Reply – Re: Speech Therapy
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Re: Speech Therapy
— by joshualane joshualane

I want to reiterate that I very much appreciate your dialogue on the forum. These are discussions that I hope will increase and I would love for stutterers who have been involved in various types of speech therapy to be involved as well.

I think there is a way in which we are speaking past each other, and it may be helpful to draw a couple analogies in order to articulate the type of different response I am talking about than support-groups. Analogies by definition don’t map exactly, so please bear with me. First, consider the Gay Rights movement (or, more radically, queer liberation movements). Before the DSM-III, homosexuals were understood as having a psychiatric disorder. Within such a medicalized context, support groups for “being” homosexual would involve coping with “symptoms” and gaining support from friends and family in dealing with something that is fundamentally a psychiatric condition (many Christian gay-therapy clinics still operate under a similar model). With the Stonewall riots and the ACT UP movement, gay identities were both de-medicalized and politically charged. Queer activism became an issue of justice, and “support structures” (or coalitions) focused both on interrogating the way in which the idea of “straight” and “queer” are social constructions and what the proper political response should be.

The disability rights movement follows a similar trajectory (although the disability rights movement, like the queer justice movement, is anything but homogeneous). Disability rights activists deny that disability is fundamentally about our bodies; we deny that it is a medical and individual thing. Rather, disability is first and foremost a social and political category produced in opposition to able-bodied privilege and the notion of “normalcy” that works to exclude only certain kinds of bodies. A radical example of this is the members of (capital D) Deaf culture, who don’t even consider themselves disabled, but rather as occupying a linguistic subculture. Their “disability” has nothing to do with being unable to hear and is only is produced by an “auralist” culture that assumes speaking by voice rather than sign is natural/more preferable/etc. To offer therapy based on the medicalization of Deafness is to completely miss their point and struggle—to reinscribe their oppression.

Stuttering has overwhelmingly been dominated by the scientific-medical-therapeutic model. The Did I Stutter Project is wanting to develop a radical disability consciousness. Thus, while there is a very prominent way (and I want to stress this) in which we don’t judge speech pathology insofar as it helps many people, and has helped myself when I was younger, I believe that at the same time we must critique the medicalization of stuttering as a whole. I understand stuttering first and foremost as a form of ableist discrimination against those who speak non-normatively. Stuttering is inherently a complex social, communicative event that is discriminated against. Since I do not see stuttering as a biological “thing” for an individual to cope with (physically or emotionally), but rather see it to be produced by a system of oppression, it is best understood and acted upon politically. From this perspective, the struggle for inspiration and "support" covers up the actual cause of stuttering. I strongly believe it is far more empowering to join a fight for wide-spread social inclusion on our own terms.

Personally, I am not convinced that any form of therapy that starts by addressing a stutterer to help them through their difficulties is going to lead to radical social change. Thinking in the big picture (recognizing that such a shift in understanding could take decades or longer), speech therapy, like gay or deaf therapy, could be understood not only as unnecessary, but counter-productive. I would like to hear from stutterers regarding this.  

Unlike many other forms of disability, stutterers are not politically organized in such a way to speak back against the institutions and forces that (complexly) create and discriminate against our voices. There are many stutterers who will not be interested in this movement. That is perfectly fine. However, we want to offer an alternative framework that they can understand themselves, their bodies, and their speech through if they want it. We totally respect what groups like the NSA and FRIENDS are doing. However, we are doing something different.