About the presenter: Bob Quesal is a professor at Western Illinois University, where he serves as program director. He teaches courses in fluency disorders, anatomy, and speech and hearing science. He has presented papers at regional, national, and international meetings. He has served as newsletter editor for ASHA's Special Interest Division 4 - Fluency & Fluency Disorders, since 1997. He has been listowner of the STUT-HLP listserv since June of 1993.

"One size fits all (or: When the only tool you have is a hammer...)"

by Bob Quesal
from Ilinois USA

As I undertake writing this essay, I am not sure exactly what insights I will impart to the reader. In fact, this essay may be a selfish exercise on my part—an attempt to vent some frustration, perhaps. Or perhaps an exercise in self-exploration. Or perhaps a chance for me to try to organize my thoughts about some issues that have concerned me for quite some time. I believe that I am guilty of much of what I will talk about in this essay. I suppose I could pretend that I am the only totally objective person around, but I know that isn't true. So as I make my points, please realize that I am pointing a finger as much at myself as I am at any other individual(s).

The idea for this essay arose as I visited the various papers during the 1998 International Stuttering Awareness Day Internet Conference. At that time, many people visited the various papers and had left comments to the authors. Some of the comments (from a relatively small number of individuals) suggested, at least to me, that the writers were trying to force their views on a variety of perspectives—it seemed to be difficult for them to view stuttering in any broader context than their experience. Based on that, the original title for this essay was going to be "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." That's an old saying, probably a trite one. But that's what often comes to my mind when I read or hear what certain other people have to say about the disorder of stuttering. This essay will be a plea, of sorts, for us to all open our minds a bit more about stuttering.

Do you believe that all people who stutter are the same? Or, more specifically, do you believe that all people stutter for the same reason? I'd wager that most people would answer "no" to both of those questions. In fact, nearly any question that we would ask about stuttering: "Is there one best therapy for all people who stutter?" "Do all people who stutter have the same types of disfluencies?" "Are all stutterers' personal histories similar?" etc., would be answered "no" (at least by most people who have some knowledge of stuttering). It seems that there is considerable diversity among those of us who stutter, and those of us who study the disorder. This diversity should hold a lot of importance for our understanding of stuttering. It seems, however, that a lot of people want to disregard the diversity and focus on the commonalities of stuttering.

Looking for commonalities is not a bad thing. Certainly, any characteristic(s) that we can find that is common to any group helps point us in the right directions. My concern is when traits or attributes that are assumed to be commonalities are forced on those for whom they are not true. It is these overgeneralizations that I will address during the rest of this essay. My list of overgeneralizations is not meant to be exhaustive, but represents some of the statements I have read or heard from others. I will use some of my experiences and observations to expand upon some of the statements.

Let me say, in advance, that my intent here is not to disparage others or to diminish what they have to say. My views, like those of anyone else, contain a certain degree of bias and are subject to criticism. I hope, however, that they will provide some food for thought.


Caruso, A.J., Max, L., & McClowry, M.T. (1999). Perspectives on stuttering as a motor speech disorder. In: Caruso, A.J. & Strand, E.A. (Eds.) Clinical Management of Motor Speech Disorders in Children. New York: Thieme.

Cooper, E.B. (1999). Speaking Out - Is Stuttering a Speech Disorder? Asha, 41, 2, p. 10.

Murphy, B. (1999). A preliminary look at shame, guilt, and stuttering. In: Ratner, N.B. & Healey, E.C. (Eds.) Stuttering Research and Practice: Bridging the Gap. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Quesal, R.W., Yaruss, J.S., & McClure, J. (1999, Jun.) What NSP members can teach speech-language pathologists about stuttering therapy. Workshop at the Annual Convention of the National Stuttering Project, Seattle, WA.

August 28, 1999