Guest Blog: Allison Ladavat
After almost 11 years working as an SLP, I finally attended my first ASHA conference in 2022. I had been wanting to visit friends of mine who lived in New Orleans anyway, so I figured this was a good time to take that leap. Though I’ve been practicing for more than a decade, in some ways it feels like I’m just entering the SLP field now. I’ve always identified as a stutterer, even when I was covert. But I’m just now beginning to identify as a speech-language pathologist. Throughout my career and especially during my time as a student, I’ve often felt like an outsider, playing the role of an SLP. I haven’t felt like I was able to be both a stutterer and an SLP equally, at the same time. This was apparent throughout my time as a graduate student. Our professors and supervisors were educating, molding, and training us to become future speech-language pathologists. From the beginning it had seemed like there was a specific expectation and standard of what that meant, with not much variability.
Not Fitting the Mold
As a young woman from an urban area of Pittsburgh, with a thick “yinzer” accent and an obvious stutter, who had a 3-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter at home, I learned right away that I was never fitting this mold. From day one, I felt like I had to prove my worth, prove that I deserved to be in that program. I had received the same acceptance letter as every other student in my class, which should have been enough to prove I deserved to be there. Despite that, it was a fight for 2.5 years. At times, I was fighting my own insecurities. Other times, I was challenged by professors and supervisors, even being told directly that I should think about pursuing a different career. While I had faced harsh judgment and even blatant discrimination from professors & supervisors because of my stuttering, I also had a handful of incredible supporters and allies who advocated for me. Without them, I would not have made it through. But I now realize, having only a few SLP allies isn’t enough to make real change. There’s also no reason all SLPs can’t be allies of students who stutter.
Reliving the Moments
In the summer of 2022, I sat on my living room floor with a large Rubbermaid bin filled with all the papers, notebooks, and work from graduate school that had been stashed away in my basement. It took more than ten years for me to face that bin. I wanted to carefully go through it, keeping important items and discarding the others. But to do that, I’d have to read it all and I knew there would be things in there that would be painful. Until then, I wasn’t ready to revisit those memories.
The Winding Road
The path I took to become an SLP is like the roads you find in Pittsburgh – steep hills, sharp bends, with potholes to dodge along the way - challenging, confusing, halting. I began college at 17 years old as a Chemistry major. While I did have an interest in Chemistry and other science related areas, I only chose that path because I figured I wouldn’t have to talk much as a Chemistry student. This isn’t uncommon for people who stutter. The power of dropping classes was one of my favorite parts of the college experience. Every new class began the same. I’d take a seat in the back of the room and wait anxiously for the professor to pass out the syllabus, unable to focus on anything else. My eyes would scan the syllabus for certain words… “participation, presentation, oral reading.” Then, a quick cost-benefit analysis, determining if I should drop the class or not. I dropped dozens of courses throughout undergrad, many after the deadline, resulting in a “W” on my transcript. Sadly, many of these classes were ones that had greatly interested me. But the risk of having to present to the class while stuttering was just too high.
At the time, I had never heard of covert stuttering, concealment, or avoidance, so I certainly didn’t know that’s what I had been doing much of my life. In all my years in speech therapy as a child, I don’t recall any therapists describing my experience this way either. All I knew is that I would do whatever I possibly could to get out of a moment of stuttering or avoid the possibility of that moment altogether. I had been doing that in different ways and to different degrees for as long as I remember. Every decision was a mini risk assessment and stuttering often made major decisions for me.
When people learn I’m an SLP who stutters, they typically assume I pursued this career due to my experience as a person who stutters. While that’s somewhat true, it’s not for the reason most probably think. After spending 3 years of college jumping from one major to another, from Chemistry to Art History to Philosophy, I knew I had to find something to stick with. I somewhat impulsively decided to pursue a career in speech-language pathology. In a way, I surrendered to it. I chose speech-language pathology because I thought my stuttering would never be accepted in any other career. I figured speech therapists would be the only ones to accept me. If anyone would understand and not judge the way I speak, it would be SLPs, right? Well…
Now, you can read the next installment to discover how Allison’s graduate school journey turned out!