Iterators LLC Blog 2018-11-19T12:26:31+00:00 https://iteratorstesting.com/blog/feed Iterators LLC info@iteratorstesting.com https://iteratorstesting.com/blog/4-things-not-to-say-to-someone-with-speech-language-disorder 4 Things Not to Say to Someone With Speech-Language Disorder 2017-12-11T22:33:00+00:00 2017-12-12T22:02:32+00:00 Kelly McHugh https://iteratorstesting.com/ Uncertainty is an uncomfortable thing. It’s why waiting to hear back after a job interview is so nerve-wracking and why an elusive voicemail from a physician can send someone into a state of panic. The irony of the human experience is that human connection, which is essential to our well-being, is inherently uncertain. We will never know what it is like to live someone else’s life or to feel someone else’s emotions. We communicate with others to dispel uncertainty and build connections and relationships. But what happens when our attempts to dispel uncertainty end up offending - or worse yet, hurting – the people who we are trying to connect with? What we intend to communicate and what impact our words have do not always align. With all of the uncertainty around what speech and language disorders are, it is not surprising that this is a common experience for people affected by them.

In an attempt to dispel some uncertainty around which communication behaviors and words may unintentionally impact people with speech-language disorders, I will elaborate on four I have come across through my clinical practice. Please note that I do not claim to have a speech-language disorder and do not know what it is like to have someone say these things to me. However, I do know what it is like to sit across from a client who painfully recounts these episodes and tries to make sense out of them. It is as an ally for people with speech-language disorders that I share this information and welcome others to share their first-hand experiences.

Note: The format and inspiration for this blog came from Dr. Maura Cullen’s book 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say

“[Insert famous person’s name] used to stutter, but they got over it.”

INTENTION

This is typically said when someone wants to comfort a person who stutters by suggesting that they may not stutter their whole life. It is meant to communicate hope.

IMPACT

This statement is uninformed and may make a person who stutters feel frustrated and misunderstood. A person who stutters likely knows a great deal about stuttering, whether through their own research, experience, or education on the topic. If they have had the desire and resources to change their speech, they have likely invested a great amount of time, energy, and resources towards their communication goals. With that said, they are likely aware of the fact that approximately 75% of children “outgrow” stuttering (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/stuttering) and that they did not fall into that statistic. Yes, some children “get over” stuttering, but some do not. For some, stuttering is something that they must manage throughout their lives and no amount of effort or resources will change the fact that they are a person who stutters. When someone suggests that they might “get over” their stuttering, they may feel that their efforts and identity are discounted.

BEST BET

An understanding of speech and language disorders can help inform interactions with people who are speech and/or language impaired. Understanding how and why their communication is as it is will help you make informed comments, should their speech become a conversation topic. There are wonderful resources on the topic of stuttering through the Stuttering Foundation and National Stuttering Association. Additionally, you can always feel free to direct your questions to our speech-language pathologists at The Speech Factor [link “Ask an SLP”]. Regardless of your knowledge of communication disorders, it is generally a good rule of thumb to focus in on the content of your conversation partner’s message and not on the way in which they communicate it.

For some, stuttering is something that they must manage throughout their lives and no amount of effort or resources will change the fact that they are a person who stutters.

Kelly McHugh

Finishing someone’s sentence(s) for them

INTENTION

When another person is struggling to communicate in some obvious way, it may seem cruel to just sit back and watch. Jumping in and helping them communicate their thoughts may seem like a kind thing to do.

IMPACT

This is particularly relevant to people who stutter and/or have word-finding difficulties. While it may take some people a longer time to communicate their messages, they are their messages to communicate. When someone jumps in and communicates their thoughts, it suggests that their message is not important or worth taking the time to hear. Additionally, their intent may be lost in another person’s completion of their thoughts.

BEST BET

Allowing people to share their messages regardless of how they communicate allows for a shared and meaningful interaction. If it is difficult to understand another person’s message, asking for clarification is always appreciated! This communicates to the other person that their message is important and that they are worthy of being understood.

Allowing people to share their messages regardless of how they communicate allows for a shared and meaningful interaction

Kelly McHugh

You seem so normal, you don’t look like you have autism.

INTENTION

This is typically intended to serve as a compliment. It suggests that a person is not like other people who share their diagnosis and implies that they are more “acceptable” because of that.

IMPACT

This statement could be offensive to some. If someone identifies strongly with their diagnosis, you have made it clear to them that you see people with their diagnosis as “weird.” It communicates to the person that the less they are like people who share their diagnosis, the more normal they are.

BEST BET

Using comparative language to describe someone always bears with it some level of rejection. When communicating to connect, using language that suggests acceptance tends to foster a more positive experience for everyone involved.

When communicating to connect, using language that suggests acceptance tends to foster a more positive experience for everyone involved.

Kelly McHugh

I always have trouble finding the right word too! I know how you feel.

INTENTION

This is typically said in an attempt to connect with another person. Shared experiences often create connections, so this may seem like a logical way to build rapport with someone.

IMPACT

For someone with a diagnosed word-finding impairment, having trouble finding the right word may be more than an inconvenience. It may mean that they have to keep a running list of things and people they may interact with throughout their day to accommodate their impairment or rely on alternative means of communication to get their messages across. By saying that the same thing happens to you, you are suggesting that it happens in the same way and to the same extent. For someone who significantly struggles with something, this language could make their experience feel trivialized.

BEST BET

When someone is clearly struggling with something, active listening and empathizing go a long way (e.g. saying “that must be frustrating to not be able to think of the word you want to say”)! Empathy often opens the gate to connection and may help people share their experiences in a thoughtful way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and is intended to start a conversation around how our communication affects others. While uncertainty is uncomfortable and ever-present in our world, together we can share our experiences and build a collective awareness that connects us.

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https://iteratorstesting.com/blog/challenge-convention-and-listen-closely Challenge Convention and Listen Closely 2017-09-26T21:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T23:23:37+00:00 Amelia Willcox https://iteratorstesting.com/ Challange Convention Photo

Linguistic diversity, vocal styles, and speech habits are all the subject of Are Linguistics The New Forefront of Diversity, the most recent article I read which resonated with me. It caught my attention for a number of reasons. 

See the link below: 

www.fastcompany.com/3052771/are-linguistics-the-new-forefront-of-diversity-initiatives

To start, one of the authors quoted in this article is a professor at Clark University, which is a research university dedicated to diversity in its student body.

I myself am a graduate of this university! In addition, I am a speech-language pathologist, which means I spend my time as a professional helping others who have difficulty communicating by teaching them skills and strategies to assist them in communicating as effectively as possible. Related to this, the authors noted some terms that relate to overall communication, those being: vocal fry, “upspeak” and “uptalk”.

To shed light on these vocal qualities, it is important to know what each of these terms refers to:

  • Vocal fry is when someone produces voicing that has a low-pitch, rough quality. This style of speaking has become part of pop culture; especially as reality TV shows have gained in popularity.
  • “Upspeak” refers to the final syllable of a word being stated with a rise in intonation or inflection.
  • “Uptalk” refers to the style of speaking where a statement is expressed with a rise in intonation at the end, which causes the statement to sound like a question.

 Vocal fly, “uptalk” and “upspeak” are considered to be a personal linguistic habit and style of speaking. Often, people may not even know they have these qualities in their speech until someone points it out to them. Just like any habit, over time, they become less noticeable and conscious to the person who is using them. 

The authors point out that these various vocal qualities are disproportionately associated with a woman’s style of speaking over a man’s style of speaking even though there is no evidence to demonstrate that women use these styles more often than men. 

This was notable as it points to a bias and assumption about women, especially women in the workplace; this is often mischaracterized or misinterpreted. In the article, the authors even note that women “’continue to be held to a standard where the idea is that they need to conform more to the way men speak’”. This in and of itself is a bias towards women in the workplace, be it conscious or unconscious.

 When thinking about this issue of speech habits and vocal styles, it brought to mind that this article raises issues that are in contrast to those with speech-language impairments. In both of these cases, individuals present with a different way of speaking and expressing themselves. For those with speech-language impairments, their communication is not a habit or a style; rather, it is due to a specific impairment, which can manifest itself as difficulty producing certain sounds accurately, or the fact that they may take extra pauses while they speak, and may us words  such as “um” and “like” while they are talking.

The difference between the general population who may be using these vocal styles and many individuals with speech-language disorders, (especially those who have received speech-language therapy in their life) is the awareness that their speech is different. Many individuals work tirelessly to minimize these differences, and what they express is the best they are able to do. This is especially true during job interviews, presentations, and other public speaking events where talking is the main form of communication and the setting is of a professional manner.

When thinking about either group, those who use vocal habits or those with speech-language impairments, it is clear that individuals, especially in a professional setting, place far too much value on the way people express themselves relative to the actual content of what is being said. It would be better for everyone if people could look past how others speak, remove judgment, and focus on what the person is actually saying. This would allow people to be seen for their strengths, talents, and potential rather than purely for the way they talk.

Clark University’s motto is Challenge Convention, Change the World and Clark University values its community and strives to teach students with diverse backgrounds and who are from all over the world. From my time at Clark University, I can vouch for the fact that they empower their students to be a guiding force in their community from the top down. I urge those at the top, deans, professors, support staff, and administrators to “challenge convention” and guide others in how to decrease the bias against the way people speak, and to encourage an open mind and attitude towards people based on the content of what they say rather than how they say it.

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https://iteratorstesting.com/blog/valuable-tools-in-the-workplace Valuable Tools in the Workplace 2017-09-08T23:26:00+00:00 2017-12-07T23:23:36+00:00 Jill Willcox https://iteratorstesting.com/

A family member with a language disorder came home late from school explaining that his foreign-language teacher kept him after class, suggested he transfer to a different class, stating she thought he would be "happier." She did not ask about his overall happiness or what this change would due to his academic schedule or extra-curricular activities. 

While checking, it was discovered that the class she recommended was for students who were at least one year behind in the academic subject, and statistically, there was a higher percentage of students in this class with a learning disability.

This is a stunning example of how unconscious bias permeates our everyday experiences.


As a society, we do not accommodate differences well, but when we do, it almost always works better for all

Many well-intentioned people assume if you have a language disorder you also have a cognitive impairment and it’s a form of unconscious bias to pigeonhole everyone with such a broad brush.

As a society, we do not accommodate differences well, but when we do, it almost always works better for all. This is why diversity is so important in schools, businesses, and society-as-a-whole.

We have learned to accommodate certain differences well. For example, another family member came home excited with the news that they had two co-teachers for the coming school year. We did not know why, but the reason soon became crystal clear. One co-teacher spoke all lessons to the class while the second co-teacher signed every word for the hearing-impaired student in class. In the process of adapting for this student, the entire class learned sign language. It also taught the class the real meaning of diversity, acceptance, and teamwork, which are all valuable tools in the workplace.

Our family member never did change classes. He told his teacher he was not academically behind and thought he would be bored in the other class. He also told her the change in schedule would conflict with the honors physics class.

Some months later, the foreign language teacher bumped into us and it was evident she learned a valuable lesson. She expressed how much fun she had teaching this student. She also said she taught for 25 years and hadn't had the opportunity to experience a lot of diversity, and now felt like the master teacher she was considered to be.

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https://iteratorstesting.com/blog/ask-your-employees-how-to-create-a-more-inclusive-workplace-first Need Strategies for Creating a More Inclusive Workplace? Ask Your Employees 2017-07-08T21:46:00+00:00 2017-12-07T23:23:37+00:00 Jennifer Brown https://iteratorstesting.com/

So – you’ve successfully built a diverse workforce, but now you realize that the transformation you’re aiming for is only partly accomplished; that your workplace culture must change, too, to accommodate the varied people in it. You want to start the work of building this matching culture – a culture of inclusion that will ensure that all of your employees feel welcomed and relish coming to work every day? Great! You’re doing the right thing. With that intention in mind, how can you best begin to build a culture of inclusivity and awareness?  

The best first step toward designing a successful inclusion strategy for a diverse workplace is to listen to what your employees are saying. It seems obvious, but true listening is in short supply in our frenetic, hierarchical world.  However afraid you are to understand the issues in your organization and bring them to light (and however much your legal team advises against it), knowledge is power, but it has to be done in a respectful and culturally competent way.

At JBC, we recommend and facilitate like-affinity focus groups as a powerful tool to figure out where the pain points are within organizations and certain diverse communities, while also identifying what works and what employees love about coming to work. We usually share the following tactical recommendations to get started:

The best first step toward designing a successful inclusion strategy for a diverse workplace is to listen to what your employees are saying

Jennifer Brown

We usually share the following tactical recommendations to get started:

  • Don’t be afraid to recommend focus groups by affinity. The safety of an exclusive conversation of employees with a shared identity is a powerful experience for participants and will yield the richest and most accurate insights. People will appreciate being asked to participate and actually get excited that they are being invited to a forum to discuss their experiences.
  • Think beyond race and gender for your affinity groupings. Include LGBT, allies, millennials, and other generation-specific groups, as well as white men. Ask the same, general, open-ended questions across the board, and you will be intrigued by the similarities as well as stark differences that will show up and which are critical to be aware of.
  • Organizations have to create a safe place for employees to be vulnerable and honest. No direct reporting relationships should be present in the room when preparing focus groups or asking for employee feedback.
  • It’s also useful to engage an outside contractor to conduct focus groups for you, rather than tasking your HR team. When employees feel they are being watched, especially by someone with any sort of relationship to performance reviews, they will be reluctant to speak candidly, and you won’t get the critical information you need to move forward strategically and holistically.

The idea of participating in focus groups can cause anxiety among employees and employers alike, especially for people with speech and language disorders. Even so, for those belonging to this or to other identity groups, they can serve as the vents where many of the suppressed emotions and pain points around diversity surface, particularly in an otherwise constrained workplace. As a result, some may express concerns about the intent of the exercise or oppose it altogether. As a diversity consultant and advocate, I’ve heard every argument against getting like-identity groups together to talk openly. “Isn’t this a case of special rights?”, “Aren’t we just inviting trouble by suggesting certain demographics get together to compare notes?”, and my favorite, “Isn’t this just another form of discrimination or exclusion?” Once people hear the feedback, however, they realize that we’ve created an environment where it’s safe for all participants to reveal more of who they are, be honest about their experiences, connect into a community, and get excited that the company is finally looking at their challenges with a closer eye.

The very act of conducting focus groups can cause a seismic shift in the conversation. Gathering feedback is instructive as well as inspirational for many. Participants consider offering their name and resources, leading the charge for new initiatives and bolstering the effort—all because they’ve been asked and included.

It can be difficult for the senior leadership team to hear what employees are saying. We have encountered bewilderment, finger pointing, and defensiveness from senior leaders who sincerely had no idea what the daily life of their employees comprised. If you are a leader, I encourage you to open yourself to hearing what your employees have to say through the safety of focus groups. It’s better to know than to pretend that everything is fine. It only represents a failure on your part if you then choose not to act to improve conditions on the trading floor, the manufacturing floor, or in the lab at your organization.

In order for individual employees to change, the culture around them has to begin to change. Good news, it doesn’t have to happen all at once. But there is inevitably low-hanging fruit in the analysis of the focus groups; there are quick steps a leadership team can take to let the employee population know that they’ve been heard and that more changes are going to come.

Just the mere fact that a company is undertaking a hard look at its culture and levels of engagement goes a long way toward making all of your employees feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠.

Photo credit: themostinept 6th March 2016 via photopin (license).
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