Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking for a job-Should I tell my potential employer I stutter?

Happy New Year to all. Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable New Year's Eve. I watched Dick Clark every year for the sake of tradition. I couldn't help but to admire this man who had a stroke. He was working so diligently at pronouncing his words and being understood. I was so glad to see him on TV. After all, what is New Year's Eve without Dick Clark?

I have recently gotten many calls from adults out of work. It is a tough economy and my heart goes out to those who are suffering. My husband was out of work several years ago and it was a very difficult time in our lives. Many have asked me my opinion disclosing the fact they stutter on an initial or phone interview. I thought I would share a story with you concerning my second job after I received my masters degree many years ago.
I will start off with my first job out of school. When I graduated in 1992, there were more jobs than speech pathologists. I interviewed at UCP and got to the interview two hours early. I went into a coffee shop and literally breathed for two hours. The precision of my speech tools was still rough at that time so I knew my fluency would be shaky at best. When I went into the room I was approached by two women (two was always harder than one). They seemed very pleasant and when I started to answer their questions, I started blocking. I immediately explained that I stutter and had to use certain tools to talk. I was so nervous that I can't say if I used my fluency tools of easy onsets and continuous phonation, but the self disclosure improved my fluency. They said they wanted to do outreach on stuttering for preschool children and liked my experience with developmentally delayed adults. They offered me the job two days later. It was a wonderful experience. My colleagues knew I stuttered and respected me for it. At that time I was dating my husband and he lived up in Binghamton ( I lived on LI). The strain of a long distance relationship was starting to become difficult so I decided to move upstate after 4 months of working and look for a job. As I said, at that time there were many speech jobs. I sent out resumes and had 3 interviews set up within two weeks. I interviewed at a few places and was hired by a rehabilitation site. It sounded like a great opportunity. They treated children and adults with other speech pathologists on staff who seemed supportive and educated. I thought it would be a terrific learning environment. One huge problem, I was fluent on this interview and never even thought to mention my stuttering. I quickly moved upstate and starting working. I should mention that the woman who interviewed me was a SLP who had worked in the field for over 12 years. Everything was fine until my mother n law unfortunately became very ill with cancer. My then fiance had to spend many days on LI with his mother and I was alone in a strange city and a new job. Within a few weeks, my stuttering increased and I started to have difficulty maintaining fluency during speech and language evaluations with parents. Yes, it is true-I stuttered during these evaluations. Looking back I should have been open and honest with these parents, but I still was experiencing shame about stuttering. One day I got called into my boss' office. I will call this woman Anna. Anna abrubtly told me that two parents had inquired about my stuttering and it would not be tolerated. I told her I stuttered and was trying to work on my fluency. I also told her my future mother n law was terminal and it was very stressful. She told me that this was a for profit rehabilitation facility and they would not tolerate losing money. I looked at her and promised that I would try to improve my fluency.(this was ridiculous because I was selling my sole to the devil so to speak) This was the beginning of what I now call mental and verbal abuse, but also a very painful situation I learned from. She kept harrassing me and telling me I had to be fluent. She always made sure her office door was closed and we were alone when she spoke to me. Guess what? As you might have guessed my fluency decreased. I decided to practice 45 minutes a day and I will say after a month it really helped. My easy onsets and full breaths were back and my fluency improved. Anna was always testing me, but I did excel. She would come to school district meetings with me and listen to my fluency. I was very fluent and also spoke very well. I was not going to let her win. No Way!!!!! The situtations that were hardest for me were weekly department meetings because I felt like the speech pathologists were always judging my expertise based upon how fluent I was. At that time, I had a supervisor for my clinical fellowship year (this is needed to get your permanent license). This woman was always being pressured by Anna to make sure I was fluent. I would have left sooner but I promised myself I would finish and get my permanent license no matter what. To make a very long story short, I became permanently licensed, married my husband, and my mother n law unfortunately passed away before we got married. (That was worse than any stuttering).

When I got back from my honeymoon, my supervisory period was almost over. My immediate supervisor told me Anna was bad mouthing me while I was gone but knew I could invoke the American Disability Act if she fooled around with termination related to stuttering. I had talked to a lawyer at that point and didn't hide the fact. A month later I became permanently licensed and interviewed at Boces by a wonderful special education administrator named Elaine. She hired me on the spot. I was mostly fluent during this interview, but had learned my lesson. I said that I wasn't sure if she noticed that I stuttered, but wanted her to know it is the reason I became a speech pathologist. I also added that it didn't interfere with my job. She looked at me with warm compassion and said she wasn't worried and figured that was why I chose the profession. She also said it was why she was hiring me. I worked there for over a year before I moved back to LI. I went to meetings, worked with children who stutter, had articulation issues and learning disabilities. I have to say this woman was wonderful to work for. She had compassion I had never seen before. I went to meetings and spoke not only fluently, but effectively. Did I ever stutter? Sure I did, but I wasn't ashamed of it.

In conclusion, we have to accept who we are. I do suggest educating your interviewer on the fact that you stutter, but I also don't suggest dwelling on it. They are there to here what you can offer their company. I will never work for or with anyone again who doesn't accept me for who I am. I do not and will not judge my self worth on how fluent my speech is, however, I learned that I wanted to be as fluent as I could be. That is why I never gave up. This is why I teach more fluency shaping tools than stuttering modification tools. I am open to whatever helps my clients, but I don't think you should think that improved fluency isn't possible. This is why I talk to the teens especially projecting their voice with confidence, densitizing themselves to talking on the phone and education their parents and friends. I try to give all children and adults an increased sense of self worth and control of their lives. I hope I can provide postitive memories of successful speaking situations. Anyway, you are probably tired of hearing me lecture by now. I would love to hear from others regarding this topic. Again, happy and healthy New Year to you and your family. I look forward to reading your comments as always.


Amy said...

Your story definitely encouraged me to always tell my employers that i stutter, even though I'm mostly fluent. It's true, you should always be open with your potential employer or coworkers, because it makes your job experience much less tense. I definitely give a thumbs up to this blog. :)

Lori Melnitsky said...

Thanks Amy. I am glad it helped. Sounds like you have a very healthy attitude.

Pam said...

I too have taken to telling potential employers or work partners that I stutter. Its still a new experience for me, but gets easier and easier.

I had a hard time watching Dick Clark. I greatly admire him too, but I just felt for him, I felt his pain and sheer determination. And it was painful to watch and listen to him, because I was thinking, "are people making fun of him? are people saying he should hang it up?"

To me, it wouldn't have been the same without him either, but god, what a struggle. I had tears in my eyes as I watched his courage and grit. Oh, to be that brave in front of millions.

Lori Melnitsky said...

I had very similar feelings Pam. I think most people had a difficult time understanding him, but not sure what the answer is. I guess it is something he has to figure out in the next year. It did look like he had some sort of speech therapy to work on improving muscle strength and movement.