|About the presenter: Howard D. Schwartz Ph.D. is the Coordinator of Speech-Language Pathology and full time Associate Professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, Illinois. Schwartz is also the chair of the university Institutional Review Board, a committee that reviews all human subject research on campus. In addition to his work at the university, Dr. Schwartz is the Director of the Institute for Communicative Disorders, Naperville, IL a private practice specializing in stuttering. Within the university setting, Dr. Schwartz is responsible for teaching, research, and the clinical program in stuttering. During recent years, Dr. Schwartz has focused his attention on training graduate students to become expert clinicians who work with children and adults who stutter. Dr. Schwartz supervises graduate students at the university and actively works with clients in his practice in an effort to improve his own approach to stuttering therapy and benefit his clients. Dr. Schwartz received his doctoral degree from Syracuse University in 1984, is licensed by the state of Illinois and has been certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association since 1976. Dr. Schwartz has also received the fluency specialty recognition certificate from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. When not living and breathing stuttering, Dr. Schwartz is actively working to improve his photography skills, and fly fishing technique in Alaska and Southwest Florida.|
How are we going to change the public's perceptions about stuttering? Will the public only receive their information from the Oprah Show or People Magazine. In an effort to inform and educate the public, I designed a project for my graduate students that required them to stutter in a variety of situations and then interact with the listeners to change their perceptions of the problem. As this project has evolved from its first inception, it is best to look at the project from its beginnings.
Many academics who teach graduate courses in stuttering require their students to go into the community, stutter while ordering in a restaurant or on the telephone and personally experience the anticipation, anxiety and self consciousness that so many adults who stutter experience on a regular basis.
During the past 17 years I have included a similar assignment for my students. I tell my students that these experiences will be life changing and something that they will remember throughout their lifetime. I also believe that these experiences will help the students to be more empathetic speech-language pathologists.
However, unlike the assignments at other universities, my assignment always includes an additional component. I believe that most people have very little knowledge about stuttering. As a faculty member, instructor, clinician and recognized fluency specialist, I believe that it is my responsibility and my students' responsibility to inform and educate people about stuttering. As a result, I require my students to create an informative handout that provides objective information about stuttering. The students are required to stutter in five different situations and bring their handout along when completing these assignments. Students were initially encouraged to share their handouts with listeners who provide negative reactions. However, there have been occasions where students have received positive reactions and chose to share their handout with these listeners as well. Students have interacted with managers at fast food restaurants, secretaries on campus, customer service employees at local department stores and check-out clerks at supermarkets.
During the fall semester, 2003 and recently completed last week (September 19), 15 graduate students in my Stuttering Management and Treatment course were divided into three groups. The students were given five tasks that required stuttering within the community. The project was changed from an individual project to a group project so that additional observations could be made and the students could receive the emotional support of other group members. The tasks included one student ordering fast food while the others observed from the restaurant, telephoning about a want ad in the newspaper, talking with a sales person while other group members observed, talking to a sales person in a shop, asking directions from a stranger, and creating an original task. Each group of five students, designated Schwartz's Stuttering Police, because of my desire to have them confront problematic listeners, were asked to complete a six to seven page paper that documents the results of the five activities.
If we first examine the students' responses to the activities, we note the following summary statement, "When I picked up the phone, I realized that although I had ultimate control over my body and how it works, at that moment, for this activity, I didn't feel at all in control over myself." Interestingly, this type of statement is very similar to those statements made by adults who stutter. I hope to use this statement to demonstrate to the students the complex interactions between their emotional state and their ability to complete motor tasks.
In general, I might summarize the students' observations by stating that the majority of responses that the students received were positive. Is this surprising? Our clients often share their perceptions that listeners are always reacting to their stuttering which in turn causes them to react. One might question whether the perceptions of our clients and the realities of the situation are the same. We shouldn't doubt that individuals react negatively to persons who stutter as a result of ignorance and poor social skills. However, while the students were anticipating any number and variety of negative behaviors, these just didn't occur. As with other characteristics that we exhibit, we often think that listeners and observers are paying as much attention to our large noses, glasses, blemishes, loss of hair or stuttering as we do. Our observations would suggest that a large part of the problem is with the individual who stutters and not the listener.
Having just reported on the generally neutral and positive experiences reported by the students, there were a number of negative responses that also require reporting. One group of students chose to call and inquire about a bartending position while stuttering. The other students in the group positioned themselves at the bar while the 'impersonator' telephoned from her car in the parking lot. When the student telephoned and stuttered and inquired about a job, she was told that the bar was not hiring. The students seated at the bar observed negative facial reactions by the employee who handed the phone to a second employee. Later on, the same student sat at the bar, fluently asked about a job and was told that the bar was always hiring and handed a job application. From this description it would appear to be a perfect opportunity for the students to confront the employees and share their information about stuttering. However, the students reported that they were not able to confront the employees during the situation and left the bar without fulfilling the assignment. Does avoidance continue to win out over confrontation? Perhaps the confrontation that I was expecting is so difficult for individuals or groups that it can't get done. On the other hand, another group of students made a valiant attempt to confront an employee and manager at a fast food restaurant.
While one student ordered food at a fast food restaurant, the other students in the group observed that the employee was very uncomfortable with the situation. He had a smirk on his face and although he initially maintained eye contact he soon avoided eye contact and began nervously tapping the sides of the cash register. One of the students in the group later approached the manager to explain the project that had been completed and to share the informational handout with all of the employees. Both the manager and employee reacted negatively to the handout and told the student "I don't want this s___t." The students were so taken aback by the response, that they just left the restaurant feeling very uncomfortable.
During a third activity, one student working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant chose to stutter with her customers after receiving the approval of her employer. The remaining members of the group were observers at another table. The student began a long interaction with two women who had never been to the restaurant. One woman kept eye contract and was very responsive while the other woman seemed a little unsure. After serving the table the student approached the two women to explain her project and provide them with her informative handout. The student observers and the waitress indicated that the women were "incredibly responsive." The customer who kept eye contact informed the waitress that she had just told her friend, "It sounded like the waitress was trying to get over a stammer." One of the women stated that she was a teacher and had taught students who stuttered. She was enthusiastic about sharing the information with her eighth grade class.
In summary, we made a number of attempts to educate the public about the problem of stuttering. While the results were mixed, the students had a generally positive attitude about the manner in which people interacted with them. While it was obvious that some people were ignorant and rude, we probably would have drawn the same conclusion after interacting with these people if there was no stuttering in the conversation. I would like to conclude with some comments provided by the students. "We are confident that because of our project there are 20 or more people who now know more about stuttering than before. We intend to take the knowledge gained from this project and apply it in our therapeutic roles as speech-language pathologists. Throwing ourselves into various situations that our clients endure on a regular basis has allowed us to learn in a manner that no textbook could possibly teach us."