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Living With Stuttering, by Kenneth O. St.Louis

Trudy Stewart, St John Harris | 01.12.2002

Book reviews by Trudy Stewart and St John Harris.

'Living with Stuttering' coverReview by Trudy Stewart

This book comprises 25 individual stories of stammering. Each person describes their life and the part stammering has played in it. There are very different narratives; stories of those who have stammered all their lives, those who acquired it late in life, those who have benefited from some form of therapy and those who did not. The stories represent a range of experiences, from those who feel they have conquered stammering and now have prominent positions involving public speaking, to those who continue to struggle to like themselves and to be recognised for who they are irrespective of their speech. Each story has its own message and many of them are very powerful testimonies about personal and courage perseverance.

In his introduction, Kenneth St. Louis describes how these stories have been collected. Originally he asked each student Speech and Language therapist to interview people who stammered - or used to stammer - as a way of helping the students understand more about the diversity of the problem. He was struck by the power and impact of the stories and decided to compile them into a book for others to read and appreciate.

It is apparent that some of the stories were face to face conversations, others conducted over the telephone and some written accounts, but all of them have been 'moulded' into a set format for publication. If there is any criticism of the book, I think that in imposing a structure on the narratives some individuality has been lost. Personally, I would like to hear of, or read, the dialogue between the individuals involved and thereby get a sense of the speakers emphasis and/or concerns.

That apart, I would recommend this book to BSA members as I think there is something in it for everyone.

Autumn 2001 issue of 'Speaking Out'

Further thoughts by St.John Harris

The emphasis of the book is very much on the therapeutic value of telling one's story and describing the impact of stammering on one's life. I can vouch for this key aspect of self-advocacy, having attended two inspiring courses at The City Lit in London - the latter devoted specifically to exploring one's personal 'myth' or narrative. Our lives and identities are, after all, made out of the stories we tell about ourselves and within which we locate ourselves, on both a conscious and sub-conscious level. Ken St. Louis is attuned to the importance of 'taking stock' and bringing to awareness the 'kinds of societal or cultural expectations and assumptions' which relate to stammering.

The 25 stories listed provide interesting examples; some writers are more successful than others in challenging the disabling and damaging assumptions about stammering, and forging a new, strengthened sense of self. As an enthusiast of the theories of Charles Van Riper, I was particularly heartened to read stories like that of Beth who states openly 'I hold no embarrassment about my stuttering because it is obvious to others that I stutter and I know that I stutter.' She goes on to describe how she has learned to stutter voluntarily and is reaching her goal of 'stuttering well.'

Ken St. Louis expresses his hope that 'these stories will provide insights (to stutterers and non-stutterers including speech-language pathologists) into stuttering treatment that few textbooks on the subject will include.' I am not sure that the accounts reveal as much about stuttering treatment (some of those featured have had no formal therapy) as they do about the variety of coping strategies and responses employed, often with great courage and resourcefulness, to address the stigma of stammering.

Winter 2002 issue of 'Speaking Out'

Book details: ISBN 0 - 9652699 - 4.9, published by Populose (2001)