Only 1 week to go before the 10th ISA World Congress for People who Stutter that is going to be held in the Netherlands. It’s going to be the largest International stuttering event of the year! At least that is what I was told. I’m really excited, because it is the first time that I will be at this conference. I’m really looking forward to being there and meeting people whom I don’t yet know and seeing again many of my friends in the stuttering community.
The theme of the conference is “Breaking Taboos Around Stuttering”. The talk I am planning to give is going to help in that regard. I promised to talk about 10 Important Things You Should Know about Stuttering. I wish I had made it at least 15, because there are so many misunderstood aspects of stuttering that I have come to see in a different light over the past quarter of a century working with people who stutter. It’s hard to choose which ones to leave out. I’m sure there will be so many interesting talks and presentations. I will try to share some of the highlights and my thoughts with all of you.
Before the conference even begins, I am going to break one taboo here and now. In the press release put out by conference organizers, they wrote:
“To a large extent stuttering is still a mystery and therefore definitive treatment beneficial for everybody is still not available. We are looking for both the cause and the cure, but also for ways to deal with stuttering as long as there is no scientific explanation for the problem.”
It might not be very acceptable for me to say so, but I disagree with this statement. I do see that there is a definitive treatment that is beneficial for anyone who stutters. Of course, the absolute benefit does depend on variables within the framework of therapy, such as the experience and ability of the clinician and the active participation of the client. However, the principles when followed of Dynamic Stuttering Therapy are universally beneficial.
I do agree that we don’t yet know the cause of stuttering, but I do think that there is a scientifically valid theory. It states that stuttering is one symptom of a malfunctioning dynamic speech production system that includes elements of speech-language planning and production. System malfunction can cause physical and mental tension that makes speech production an effortful task. The system is driven by thoughts, attitudes and learned responses. I have been defining stuttering this way since 1993. Interestingly, a lot of the research that has followed supports this theory.
In addition we don’t cure stuttering, but we can do more than deal with stuttering. People who stutter can actually change the way their system functions so that the malfunction becomes normal function.
I hope to be able to discuss my dissenting beliefs with many of you at the conference or online.
A woman whom I work with has written a really great skit about stuttering that I’m sure you will enjoy reading. You might even want to act it out! It would be a great activity for a self-help group meeting. The playwright, Barbara Baker, said that you all have permission to use it. However, if you do act it out, if possible, she would love to receive a video. Of course you could put it on YouTube too, so that your acting talents and the message that the skit sends out can be seen by all.
MOSES: But . . . God, I can’t do it. I stutter and am afraid to talk to people. People won’t want to hear what I have to say when I cannot get the words out. They will not follow me. They will run away from me or talk over me, not interact with me, or not include me in their conversations. If I can’t get their attention, how can I possibly lead them? Adonai, you have chosen the wrong person for the job. Please, choose someone else!
GOD: I chose you to be my spokesperson. Who said you speak differently?
MOSES: People call me different. They make fun of me. They call me handicapped. They tell me I cannot do anything verbally. They write me off.
GOD: Moses, you are not handicapped. I made people with different colors, abilities, and challenges. Some people have difficulty walking, seeing, and hearing while others have problems thinking, learning, or controlling their emotions. You have difficulty speaking, at times, that’s all. Don’t listen to what people tell you. In my sight you speak fine. I don’t care if you stutter on every word. The problem with people is that they compare themselves with one another. Despite your stuttering, you have the qualities to lead the Jewish people by speaking to them and by taking charge of the situation.
MOSES: Every time I open my mouth, I am afraid that I am going to stutter. I am ashamed of it and pretend I don’t stutter. I try to hide my stuttering by changing words, by not saying sounds and words, by speaking too quickly, and by not speaking at all.
GOD: The more that you pretend that you do not stutter, and the more you try to hide it, the more you will tense your vocal chords and speech muscles and stutter.
MOSES: What’s wrong with me? Why do I stutter?
GOD: Your stuttering does not just happen to you. You cause it because you have learned that you have to produce speech when you talk and have interfered with the normal process of speaking. As a result, you tighten your vocal chords and speech muscles when you speak. You have developed an uncomfortable way of speaking, which with intense practice and with a positive mental attitude, you can change. Because when you were a child and had initially struggled to say the words when you were learning to speak, people often reacted to you in impatient or mean ways. As a result, you have learned to fear words and sounds and cover up any disfluencies that you might have by trying to control the speech process. You have learned to produce speech with the wrong muscles. You need to learn how to produce speech by using the correct ones. There is nothing wrong with the speech center in your brain; nothing wrong with your speech muscles; nor with your personality and intelligence. You aren’t more anxious or insecure than anyone else. You are preventing yourself from speaking easily by engaging in faulty behavior to control your stuttering. You may sound to others like you are stupid, cannot say the sounds correctly, are self-absorbed and are too anxious to understand the needs of others; but these perceptions are not true.
MOSES: I feel different. I have so many hidden thoughts and feelings about stuttering.
GOD: Yep! “Your stuttering is like an iceberg. The part above the surface; the part that people hear and see is by far the smaller part. The larger part is the part underneath; the shame, the fear, the guilt, and all those other feelings that you have when you try to speak a simple sentence . . .” [Sheehan, J. (n.p.)] and become blocked.
MOSES: What should I do about it?
GOD: There are a number of things you can learn to do to relax your vocal chords and to learn to become less afraid of stuttering. First, you can learn how to say the sounds in your head and learn how to use your vocal chords as an instrument that adds voice to these sounds. You can also learn what things you do when you stutter that are different from people who don’t stutter. You can then learn how to think and feel the same as people who don’t stutter. You need to realize that speaking is a natural process and you are interfering with this process by trying to control how you speak. Since you have been stuttering a long time, you will need to work hard to change the way you think and feel about speaking and how to change the way you produce speech. As you know, hard work produces perseverance. This determination will help you lead the Jewish people to their promised land. I will teach you the system and we can practice it together. However, even without learning the system or being able to use it perfectly, you can still lead the Jewish people. The more you talk, the easier it will become to speak. You will automatically learn how to focus your attention away from controlling your speech onto what you are saying if you let your speech flow without interfering in the process.
MOSES: I can’t speak like this. It is too complicated. If I make a mistake and stutter, people will not wait for me to speak. They will interrupt me.
GOD: People often do not know how to react to a person who stutters and want to avoid the situation that causes them discomfort. In the process, they unknowingly avoid you. To overcome your fear of stuttering, and to help make your listeners more relaxed talking to you, get your stuttering out into the open by telling people that you stutter.
MOSES: God, I can’t do that. I am afraid. Why can’t you just heal me from this terrible affliction?
GOD: The reason that I can’t heal you is because there is nothing wrong with you. You are not sick. You just have learned to speak differently. Also, if I took your stuttering away without your effort, you wouldn’t learn anything. I want you to learn to persevere and to trust Me. I will always be here to help you as you go through the sometimes difficult process of overcoming your stuttering. I have given you a new system of speaking that is the same system that people who don’t stutter use automatically. Use the components of this system and don’t worry if you are fluent or not. Fluency will result as a by product of using the system. It is possible to be fluent without using the system but your goal is to use the system in order to become a normally, fluent speaker. Think of using the system to overcome your stuttering as a challenge, something to learn and conquer rather than think about your stuttering as a curse upon you or as you said, an affliction. You are not different. If people who do not stutter think and produce speech as words and not as sounds, they will also stutter.
MOSES: I disagree with you. I am different because I can’t talk.
GOD: You have to learn that your identity is not in external characteristics. It is not in how you talk, walk, see, or hear, in being perfect, or in what people think of you. Those things do not matter.
MOSES: When I speak, people say the words for me all the time. People don’t want to hear what I have to say. They don’t want to talk to me.
GOD: You will speak much better if you are open about your stuttering. Teach people how to interact with you. Tell them not to say the words for you. Tell them that you stutter and need more time to speak. Tell them that if they don’t understand you, to ask you to repeat what you have just said. Ask them to be patient with you. In this way, you will ease their discomfort and uncertainty. Many times, telling people how to handle stuttering, results in putting them at ease which leads to their wanting to speak to you. Also, by telling people how to react to you, you will be helping them to interact with others who stutter who, perhaps, have not learned how to be open about their stuttering. By helping your listeners understand how to interact with someone who stutters, you might be helping others who stutter to interact better with their listeners.
MOSES: People are mean to me.
GOD: I understand that sometimes people are mean to you. Unfortunately, because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, there will always be mean people who ridicule others for ridiculous reasons such as having the wrong hair color. There will always be impatient people. Often, these people have their own problems and are lashing out at others in order to make themselves feel better. Are you going to let these people ruin your life? I gave you life for a purpose to lead the Jewish people and you cannot fulfill this purpose if unthinking, uncaring people destroy you.
MOSES: God, you don’t understand, these people scare me.
GOD: I understand that these people frighten you. This is normal given the fact that you stutter. But, more often than not, people are not avoiding speaking to you out of meanness. Instead, many people avoid you because they are afraid of offending you because you stutter. They are afraid that if they say the wrong things to you or react in the wrong way, you will become hurt and, perhaps, not like them.
MOSES: I see.
GOD: The answer is to create a positive environment for yourself. Ignore the impatient people and give the other people a chance to enter into your experience of stuttering. The more you stop trying to produce words, the more you accept people’s reactions to your stuttering, and the more you stop struggling against your stuttering, the better you will speak and the less you will stutter. If you speak, people will get to know you and will overlook any physical differences that you might have. A good thing to remember is to stop avoiding speaking and instead educate people about stuttering. Moses, do you always stutter? Are there times you don’t?
MOSES: I do not stutter when I sing or read aloud in unison with other people. I do not stutter when I talk to animals or to myself. I do not stutter when I feel in control of the speaking situation. The stuttering changes from situation to situation and from moment to moment. Sometimes, I can speak like everyone else and sometimes I sound like a person who can’t talk at all. God, please allow Aaron, my brother, to talk for me.
GOD: Moses, you can speak easily. Remember that speaking is an automatic process and that you can speak. But, if you keep avoiding speaking situations and stop speaking, you will always have this fear of stuttering and speaking and the more your vocal chords and speech muscles will lock. But, the more you practice talking in fearful situations by saying sound after sound in your head with voice and letting your speech muscles act on their own, the more relax you will become. The fearful situations will gradually become less fearful for you. Go forward in the face of fear, realizing that I am always by your side. This time, Aaron can help you by talking for you, but next time you can speak for yourself. Remember, your identity is in Me and not in other people’s opinions of you. Everyone has problems and challenges, whether external or internal or sometimes both external and internal. No one is perfect. I created people to help one another and to encourage one another, not to criticize or to compare themselves to each other. Try to accept others despite their differences and do not label them or think of them as incapable because they are not like you, for YOU ARE ALL SPECIAL IN MY SIGHT!
- Sheehan, J. G. (n.d.). Message to a Stutterer
- Dahm, Barbara, SLP-CCC; BRS-FD. Dynamic Stuttering Therapy
When I am working with clients, I am often reminded of a day of play that taught me a lesson in life. It showed me how easy it is to create a state of fear, and how quickly imaginary monsters created in our mind can become our beliefs and attitudes that drive our behaviors and reactions.
When I was 12 years old, my mother went out for a few hours leaving me at home with a friend my age. Looking for excitement, we pretended to be two little girls, home alone when a thief was about to break in. Knowing the only room with a door that locked was the bathroom, we grabbed some chips and Coca Cola and made a run for it. During the hour or so that followed, we talked about how afraid we were and imagined the danger we were about to encounter (fearfully sneaking out to gather more snacks to take back to our bathroom hide out). Suddenly there was a loud noise outside the bathroom door. By this time, we had worked ourselves into such a state of fear that our hearts raced; we were close to real tears and were too afraid to come out to see my mother opening the front door.
For people who stutter the monster can be specific speech sounds or words. Often based on memories of a past experience that might have made them feel embarrassed or frustrated, they are convinced that the danger is real. Consequently, they react by putting themselves in a mode of flight or fight. They either fight to get these sounds out with as much effort as possible, or they take flight, avoiding the sounds by scanning ahead and substituting words that contain different sounds. The end result is that they are inadvertently interfering with the normal way of speaking. They are making it more difficult to speak, the sounds or words become even harder to say and the belief is reinforced.
When imagination takes over, logic is often ignored. The fact that the same people are able to say their “hard sounds” when they are singing, talking to babies, dogs, themselves or in many other situations may not really matter to them. Facts can become an annoyance to the emotional brain that works according to feelings, not logic. However, as clients make progress, they realize that their problem is not the actual speech sounds. Their problem is that they are scanning ahead or “trying to get these speech sounds out”. This realization brings change and allows them to use the automatic process that they have learned. Thoughts change, feelings change. The imaginary monster looses its power to make them react in a way that creates stuttered speech.
This week Lazaro Arbos was eliminated from American Idol. It must have been a very emotional time for him with many mixed feelings. He succeeded in reaching the final 6 and was the last male competing with some extremely talented women. That is something to be very proud of. Nonetheless, it had to be difficult for him when the judges really came down on him. I can’t carry a tune, so I’m not much of a music critic, but I do expect that Lazaro is just at the beginning of his career and will continue to learn and grow as a singer and an entertainer.
Singing though is not what I want to write about today. What I do want to say is that people affect other people. When one person acts in a positive way, it spreads to others.
Lazaro came to American Idol wanting to sing. However, being an American Idol involves more than singing. When he went to that first audition, he knew that in addition to singing, he would also have to talk. Many people who stutter severely, mildly, or covertly would have stopped right there. I know, because so many of many clients have told me about the dreams they let slip through their lives because that dream included talking. These clients didn’t do what Lazaro did. They let their speech stop them, perhaps causing them to hide their talents and abilities.
That is why Lazaro did so much more than he realized he would do. Lazaro inadvertently became a role model for the stuttering community.
He stuttered openly on international TV. I have never spoken with Lazaro, so I don’t know how much he thought about the stuttering. I don’t know if he weighed the speech against the singing or if he just had a dream and went after it without letting anything, including his speech, stop him. By his actions, it is obvious though that he did what I hope so many others will do by his example. He went for it! He cared more about singing and performing his songs than he cared about how he spoke. By doing this, he showed people who stutter that life is more than just their speech. He showed that people who stutter can be full participants in life.
Yes, Lazaro did struggle to speak. Sometimes, when I watched his struggle, I did wish that I could have had the opportunity to show him that there is an easier way. However, if Lazaro does ever learn how to speak with ease and comfort, that will only make it easier to talk. As he said in an interview, “I’ve always been the kind of guy that wanted to do something big with myself.” Well, Lazaro, you are doing that, and you are also doing something that will have a big effect on the quality of life for others who stutter.
People who stutter and clinicians who treat stuttering are going to be gathering in the Netherlands for a very interesting and worthwhile conference. I’m looking forward to attending. I’m also presenting an eye opening workshop that will talk about aspects of stuttering that aren’t usually known. I hope to see lot’s of my Facebook friends there. Please share this so that all those who don’t know about the conference can register.
To provide information that will give everyone interested in stuttering a logical perspective of the stuttering experience and a direction for more effective treatment
Patients or Materials
Experiences and reports of thousands of clients, including audio and video clips
People who stutter can become aware of the different ways that their speech production system can function
When the speech production system functions normally the result is effortless speaking and enhanced self-confidence
Between blogs, books, forums, Oscar winning movies, conferences, etc., there is a lot of information out there about stuttering. However, there are important aspects of stuttering that are not widely known. Knowing them can be life changing for people who stutter.
From time immemorial, stuttering has stymied everyone. One theory after another has come into vogue, but attempts to apply these theories to treatment have lead to frustration. Even today, with all that we know about stuttering, there is no comprehensive theory that can explain the observations, personal experiences, and current research findings. In this talk I will discuss 10 aspects of stuttering that help to develop a unified theory of stuttering, and support an effective treatment approach.
I have come to understand these aspects of stuttering during a quarter of a century of trying to figure out the most effective way to treat stuttering. Everything I will discuss comes from empirical studies of thousands of people who stutter, and what I have learned about normal speech production, the way thoughts, feelings, beliefs, perceptions, and neurological networks interact, as well as brain plasticity and the benefit of mindfulness training. The outcome is that clients, even those who have been through years of previous treatment approaches, report that the talking points to be discussed have given them a different way to think about speaking and stuttering. They came to realize that their problem isn’t the stuttered speech. People who stutter covertly or overtly saw how they were incorrectly using their speech production system and how they can change the way it functions. They experienced speaking in an effortless way without monitoring their speech, talking slowly, or using artificial techniques designed to hide stuttering. They found that it is possible to speak naturally with ease and confidence and that speaking can be an enjoyable and satisfying experience.
I would like to share this motivational speech that one of my clients gave. It’s worth a read whether or not you stutter. I hope it will inspire you as it has inspired me.
To download the PDF book, click here.
Here’s an excerpt from the first pages…
PART I – CLASSROOM PARTICIPATION
Sitting backstage I had that wonderful combination of smile and tears that I always got when I was about to speak,when I was about to share my story. There is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed me. No doubt in my mind that God has been with me every day of my life and that my stutter has truly been a blessing. I would have missed so much of the world around me if I wasn’t slowed down by my speech impediment. I would have missed the very life God had wanted me to live!
Tonight I was going to speak to sales agents of a large Insurance Company. Imagine, I was to be the motivational speaker to a group of highly motivated and successful salespeople! Indeed I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
Several years ago I was invited to a fluency shaping practice group. The group leader suggested that I have my clients join the group, so I went to see what it was all about. As we sat in a circle, each person spoke about what he (they were all males, except me) had done about speaking during the week. As one young man spoke, I wondered what he was doing in the group. He spoke with natural fluency and apparent ease. When he finished talking, the group leader and other participants came down on him quite hard. He was doing it all wrong. His fluency was spontaneous. He wasn’t monitoring. One would think he hadn’t learned a thing. Later another person who I would roughly rate as being in the 88th percentile of stuttering with a lot of secondary symptoms was praised for his exceptional monitoring. This might make sense to some, but I felt that I had entered the world of the mad hatter.
This experience is not out of the ordinary. Many people believe that spontaneous fluency is a negative, while controlled fluency is the gold standard. I think I understand why they feel this way. Controlled fluency gives you something to do. Our ethic is that if you try hard, you will succeed. After all, we’ve all heard it time and again, “Get control of yourself; keep it under control” People really believe that their hope for speaking fluently lies in doing some technique i.e. stretching syllables, taking a full breath, making light articulatory contacts, and pulling out of blocks, etc. They believe that there is power in control. The hope is that by controlling your speech every time you talk, you will be fluent. The problem is that monitoring and using speech controls takes lots of effort, sometimes even more effort than it takes to stutter. It is too bad that most people don’t realize that spontaneous fluency also means doing something. It means letting go, giving up the monitoring. Conceptually, this may seem strange, but when my clients do give up trying to control their speech, they do have the spontaneous fluency that comes from doing what everyone else does to produce speech.
As we approach 2013, I want to wish all my friends and followers a very Happy New Year. I also want to tell you one of my big hopes for the coming year, because if it is fulfilled, it will give people who stutter the ability to speak fluently. My hope for 2013 is that what happened to medicine in the mid 19th century will happen to stuttering treatment in the coming year.
By 1800 there were good anatomical textbooks. People thought that these books and knowledge about anatomy were nice and scientific, but no one thought it had anything to do with medicine. Disease was defined by symptoms, and no one really paid much attention to what was going on in the body. If you had a fever, the doctor treated the fever. If you couldn’t breathe, you probably had to learn to live with it, until you didn’t live at all. No one connected the symptoms to an anatomical malady. This was because no one knew what was going on inside the body and even if they did, they didn’t know what to do about it.
This reminds me of how we look at stuttering even today. Stuttering is still being defined by the symptoms we see. It is thought that stuttering is repetitions of speech sounds, blocks, laryngeal tension, anxiety, bad breathing, etc. Furthermore treatment is still symptom oriented. People who stutter try to overcome their symptoms i.e. stuttered speech. This is because they don’t know that what is going on inside their brain that unifies the many symptoms they are experiencing. Even though researchers are finding evidence that stuttering is related to a malfunctioning speech production system, this is ignored in treatment, because people don’t know what to do about it and think nothing can be done to change it.
My hope is that next year will be the turn around year that goes down in history as the year when stuttering becomes widely accepted as only a symptom of the way the speech production system is functioning. I know the day will come when, just as anatomy became connected to medicine, brain processing will be connected to stuttering. It will be known that there is something that can be done to effectively treat people who stutter, because changing system function does make people who stutter symptom free. Let’s not wait any longer. May the coming year be the end of the era of treating symptoms, instead of the system that causes stuttering.
I recently had an opportunity to be interviewed by Pam Mertz on her podcast Women Who Stutter: Our Stories. I particularly liked the title she gave to the episode, Free To Speak Freely. It is the essence of what I know from my experience in working with people who stutter. Giving up control and allowing yourself to be free from planning, trying to get words out and consciously monitoring what you say and how you say it is the key to enjoyable, comfortable and fluent speaking. I invite you link to this podcast and to the many other podcasts that Pam has posted.