of becoming a speech and language pathologist kept lingering in the back of my mind. I deeply wanted to pursue the career. Little did I know -- I was one-step closer to doing so. I just had never heard of an SLP who stuttered. I couldn't see it and I sure could not hear it as I said to myself -- I'm Yolanda Boone, an SLP and oh, did I mention I stutter? It did not ring to my ears and was an immediate deal breaker for me.

Fear of the unknown led me to accept a Rehab Tech position at SSM Rehab -- St. Mary's Hospital. The whole experience was vital to my career -- more crucial than I would have ever fathomed. It was a privilege to be part of a rehab team on a spinal cord, traumatic brain injury and acute rehab floor. I saw and learned so much. Most of all, I was able to get up close and personal with the SLP's. I found myself volunteering to feed their patients with them and eavesdropping on their sessions with patients. Most of the SLP's told me they assumed I was a student SLP and inquired about why I wasn't. I did not have the heart to tell them it was because I stuttered. I was an extreme covert PWS at the time. I met a nurse who stuttered and gathered enough courage to talk to her about my dreams of becoming an SLP and how stuttering was holding me back. In so many words, she told me I was crazy and I should not be so shallow about myself. This led me to research the field online. I googled speech and language therapy, stuttering therapy, etc. . . To my amazement, one of the first things I found was a person who stuttered who had his own theory and treatment for stuttering. . . Van Riper was a person who stuttered and a world renowned SLP. This ounce of information was enough to give me hope. Now I could see it but hearing myself as an SLP remained a challenge. I was enrolled in Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville's Communication Disorders and Sciences undergraduate program. Completing the coursework was painless but giving presentations and completing practice clinical practicums in the university clinic was almost a complete deal breaker again for me. All I could see was my stuttering; therefore I thought that was the only thing my instructors, peers and clients could see -- and hear! I needed some serious reassurance and a push to keep going. During my studies, I met another SLP who stuttered -- Walt Manning. He published great books and was a professor at The University of Memphis. Success in the field clearly was attainable for a PWS but how was I going to attain it? I graduated and did not enroll in graduate school right away. I had it set in my mind I was going to study something else like occupational therapy or physical therapy. I still could not hear Yolanda Boone, SLP. I decided I needed to stutter less to be a good SLP. Backwards -- I know. I attended the McKenzie Center for Hearing and Speech adult fluency sessions and met Brad. We recognized each other from SIUE and I was shocked to discover he also stuttered. Brad and the group gave me the encouragement and vision I needed to pursue my career as an SLP and PWS.

A friend of my husband told him about an employment opportunity at the St. Louis Public Schools as a Speech Implementer. I interviewed with who would also be a critical person in my career as well. I was a nervous wreck in my interview; however, I took home a life altering lesson and piece of information from that interview. First -- she (my interviewer and head of speech and language department) was not interested in my stuttering. She was more concerned with my knowledge, skills, personality and potential to carry out the position successfully. That day I decided all I saw in myself was the fact that I stuttered. I was limiting the world and myself from benefiting from my experiences with speech and language and my God given gifts and talents. The second critical piece was she told me of a pilot program the school district was initiating with Fontbonne University. The speech and language department was teaming up with Fontbonne to "grow their own SLP's". With great pleasure, I accepted the position as a Speech Implementer. Did I say I was privileged or what? Let me say it again. I was extremely privelged to gain so much experience. While screaming, running, jumping and crying I was holding an acceptance letter to pursue my graduate studies in Speech and Language Pathology at Fontbonne University. I was also selected to be a part of the pilot Speech Implementer program with Fontbonne University and SLPS. Opportunity does in fact knock twice! I received a full scholarship to Fontbonne through this program. My life was about to change forever, my dream is becoming a reality I thought. This was so exciting. My entire experience at Fontbonne was amazing! There was still one problem -- my perceptions had not changed. Still, I could not see or hear myself as a fully licensed SLP and PWS. What would it take to change this?

It took several constructive criticisms from a supervisor who cared. Note to everyone -- if you get a supervisor who is critical of your work, it is a good thing! It means they believe in you and only want to help you be the best you can be in your position! I got a triple dose of this in the St. Louis Public Schools and at Fontbonne. One of my supervisors told me I was extremely good at what I do with the students but (the dreaded but) -- she did not feel I believed in myself. That stung like a big queen bumblebee. She said I was very nervous. Another prayed for me while observing me give a presentation at Fontbonne. It was so challenging -- not believing in myself was hindering my career. I was already extremely intelligent, creative and crafty -- after all I wanted to be a fashion designer. Kids flocked to me like a herd of sheep wherever I went and had an awesome time in speech class. I was a celebrity at the school I worked in. Students begged to come to speech class. Students I had never even met knew my name. I asked one of them why they wanted to come to speech class and the response was enough to give me a boost of self-confidence. The student said because "my friend said you the bestest most funnest speech teacher." I thought to myself this kid might be one of my students one day while laughing and embracing the comment! Here I was -- a privileged student SLP who clearly had spent a lot of time looking, searching and trying to hear validation and approval of my decision to be an SLP from others. As I let my guards down and let others see me (the real me) by talking about my personal experience as a PWS and my life -- I began to see growth in my student's skills and my skills as an SLP. I felt a sense of trust from students, parents, peers and myself. Two years later, I heard myself as an SLP for the first time. It was at graduation from Fontbonne University's program and the warm congratulations from my supervisors at SLPS. I saw it on my Missouri Board license, DESE certification, ASHA license and my classroom door -- Yolanda Boone, Speech and Language Pathologist. The PWS was never a part of the title but somehow remains an important part of me being a confident and thriving SLP. I candidly tell my story (condensed of course) to parents, colleagues and students for trust, motivation and a daily reminder that all things are possible when you allow yourself -- your whole self to shine. You should never let your unique gifts from God-and gifts they all are, hinder you from your dreams. Remember, what you cannot see, you sure can't hear!

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

SUBMITTED: August 29, 2011
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