Words Have Power - NSA One-Day Conference
So, the National Stuttering Association recently had its very first one-day conference in New York. I was among dozens of stutters (some I knew and some I didn’t) who attended the event in the city’s meatpacking district. And there were a series of workshops touching on different topics, all related to stuttering, of course. My dear friends Gabe and Spring led one of the workshops, focusing on speech therapy and the social implications of stuttering psychology and “treatments.”
Gabe began by dissecting terms like “speech therapy” and “psychotherapy,” and explaining why using medical terms in regard to stuttering may not be the best practice. He posed an interesting question.
Should we do away with terms like “cure,” “treatment” and other medical words in the stuttering community?
This is something I’ve thought about often. There have been may times when I’ve used such words when speaking about my speech impediment — and I’ve often had to ignore the slight feeling that something was wrong about using them.
I thought I was the only one. I didn’t know other stutterers thought/felt the things that I do about the language we use in the stuttering community. But there in that room, with some 60 other stutterers, we were talking (yes, talking) about it.
So, here’s what I think:
Using terms like “cure” and “treatment” and speaking of stuttering like it’s some sort of infectious disease is problematic. I’ve taken speech therapy for a majority of my life, and not once have I undergone some invasive procedure to rid me of some flesh-eating virus.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but what I mean is that I don’t care for the word “cure” in regard to my stutter because I don’t have anything to be cured of. I’m not sick.
On the same token, I don’t need to nor do I undergo treatment, because there is nothing for which I need to be treated.
Using these terms automatically casts stuttering in a negative light. They further stigmatize stutterers and, because the condition is already so enigmatic, this only make matters worse. How can we make the world a better place for stutterers if we use language that implies stuttering is something abnormal, something that needs to be corrected?
I voiced these sentiments to my peers and, naturally, some didn’t agree. One man supported using the medical terms, noting that there is indeed something biologically different different about people who stutter and just because we use these terms doesn’t mean that we have to feel bad about them.
I agreed. Yes, there is a science behind stuttering, something different about us that has altered our ability to speak. However, although stuttering is, by definition, a disability and a “condition” that doesn’t mean we need to speak of it in such a way that implies that we’re “sick” people. Especially when there is actually no known “cure” for stuttering.
We need to do away with anything that stigmatizes stutterering. We live in a society where, in short, disabled is bad and abled is good — which is messed up as it is. The language we use to describe ourselves and our stutters set the tone for how non-stutterers talk about, perceive and ultimately treat us.
So, can we stop talking about ourselves as if we were hospital patients or naw?