Uncovering Our Clients' Creativity

By Judith Maginnis Kuster

"My Words Have Wings. . . Finally!" by Jim Abbott, a person who stutters, was a presentation for the 2001 International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference (www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad4/papers/abbott.html). This paper opened an important door to a 14-year-old hundreds of miles away. The teenager's speech-language pathologist had read Abbott's paper and asked her client, who stuttered severely, if he might be interested in writing some poetry. The SLP reported simply getting a rather strange look that morning, but the next day her client returned with several spiral notebooks filled with poetry he had been composing. No one in his school knew of his wonderfully creative expressive abilities. With his permission, the clinician showed the poetry to the creative writing teacher and the teen was transferred into a creative writing class where his writing was celebrated and his self-esteem soared.

Human communication is more than pronouncing phonemes correctly, formulating grammatically correct sentences fluently with appropriate vocabulary and voice quality. Human communication often reaches deep within the soul of both the sender and the receiver. Our clients and their families may find that poetry, either written by themselves or others, provides an important vehicle for expression and/or understanding. And for clinicians, it is worth spending some time listening to our clients express themselves in ways we often don't hear in the treatment room. A friend once sent me a poem that taught me volumes (www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/Creativeexpression/heite.html and reprinted below with permission):

Stutter by Louise Heite

Conversation flows and swirls
and dips its wings,
my words crowd in on one another
crushing through a door
too small -

-lightflashing silence
rushing
dizziness
disoriented breath -

Pieces of words
lie scattered,
trampled underfoot,
splinters
covered in embarassment.

Your eyes linger on mine
a fraction of a flash too long,
a fragment of a bit too wide,
and we both know
that I have been classified.

Two outstanding books filled with poetry written by consumers are When the Words Won't Come: Inside the Experience of Stammering published by the British Stammering Association (www.stammering.org) and The First Yes: Poems about Communicating edited by Barbara Goldberg, a poetry anthology commemorating the 50th anniversary of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation (www.ashfoundation.org/).

The Internet has become another repository for poetry written by our clients.

Life with TBI: Our Poems (http://tbi-life.org/poems.htm) is a site maintained by Dan Windheim. In a coma for 2 12 months, he was in treatment for years to "help improve his still-slurred speech" and other disabilities. After his injury he returned to school and in a creative writing course was "excited to learn how much ability I had at expressing myself.. . . through poetry."

Several additional examples of poetry written by consumers include:

The Internet can also provide ideas for using poetry in therapy.

Judith Kuster is in the department of speech, hearing, and rehabilitation services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Contact her by email at judith.kuster@mnsu.edu. All of Kuster’s Internet columns are on the ASHA Web site in HTML format with active links http://professional.asha.org/news/news.cfm, although URLs change and there is no guarantee that links from previous articles are still functional.

Kuster, JM, Uncovering Our Clients' Creativity, ASHA Leader, March 16, 2004, p. 16