Our purpose is to illuminate compliances with, and resistances to, what we are calling "compulsory fluency" which we define as conventions for what constitutes competent speech. We achieve our purpose through a study of day-to-day communication between a woman with less conventional speech and her support providing family members and friends. Drawing from McRuer's (2006) compulsory ablebodiedness and Kafer's (2013) compulsory able-mindedness, we use "compulsory fluency" to refer to a form of articulation that is standardized and idealized and imposed on all speakers including those whose speech is less conventional. We see compulsory fluency as central to North American conceptions of personhood which are tied to individual ability to speak for one's self (Brueggemann, 2005). In this paper, we trace some North American principles for linguistic competence to outline widely held ideals of receptive and expressive language use, namely, conventions for how language should be understood and expressed. Using Critical Disability Studies (Goodley, 2013; McRuer, 2006) together with a feminist framework of relational autonomy (Nedelsky, 1989), our goal is to focus on experiences of people with less conventional speech and draw attention to power in communication as it flows in idiosyncratic and intersubjective fashion (Mackenzie & Stoljar, 2000; Westlund, 2009). In other words, we use a critical disability and feminist framing to call attention to less conventional forms of communication competence and, in this process, we challenge assumptions about what constitutes competent speech. As part of a larger qualitative study, we conduct a conversation analysis informed by Rapley and Antaki (1996) to examine day-to-day verbal, vocal and non-verbal communications of a young woman who self identifies as "having autism" - pseudonym Addison - in interaction with her support-providing family members and friends. We illustrate a multitude of Addison's compliances with, and resistances to, compulsory fluency to bring awareness to competence inherent in less conventional speech and we argue this illumination as a call for listening with greater care and more open expectations in efforts to understand, and participate in the expression of, meanings embedded in less conventional speech.

Reframing less conventional speech to disrupt conventions of "compulsory fluency"

Communication is the medium through which we connect in all facets of life and two major domains comprise communication: speech and language. Language is culturally cultivated as a structure and form for communication; speech is the physical articulation of the language. Our North American cultural context includes ideals of communication that Dolmage (2014) calls "proprietary" and entail speech that is fast-paced and focused on independence and productivity. Accordingly, priority is given to clear, concise use of language and corresponding patterns of communication are idealized and perpetuated through curricula designed for, and implemented in, institutions of education (Foucault, 1977). We are concerned with the ways in which standards for clear, concise speech and idealized communication leave people who have less conventional speech simultaneously pushed to conform, and inevitably failing to conform (Linton, 1998). An extensive speech language practice has unfolded which is aimed at "remediating" language communication abilities. We are troubled by the ways a remediation model of practice contributes to viewing and treating people who have less conventional speech – namely, people with developmental disabilities and acquired impairments – as inadequate.

In this paper, we bring attention to what we call "compulsory fluency," an idea we borrow from McRuer's (2006) compulsory ablebodiedness and Kafer's (2013) compulsory able-mindedness. As such, we define "compulsory fluency" as anchored in North American conceptions of personhood and entailing a standardized and idealized mode of articulation imposed upon people who have less conventional speech. Our purpose is to illuminate compliances with, and resistances to, "compulsory fluency" and contribute to understandings of communication expressions and enactments by people who have less conventional speech. We begin by tracing some North American principles for linguistic competence to outline widely -held ideals of receptive and expressive language use, namely, conventions for how language should be understood and expressed. We describe our Disability Studies and feminist anchored focus on less conventional forms of communication competence through which we challenge assumptions about what constitutes competent speech. We then present our conversation analysis approach to examining day-to-day verbal, vocal and non-verbal communications of a young woman who self identifies as "having autism" (pseudonym Addison) in interaction with her support-providing family members and friends. We illustrate a multitude of Addison's compliances with, and resistances to, compulsory fluency and we conclude by discussing competence inherent in less conventional speech. We argue our illumination as a call for listening with greater care and more open expectations in efforts to understand, and participate in, the expression of meanings embedded in less conventional speech.

Language: Theoretical Origins and Conceptual Limitations

Contemporary linguist Chomsky, considered "the most influential contributor to the cognitive concept of competence," solidified associations between language and competence through his claim that a person's competence for language stems from their individual biological predisposition (Barsky & Pullum, 1997). According to Chomsky, competence is inherently absolute rather than relative; in other words, competence is reflected in an individual's language which results through complex, creative processes unique to the individual. Thus, competence is abstract and does not rely on observable qualities and the ability to influence surroundings (Chomsky 1975:23). Taylor (1998) advances Chomsky's conceptualization of competence by claiming that variations between individuals' competencies are not unlike comparing one individual's eye colour as brown to another's as blue since, like eye colour, language competence is a "property of the individual." Taylor (1998) raised concern about ways in which linguists, such as Hymes (1971) have conflated the individual property of competence with the performance of competence as language "ability." Taylor (1998) noted that while Hymes described Chomsky's concept of linguistic competence as pertaining to a "knowledge that enables the speaker to produce and understand an infinite set of sentences," and characterized this "knowledge" as part of an individual's creative processing (Hymes 1971:5), Hymes also discussed Chomsky's concept of competence in terms of ability, suggesting that the individual must use language competence in such a way as to be understood by others. Taylor rejects Hymes on this latter point by arguing that ability to be understood is not part of Chomsky's conceptualization of competence. Yet goals of "ability" to be understood by others are pervasively embedded in the field of linguistics which has been focused on working with individuals to translate knowledge of language structure into the social knowledge of when to use structure appropriately. In this paper, we hold to Chomsky's conceptualization of competence as an abstract, subjective, and creative property intrinsic to an individual (instead of as an observable ability) to broaden understandings of "appropriate" use of language structures. We strive to tap in to the subjective, creative processes of how people with developmental disability diagnoses can produce speech and language both independently and in community with others. We focus on how small, idiosyncratic demonstrations of verbal, vocal and nonverbal expressions evidence language competence without conforming to idealized forms of language and communication "abilities." We anchor our examination in Critical Disability Studies, focusing on the "generative and creative quality" of the language of people with developmental disability diagnoses (Goodley, 2013), and we treat these qualities as "resources for life's wisdoms" (Chandler, 2012). As such, we take up St. Pierre's (2015) argument that others ought to:

…stretch their ears and linger upon unfamiliar sounds, in denying them ostensibly clear, distinct, and terminal signals, the disabled speaker alerts us both to the ubiquitous process of mutually carving out meaning from within noise and to the indeterminate becoming through communication.

Our work is a contribution to challenging the ways in which North American ideals can inhibit valuing language and manners of communication that might be viewed as non-conforming. By examining less conventional speech in relationship contexts, we remain mindful that at the heart of all communication is a community of speakers who share a togetherness. Accordingly, we incorporate the feminist concept of relational autonomy which is predicated on the view that actions result from an individual's volition in combination with the influence of one's relational connections (Mackenzie & Stoljar, 2000; Westlund, 2009). Christman defined relational autonomy as "what it means to be a free, self-governing agent who is also socially constituted and who possibly defines her basic value commitments in terms of interpersonal relations and mutual dependencies" (2009, p. 164-5). Relational autonomy was developed as a way of theorizing autonomy for women whose lives are shaped by dependence/interdependence; we argue relational autonomy as vital to understanding the experiences of people with developmental disabilities whose lives tend to be pervaded by interactions that occur as part of relationships of care and support.

Utility and Shortcomings in Conceptualizations and Developments of Language: Developments rooted in understanding less conventional speech as a lack of competence

Bodies of research about people's perceptions of less conventional language, biological gene development, and the field of speech and language have been built on assumptions that idealized forms of language, and corresponding fluency in these forms, are the goals of all speakers. Very little attention has been given to Chomsky's ideas of language competence as inherent to all individuals. Instead, emphasis is on less conventional speakers' ability to be articulate and understood as evidenced in the following review of empirical studies.

In a review article about the ways in which people respond to people with disabilities, Gouvier & Coon (2002) discussed how people's manner of speech (register) changed from a normal register to what the researchers termed a "motherese" register—that is, how one may speak to an infant with shortened phrases and a slower, higher pitch—when speaking with persons with disabilities. In their earlier work, Gouvier, Coon and colleagues conducted a study to determine perceptions of the motherese register using two subsamples of college students, 1- students who identified as having a head injury and, 2- students who did not identify as having a head injury (Gouvier, Barbin, Plum, & Coon 1997). Participants listened either to pre-recorded audio clips of a rehabilitation therapist talking to a patient in a rehabilitation setting in a normal register and then in a motherese register, or to the normal and motherese registers first hand, addressed to themselves. Participants then rated the appropriateness of the motherese register. Participants who did not have a head injury rated the motherese as appropriate for the patient spoken to in the audio clip yet as inappropriate when directly addressed to themselves. On the other hand, participants with a head injury rated the motherese register in stronger terms and as inappropriate when addressed either to a patient in an audio clip or to themselves directly. Gouvier and Coon (2002) contended that motherese register is demeaning in that it "conveys a lower status to the listener." Participants without head injuries rejected receiving this register yet were inclined to view it as an appropriate register for peers with head injuries being addressed on the audio clip.

Demeaning ideas about less conventional speakers are perpetuated in studies of language deficits including studies linking language deficits to biological factors. For example, researchers studied the FOXP2 and the WNT2 genes presumed to cause language disorder and delay (eg. Fisher & Scharff, 2009; Lin et al., 2012). According to Fisher and Scharff (2009), with the right environment, highly "proficient" language—that is, language expressed through fluent speech—is achieved without much conscious effort, however, impairments in mastering expressive articulation and receptive understanding of language arise with a mutation of the FOXP2 gene. Gene mutation studies such as those conducted by Fisher and Scharff, are aimed at understanding competence in terms of the role of a single gene and findings from such studies influence the speech and language field by casting people with developmental disabilities in terms of language competence deficiencies (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2005).

Deficiency framed approaches to remediation are taken up in varying technical and technological forms aimed at improving less conventional language and fluency in terms of ability to be understood by others. Howard (2007) conducted a study aimed at improving practices for remediating articulation and prosody (the conventional/expected rhythm of language). Multiple tools including rater's perceptions, an electropalatography technique, and acoustic analyses, were used to garner data about the articulation and prosody of six older children with "inarticulate impaired speech" (Howard). The tools used were diagnostic and precise. For example, the electropalatography technique used a computer attached to individual electrodes to monitor tongue movements and measure articulation. Howard suggested that intelligible speech (i.e. speech that is to be understood by others) is the end goal and thus it is important to study what 'real talk' by the children looks like. Howard claimed that strings of speech articulation and prosody are different than single utterances and argued that if children want to "talk and interact normally," interventions should target normal prosody and "real talk" so that what is learned can be generalized. Through his quest for articulate, "real talk" speech, Howard adheres to virtually all assumptions on which compulsory fluency is built.

Other tools under the umbrella of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), rather than focusing on remediating existing speech, offer alternative avenues for people with less conventional speech to "speak". For example, a Norwegian firm developed Rolltalk, a complex computer system with varying functions that allow for those whose speech is less conventional to express themselves (Moser and Law, 2003). The purpose of such AAC tools is to facilitate communication and increase less conventional speakers' communicative "competence" in order that they may be better understood by their more articulate communication partners (Millar, Light, & Schlosser, 2006). Millar et al. (2006) conducted a systematic review of 23 studies published between 1975 and 2003 to determine the effect of AAC on speech production of 67 people with diagnosed speech impairments between the ages of two and sixty years. Their analysis was guided by parent and professional resistance to using AAC due to concern that reliance on AAC will override opportunities and development in physical speech. Millar et al. (2006) found that AAC does not have an adverse effect on speech production and that speech gains can occur with AAC even among adults past the critical age of speech development. Through this systematic review, Millar and colleagues underline adherence to assumptions of compulsory fluency through evidence that despite having an alternative avenue for communication through technology, speech production and the ability to speak fluently prevail as parents' and professionals' primary goal for less conventional speakers.

A number of researchers have looked for evidence of adherence to assumptions of compulsory fluency in forms of rehabilitation service providers' perceptions of people with disabilities. Balandin and Hines (2011) conducted a study of prospective service providers' perceptions of people with disabilities by having 14 speech language therapy students listen to guest lectures delivered by adults with life-long disabilities and communication impairments. One guest lecturer had an intellectual disability, one had a brain injury and two others had cerebral palsy and used speech generating devices. Guest lectures were in conjunction with a learning module about communication and lifelong disability and following their lectures, students participated in a focus group to discuss their perceptions. From their analysis of the focus group data, Balandin and Hines generated themes that included a) students having achieved a new understanding of perspectives of people with disabilities, b) seeing past a label, c) changed attitudes towards recognizing the many abilities of people with disabilities, d) ways in which students' use of language can be negative and "disabling", and e) a sense of having confronted their own misinformed attitudes (Balandin & Hines, 2011). These findings show that while students enter speech therapy with a focus on the ability deficiencies of the people with whom they are going to work, student ideas about what constitutes deficiencies can change upon hearing and seeing demonstrations of competence from people with disabilities in forms other than speech fluency.

Through this review of literature, we note researcher focus on perspectives of service providers and family members of less conventional speakers. The ways in which less conventional speakers express themselves were the topic of the studies, yet perspectives of less conventional speakers were not among the data collected and analyzed. Instead, the views of more articulate conversation partners were central. While Gouvier and colleagues (1997) offered an important corrective by presenting views of students with brain injuries about the inappropriateness of motherese, these researchers also presented evidence that students without brain injuries take a deficiency-focused view of those with less conventional speech. And genetics research into communication contributes to negative perceptions of less conventional speakers whose competence was treated in terms of functioning genes. At the same time, Howard (2007) argued for rigorous and highly technical efforts to improve children's intelligibility so children can participate in "real talk" and be understood by others. Moreover, despite availability of alternative avenues of communication, parents and professionals represented in the Millar et al. (2006) systematic review treated "real talk" ability as essential. This literature is about targeting the communication of less conventional speakers for remediation rather than about understanding less conventional speakers' communication per se. We see glimmers of focus shifting toward less conventional speakers' communication within its own right in findings from Balandin and Hines (2011) of speech and language students perceiving people with disabilities more positively following having spent time with people with disabilities. Yet Balandin and Hines did not encompass examination of how expressions by less conventional speakers impacted perceptions of speech and language students. Stated simply, knowledge about the communication processes of less conventional speakers is lacking and we aim to illuminate these communication processes through in-depth listening and analysis. By focusing on processes, we can promote better understandings of less conventional forms of competence inherent to all individuals in accordance with Chomsky's conceptualization of language competence.



We use a conversation analysis methodology informed by Rapley and Antaki who presented conversation analysis as a means of studying how people achieve meaning by using each other's expectations about "what comes after what" in sequences of talk (1996). Using natural ethnographic data collected in an intense and sustained manner, we study relational dynamics of autonomy and decision making between adults with developmental disability diagnoses and their support providing family members and friends. Specifically, we focus on how people navigate and negotiate who is required, empowered, and allowed to speak when (Schegloff, 2007). We apply our conversation analysis methods to data from a case family collected in the form of interactions between Addison , a 34-year-old woman who identifies as having autism, and her mother Nicole, her father Jack, and several other family members and friends (N=10).

Broader Sample Description and Recruitment.

We selected our case of Addison and her family members and friends from a broader sample comprised of participants who identified as having a life-long disability and some form of less conventional communication, and who took part in three interview-observations together with one or more support providing family members and/or friends (N=46 comprised of 14 people with diagnoses and 32 of their support providing family members and friends). In our interview-observations, we asked questions related to successes and struggles in caregiving, care-receiving and decision-making with and by adults with disability diagnoses and we also discussed topics introduced by participants. We recruited participants by distributing an electronic call for participants to agencies providing support and resources to adults with disability diagnoses and their family members. Prospective participants and/or family members responded to our call by telephone or email and during this communication, we ensured they met inclusion criteria, understood the scope and intent of the study, and had opportunities to ask questions and raise concerns.


Prior to the initial interview-observation, participants provided informed consent in accordance with the Conjoint Health Research Ethics Board policy at the authors' university. Participants with diagnoses signed an "adult" consent form; if participants with diagnoses had a legal guardian, the legal guardian signed a surrogate consent form. Ongoing consent from adults with diagnoses was sought at transition points during data collection—such as talking about new or emotional subjects or moving to a next activity—by obtaining verbal or gestural permission to continue and by giving intermittent reminders that we are guests and only want to hear about and observe what participants are comfortable sharing.

Case family description and rationale

Addison's relationship with each of her family members and friends is distinct and by studying interactions between Addison and multiple others, we access a range of Addison's communication. We selected this case because we were inspired by an animated exchange between Addison and her mother Nicole during our initial meeting when Nicole shared a story of her evolving understanding of communication. Addison's less conventional communication style entails relatively slow and "dysfluent" speech which may not be immediately understood; Addison's style is treated by Nicole, and others in Addison's family, with a combination of pride in Addison's abilities, and humility about family members' own learnings. Addison's interactions with her family members tended to be dysfluent yet active and satisfying to interactants. We view these interactions as an important means of illuminating different forms of communication and, in the process, challenging notions that communication needs to be fluent and clearly articulated.

Case family data collection

As with our broader sample, data were collected from Addison and her family members and friends through a series of three interview-observations. To increase the likelihood that interactions pertinent to our goals of understanding the relational workings of communications would be captured and discussed in the moment, a minimum of two interviewers participated in each interview-observation. The first interview observation (of approximately 90-minute duration) was designed to gain familiarity with participants and obtain background details about family structure and day-to-day activities. The second interview-observation, scheduled approximately one month later, lasted 4 hours and afforded a sense of a typical day, including activities, events, transitions and corresponding decision-making. We asked Addison how she maintains positive relationships with her helpers, including family members and friends, and how she helps others. We also asked about activities, interests and relationships about which we had learned through our initial interview-observation. The final interview-observation, completed approximately six months later (lasting just over an hour) entailed observing and inquiring about changes since previous interview-observations, and obtaining input on the kinds of conclusions we were drawing from data collected thus far. Interview-observations were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. We also met for a fourth interview-observation for the express purpose of members checking by sharing and discussing the themes we were generating.

Interview details are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1
Interview-Observations with Addison
Interview-Observation Location Duration (hours) Participants (n) Interviewers (n) Date
1 Family Home 1.24 2 2 August 10, 2015
2 Family Home 4 10 2 December 12 , 2015
3 University 1.16 3 3 March 3, 2016
4 Family Home 2 3 3 May 26, 2016

Data Analysis

Interview-observations were transcribed verbatim by a professional transcriptionist. We began our analysis with familiarization with data achieved through repeatedly listening to audio recordings and reading corresponding transcripts. Using Schegloff's (2007) conversation analysis concepts, we gave attention to evidence of when and how participants relied on each other for cues about what comes next in conversations including when participants felt "empowered, required or allowed" to speak next. For examples, we understood a participant to feel empowered to speak when, in response to an interviewer question, another participant waited for a participant to respond, offered words of encouragement for that participant to respond, or provided an introductory comment on which that participant could elaborate. We concluded a participant was required to speak next when another participant asked that participant a direct question or otherwise prompted that participant to respond. We held that a participant was allowed to speak next during an animated exchange with multiple participants having "something to add" yet waiting for that participant to finish speaking, or during exchanges when one participant spoke then handed over the conversation to another.

We concentrated on the ways Addison expressed her ideas and preferences as an individual and in relationships with family members and friends and we generated descriptive themes of when and how Addison was empowered, allowed or required to speak. We then molded these descriptive themes into analytic themes to reflect "new conceptualizations and explanations" (Bryman, 2016) of compliances with, and resistances to, compulsory fluency. We note that distinctions between compliances with, and resistances to, are by no means discrete and interactions often contain evidence of both; for example, Addison might give evidence of resisting compulsory fluency by expressing an idea in fragments, and a moment later, prompted by a family member, conform to compulsory fluency by expressing herself more fully.


We enhanced the credibility of our findings through: 1- triangulation of sources and, 2- members checking. Triangulation of sources is inherent to our design in that we relied on multiple perspectives from within our case (i.e. Addison , Nicole, Jack, other family members and friends) to provide different vantage points and relational dimensions of communication. We members checked our investigator perceptions throughout each interview-observation as well as across interview-observations. The multiple data collection points allowed us to revisit what was previously said and get clarification, elaboration, and updates. We went on to share a full draft of our manuscript with the case family and we received and incorporated three and one half pages of feedback (from Nicole). We also received and incorporated annotations on our manuscript provided by Addison's Aunt Mary, who was not part of our sample, but has a longstanding relationship with Addison as well as professional experience teaching English as a second language. Finally, we conducted an in-person members checking visit with Addison and her family to elaborate and clarify our understandings of feedback provided by Nicole and Addison's Aunt Mary. During this visit, we shared a PowerPoint summary of our findings and analytic process which we projected using the family's television. During the discussions of our PowerPoint summary, we asked frequent questions of Addison in an effort to offer findings that rang true to Addison's experiences. From this family visit and discussion, we revised our manuscript and shared this with the family to obtain their approval and invite any additional changes. No further changes were suggested by the family.


Preamble: Reframing Handicap

During the first interview-observation, Nicole spoke of the importance of rethinking less conventional communication, catalyzing this paper. Specifically, Nicole said: "We are very narrow minded as to what we think somebody else is capable…when are you helping and when are you a hindrance…we have to make sure we don't handicap them further." Nicole re-shaped the word "handicap" claiming the handicapping was driven by herself and others who want Addison to speak a certain way given a North American "zero tolerance" attitude towards less conventional speech. Nicole said this attitude precludes appreciation for unique communications of others and claims it is the conventional speakers who may in fact be "handicapped." Nicole's outlook on Addison's communication was shaped by her family having spent time living in New Zealand when Addison was ten years old. Nicole noted that until then, Addison barely had "a hundred words with no connective language." However, in New Zealand, Addison was integrated into a school where "every third kid spoke something else at home." Teachers, administrators and students shared a keen intent to "listen and be flexible with the spoken word." Nicole explains that when Addison spoke, no one said, "What was that, I didn't get that." As a result, Addison's expressive language "exploded" including an expanded lexicon and use of connective language. Nicole and her husband, Jack, concluded that they had been Addison's biggest "handicap" and had subsequently reached a deeper awareness of communication with Addison. They noted: "You're going to find that people are communicating all the time… there's just nobody listening."

Allied with Nicole, we analyzed our data seeking to expand understandings of what less conventional speakers - using Addison as an exemplar - have to say, and the ways in which their expressions occur as part of relationship dynamics. We generated three main themes: 1- a few small words, 2-frustration at not being understood and 3- answering for/making sense of. Through each theme, we illustrate compliances with, and resistances to compulsory fluency.

1. A few small words

Addison's communication style is evident in how a few small words from Addison could hold a multitude of meanings through which Addison both resisted and complied with compulsory fluency. Addison seemed to assesses situations for their confrontational versus conversational tone, then respond accordingly. Addison sometimes seemed to reduce her language to make the surroundings more manageable by a) demonstrating confidence and expressiveness using a few small words and by, b) leveraging a few words to signal another to elaborate.

a. Confidence and expressiveness

Addison was decisive and expressive using a few small words, with fluctuating frequency, to demonstrate position in conversation or express feelings about a topic. This instance showed Addison saying yes in parallel with Nicole's description about their shared travels. Addison used "yes" to secure her position in the conversation.

Nicole: We were back in Rome last year…yeah. we went to a lot of places last year. So where did we go after Italy? We went tuh- we went tuh Italy and then we went to Athens

Addison: Yes

Nicole: Yep

Addison: Uhh

Nicole: We climbed all the way up…the Acropolis

Addison: Yes

Addison also used "Yes" decisively to convey confidence unencumbered by modesty. In the next instance, Nicole had talked about how Addison positively impacts many people around her. Interviewer 1 paraphrased what Nicole had said and Addison emphatically agreed:

Interviewer 1: (ha) Addison , it just sounds like you… impact other people in a beautiful way. I think that's what your Mom was saying.

Addison: Uh, yes Mom I do

Addison also conveyed excitement using just a few words. In this instance, Addison responded to Interviewer 2 who was sharing Christmas plans:

Interviewer 2: Yeah, so we'll have a week together. I think we'll go skiing…

Addison: Yeah … I can ski too. I love to ski. We have so much in common, I ski too!

Interviewer 2: yeah

Addison: I ski too

Through her response of "I ski too" Addison showed enthusiastic agreement while reiterating the speaker's idea.

Addison also employed emphatic negation as a means of sending a clear message to her communication partner, in this instance, her god father, Uncle Max. Uncle Max had inquired if the two interviewers were Addison's support staff to which Addison exclaimed - and repeated - the word no:

Uncle Max: So you're working with Addison

Interviewer 2: We're here to see-

Addison: no no no she not-

Uncle Max: She's not, ok

Addison: No

Addison's decisive, repeated negation conveyed her intent that her uncle recognize that interviewer presence in her life signify something other than her routine support staff relationship. Nicole added her interpretation that we, as interviewers, had "broken through Addison's barriers" and Addison saw us as conversation partners rather than questioners/interrogators. Addison's comfort left her ready to confidently set the record straight with Uncle Max, who, we were later told by Nicole, has a communication difference himself and is "notorious for not listening."

Addison also used "no" to indicate, or segue to, sentiments along the lines of: "maybe", "sort of", "let me think about this" or "I don't want to outright reject your idea". When Interviewer 2 invited Addison to hold the video recorder to record her family, Addison at first said "uhh" followed by a "no" to show reluctance and give herself time to provide a fuller answer. However, when interviewer 2 encouraged, Addison offered a partial concession saying "perhaps later" to align with and/or "please" the interviewer.

Interviewer 2: I was thinking if you want maybe you could take the camera too…Could…

Addison: uhh

Interviewer 2: But I know you're busy, I don't want tuh

Addison: No

Interviewer 2: Yeah…but if later on you want to have the camera

Addison: uh perhaps later

Addison's use of "no" and her steps to meet the interviewer "half way" were later elaborated on by Nicole:

But but this yes thing, that's interesting because its, and I know Addison will always try to have, to give you the right answer, so she'll sit there and contemplate your question and then respond to it in a way that she has determined you want to hear. She doesn't actually give you…her own feeling or her own response because in some cases it may not be something that's of interest to her…So it's really interesting and I wonder how many of the rest of us do that, how often do we respond to the person in what they think we want to hear.

Nicole's interpretations evidence her investment in understanding Addison's expressive communication including in terms of how communication is part of managing relationships.

b. Signal to be Elaborated

Addison used a few small words to signal her conversation partner to elaborate. Addison's close relationships with family members leave family members skilled in providing details about ideas Addison introduces. In our members checking, Nicole explained that while Addison's comprehension is excellent, Addison can "struggle to get the thought signals to the mouth." Addison sometimes "bypasses" this struggle by "unloading it onto whomever she thinks will accept responsibility." Addison is particularly inclined to such offloading in situations where she feels put on the spot. For example, Nicole raised the topic of Addison's favorite people, a topic which Addison left Nicole to carry:

Nicole: So who are your favorite people, tell them who your favorite people are

Addison: I don't wanna tell them

Nicole: You don't want to tell them?

Addison: You

Nicole: Why me? (Like) maybe you've changed I (unknown) don't know about w- are they are they still the same people as always?

Addison: Yes

Nicole: So there's still Audrey…Audrey Hepburn…

A further dimension of Addison's signaling to others to elaborate was evident in members checking with Nicole as Nicole pointed out that Addison signals family members to participate as a strategy for including others as this strategy is used by movie characters after whom Addison models her own communication. In a conversation about pasta making, Addison asked her Dad, Jack, "if that is right" thus inviting Jack to speak more:

Addison: Mom and dad makes homemade pasta:

Interviewer 2: Yes I saw the book of inspiration (French cookbook the family uses)

Addison: It's pretty good

Interviewer 2: Oh I can't even imagine… I bet you it's very good

Addison: It is, right Dad?

Jack: Yeah it is yeah, it's awesome. Yeah it's ah takes all afternoon

Addison: Yeah uh: it's quite. (unknown) Flour egg. flour (unknown).

Jack: That's it yeah two eggs and one cup of flour

Interviewer 2: There you go

Addison: Yes

Addison showed leadership in this conversation by signaling to her Dad to participate. Through our members checking, Nicole added a layer to this interpretation noting that throughout Addison's life, fluent speakers, such as teachers and speech therapists, have often patronizingly engaged Addison to join conversations. In the instance above, Addison engaged her father in the conversation and did so without employing a patronizing tone.

We argue Addison's use of a few small words as evidence of resistances to compulsory fluency because in the course of day to day interactions, adults do not generally cue, and rely on, parents to elaborate what they are saying. At the same time, the faster and more "articulate" speech output by the parent reflects a compliance with compulsory fluency as parents enabled the maintenance of a quick and smooth flow of conversation.

2. Frustration at not being understood

Addison sometimes expressed frustration when she was not understood. When she could not get her point across, Addison's responses included what we identified as subthemes of a) "exacting," b) "shutting down and moving on," and c) "smoothing over."

a. Exacting

Addison sometimes expected exact pronunciation and understanding from her communication partners. When a partner fell short, Addison did not mince words in offering, or insisting upon, correction and clear understanding. In the following instance, Addison and the interviewers were looking at family photos. Interviewer 1 failed to accurately hear and repeat a name Addison was saying (interviewers understood the name to be "bright" shown in parentheses to indicate our guess work per Rapley and Antaki, 1996). In response, Addison said:

Addison: (Bright)

Interviewer 1: (Bright)

Addison: No (Bright)

Interviewer 1: I see

Addison: You have to say the name properly

Later in this conversation about family photos, the first interviewer's description of a photo did not satisfy Addison:

Interviewer 2: I like the hat of the…

Interviewer 1: the officiant

Addison: No- It was the what do you call that… the priest

Interviewer 1: Priest

Addison's decisive response of "no" showed both compliance with and resistance to compulsory fluency. In the service of compulsory fluency, Addison insisted on accuracy. Yet her adamant response to the communication partner whose attempts fell short was abrupt and violate conventions of polite conversation.

Similarly, during the members checking visit, Addison's friend Katia was present and Interviewer 3 said Katia's name without having given much thought to pronunciation. Addison was quick to correct that the pronunciation of Katia's name entails emphasis on the second syllable thus "KaTeeah":

Interviewer 3: And it is lovely to see you again and spend time in the family home including with Katia's and Ella and…

Addison: KaTeeah

Interviewer 3: Sorry…?

Katia: It's pronounced KaTeeah

Interviewer 3: Ahh, my mistake, KaTeeah

During our members checking, Nicole added context to our interpretation by pointing out that precision with language is a "family trait." From a very young age, children in the family are known for their exacting use of language. In one way, Addison may use her appreciation for precision in language as a resistance to compulsory fluency because through her precision she can "give as good as she gets" by placing demands on others who usually place demands on her. Addison was talking about people, family, and things important to her and her exacting response can be understood as a resistance through a "turning of tables" as Addison expected others who are prone to misinterpreting her speech dysfluencies to be fluent in their own expressions

b. Shutting down and moving on

When Addison was frustrated with not being understood, she sometimes shut down a topic or conversation and moved to another. Nicole enacted this in an instance reflecting Addison's tendency to feel stress when communication is imprecise. Upon not being able to understand a name Addison was saying, Nicole responded:

Nicole: Oh what was his girlfriend's name? This a new girlfriend?

Addison: Uhh. I think her name is uh… I think her name is (Leah)

Nicole: Leah. Alia…

Addison: It starts with an L

Nicole: Oh it starts with an L. Leanna? Leah?

Addison: Uh:

Nicole: Oh well never mind. The guessing game never works out well. (ha)

Nicole's "Oh well never mind" seemed a pre-emptive form of shutting down. Her view that "the guessing game never works out well" signaled intent to move on and constituted a reminder that when "guesses" miss the mark, Addison's frustration elevates.

For her part, Addison shut down a topic and moved on during the sharing of family photos when, after 40 minutes of looking at family photos with Addison describing events, places and names, we encountered two distinct moments of miscommunication. On both, Addison repeated herself several times, then shut down the conversation and moved on.

Addison: 35 years they've been on the (joint)

Interviewer 2: 35 years they've been on the joint

Addison: On the (joint) you're not listening to me

Interviewer 1: Oh we're trying to listen, sorry Addison

Addison: It doesn't matter

Interviewer 1: Doesn't matter

Addison: Uh. That's that's Stacey from New Zealand

Addison used "it doesn't matter" to shut down one topic and open another. Alternatively, Addison may shut down both a topic and a conversation as in this instance:

Interviewer 1: Yeah I remember you mentioning her before what was her name again

Addison: (Katia) she's (unknown) Uh actually I (unknown)

Interviewer 1: Is it ok if we talk a little bit over here? Cuz… With me when I have outside noise it's hard to hear… I just I have weird hearing

Addison: I don't want to talk right now

Interviewer 1: Ok

Interviewer 2: We can feel the music… Want to do that?

Addison: Yes

In a further alternative, Addison provided context and explanation to topics that had not been easily understood by her conversation partners:

Addison: Yes… He's married to Karen… he's (unknown)…

Addison: Uncle Tom is my mom's brother

Interviewer 1: Mom's brother

Addison: and his 3 kids

Interviewer 1: awe

Addison: (unknown) and someone wants to be a nurse at the [name of local hospital]

Interviewer 1: He wanted…

Addison: She wanted to be a (nurse.)

Interviewer 1: Announced?

Addison: No… A nurse. That looks after people when they're sick

Addison: Kirsten and Angela…

Interviewer: I think we saw most of them hey… Some other nature pictures

Addison: Yes

Addison shows her skill at using context details to keep the conversation flowing.

c. Smoothing over

When Addison was not readily understood, conversation could becomes tense including because Addison could become impatient and speak abruptly. In such instance, Addison may work to "smooth over" ensuing tensions as in the following example where Addison had responded abruptly to being interrupted by her father:

Addison: No… Actually they came here for the summers… And they live in Calgary now… I get, I get t- to see them more often… I get to see them… I get to see them in the (cabin)-

Jack: Addison , do you want some bread?

Addison: Zip it

Jack: Zip it?

Nicole: Did you get any bread do you want some bread?

Addison: No:

Uncle Max: No…ok

Jack: K sorry I'm zipping it… (ha)

Greg: Rose Rose will eat it all if you're not-

Jack: Addie…where where were you Addison .. Oh at the cabin

Addison: I was talking to [Interviewer 2] not you

Uncle Max: (ha) oh ho ok

Addison: You can talk to her

Jack: Sorry my bad

Jack: Yeah..no. it's no

Addison: I didn't say anything dad

Jack: (chuckle) ……. No sorry to interrupt your story there Addie

Addison's response of "zip it" caused awkwardness in the conversation which Addison endeavored to smooth over by telling her dad, who she had just told to "zip it," that he could talk to Interviewer 1 and that she, Addison , "didn't say anything." Addison's efforts were fueled by Jack's own smoothing over efforts first, with a chuckle - likely indicating feeling startled by the intensity with which he had been told to "zip it" - to convey his intent to comply by "zipping it," then to seemingly appreciate that he had interrupted something important to Addison and offer his apology as part of a sentence in which he refers to Addison fondly as "Addie."

We argue Addison's responses to not being understood were in some ways consistent with compliances with compulsory fluency since these are conventional responses when something is not fully understood and the time - and perhaps other resources - needed to achieve fuller understanding would feel tedious or frustrating. At the same time, Addison's directness including her corrections, evidence a resistance in their relative abruptness compared to conventions of compulsory fluency.

3. Answering for/providing context: questions, cajoling and pausing

Nicole frequently spoke in detail about Addison's experiences including travel, favourite people, love for movies and how Addison's language works. Nicole often kept Addison engaged by asking Addison questions, cajoling Addison, or intentionally pausing. Nicole called herself Addison's "perfect pasty":

Interviewer 1: Yeah? You like to look at maps?

Addison: Hmm…No. I like going places

Nicole: Mhmm

Interviewer 1: Going places? Where have you been?

Addison: Uhh. All (over the place)

Nicole: All over the place

Interviewer 1: All over the place…wow

Nicole: Where. Well you've been to Turkey. Where else did we go on that trip?

Addison: ……

Nicole: We went to um.. Where did we start? Ohhh I know where we started. Where they had the best hot chocolate in the whole world

Addison: Barcelona

Nicole: Barcelona…yeah

In the excerpt above, Addison answered the question but Nicole carried the conversation in spots where Addison did not answer. Similarly, Nicole was central to the elaboration of a conversation about Addison's favorite people which we introduced under the theme of a few small words as "signals to be elaborated." This conversation, where Addison had indicated not wanting to speak about her favorite people, continued after Nicole confirmed that Addison's favorite people are the "same people as always." Nicole went on to cajole Addison to participate by reminding Addison of Jack's habit of mispronouncing the name of one of Addison's favorite people:

Nicole: You say it or I'm going to say it funny

Addison: No you

Nicole: Avril Lavigne..She walks on water

Interviewer 1: Hm

Nicole: Her Dad- dad calls her Avril La-Vig-Nee

Interviewer 1&2: (ha)

Interviewer 2: La-Vig-Nee

Addison: I just like her.

Addison held her position and did not say the name. Instead, she offered a few words at the end of the exchange to confirm and support that Nicole was correct about Addison's liking Avril Lavigne.

Nicole also engaged Addison in response to Addison being asked a "tough question" of whether she would like to live in a different place. Nicole provided context for this question by mentioning New Zealand and giving Addison time to respond.

Interviewer 1: Would you ever want tuh… live in a different place? Are you all is it just like you wanna go everywhere and come back here?

Addison: Uh: (ex-with mm) that's a tough question

Nicole: Interviewer 2: That's a tough question

Interviewer 1: That is a tough question

Nicole: Well we lived in. You lived in New Zealand for a year

Addison: Yes

Interviewer 1: Hm

Nicole: Would you want to go back there and stay there?

Addison: Uh…

Nicole: Like for a really long time for many more years

Addison:……maybe…maybe in my…future

Nicole: In your future

Nicole's provision of context, gentle prompts and giving time for Addison to decide what she wanted to say about where she may go in her future yielded a thoughtful account from Addison about the way she sees herself in the future.

These interactions represent resistances to compulsory fluency given that most adults do not have others speaking alongside them as Addison does. In many instances, conventions of compulsory fluency would entail expectations for Addison to respond. Instead, Nicole did most of the talking with Addison's few words interspersed. At the same time, Nicole's questions, cajoling, and pauses supported compliances with compulsory fluency as Nicole's participation facilitated Addison in more fluidly expressing her views. Thus Addison's less conventional speech, a resistance to compulsory fluency, was embraced through Nicole's keen support of Addison thus, in important ways, helped Addison manifest as complying with compulsory fluency.


Addison carved out her own style of speech and language which at times, seemed to nearly completely resist compulsory fluency, while at other times seemed to closely comply with compulsory fluency. At other times, Addison's style simultaneously reflected compliances with, and resistances to compulsory fluency. In the face of an almost constant push for adherence to conventions of compulsory fluency, our findings illuminate ways in which meanings extend well beyond words, and the flow of words, and into layered expectations and continuous give and take between speakers. We advance this illumination as a call for broadening understandings of concepts such as competence and fluency and promoting practices that entail listening with greater care and more open expectations in order to more fully capture meanings embedded in less conventional speech. Perhaps we are arguing for a greater emphasis on interdependence of communication that requires listening in ways that are at once relaxed, in terms of what is accepted as good communication, and also more attuned to when people need to hold back, close things off, or be abrupt. Such moments might reflect strategies used by less conventional speakers, whose words flow relatively less quickly and coherently, in efforts to increase their own comfort amidst steady flows of conversation.

The ways Addison used a few small words, dealt with frustration of not being understood, and connected with Nicole and other members of her family and friend network, exhibit a multifaceted approach of compliances with, and resistances to, compulsory fluency. Addison's approach reminds us of human potential to support individuals with disabilities to bring themselves to the world using their own style in interaction with supportive others/contexts. This is evident in Nicole's story of Addison's language having exploded as a result of Addison not needing to conform and repeatedly attempt to speak in a particular way. And Nicole's participation by providing context for, cajoling, and responding to signals from, Addison provides striking illustration of how communication partners can facilitate, without overtaking or speaking for, less conventional speakers. We submit Nicole's role as exemplifying what Dolmage (2014) has in mind when he calls for positioning less conventional speakers as "makers of meaning" rather than as mere surfaces for reflecting meanings created by others (p. 95).

We encourage practitioners and researchers to invest in being attuned while holding relatively relaxed expectations for speech; at the same time, we argue and demonstrate this as no easy undertaking. Despite our own trained and attentive interviewers working as a team, not everything went smoothly such as during times when Addison was frustrated when the interviewers did not understand her. Yet Addison also expressed frustrations with familiar others including her father. We see such instances as evidence of the place of frustrations, and working through frustrations, as parts of the negotiated nature of communication.

Given the time intensive demands of extending attentiveness and openness, we are not suggesting practitioners and researchers need to establish enduring relationships with less conventional speakers as we are mindful of avoiding creating expectations that practitioners and researchers are not equipped to honor. We argue for increased efforts to learn from interactions between less conventional speakers and others with whom they are intimate. We recognize practice environments are unlikely to permit practitioners to fully attend to, and understand, less conventional speakers at all times, and we are not casting continuous understanding as a requisite for effective practice. Instead, our recommendation is in the direction of higher level shifts in attitudes toward critiquing narrow definitions of competence and fluency and correspondingly, framing less conventional speaker's language as competence. Relatedly, while we intend no diminishment of the field of speech and language rehabilitation, we conclude that remediation of speech and language deficits should not be the only goal of therapists, assistants, and/or family members. We argue the need to disseminate and reinforce Chomsky's understanding of all people as inherently possessing language competence and the corresponding importance of discerning and supporting distinct styles of communication rather than expecting all speakers to adhere to principles and practices of compulsory fluency. Key to our argument is resistance to what Brueggemann (2005) calls "heavy-handed", at times singular, reliance on speaker "voice"; instead we invoke viewing competence as manifest through negotiations in relationships with others.


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