How Bad Do You Stutter?

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Re: Severity and Anxiety?

From: Russ Hicks
Date: 03 Oct 2007
Time: 23:06:49 -0500
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Hello Annette, Thanks for reading my paper. You asked, "... why do people seem to stutter more when they are trying not to stutter?" Ha, ha, ha! That's just one of the truisms of stuttering. I think it was Van Riper years ago who said, "We stutter when we try not to stutter." It all begins in childhood when we encounter our first real difficulty in getting a word out. It won't come, so we push hard. It still won't come so we push even harder. When it still won't come, we develop a fear for that word which makes the next time even that much more fearful. Occasionally when we find a "trick" that works - like blinking our eyes - we can jar the word out. Then the next time we hit that word, we still fear it so we blink our eyes again. (Those extraneous activities are called "secondary symptoms" which typically work for short periods of time, then stop working.) So we develop additional tricks like stomping our feet. Now when we talk, we not only have our original stutter, but we are now blinking our eyes and stomping our feet. So it begins a downward spiral so that our speech eventually looks like a one man band gone wrong! Been there, done that. No fun. ..... We begin to hate stuttering with all our minds and hearts. We blame it for everything that happens in our lives. Talking itself becomes a daily titanic struggle to communicate. The "core stuttering" is still there but now it's been layered with all sorts of secondaries and emotional baggage. We're a mess. If we continue down that path after puberty we typically develop what is called "chronic perseverative stuttering" which is all but impossible to eradicate. We can learn standard techniques like slow speech, easy onset and continuous phonation which help us increase our fluency, but again that is typically only temporary as it was with me. Unless we learn to cope with the emotional baggage associated with stuttering, we're pretty well stuck with a lifelong problem with communication. ..... In about 1970 Joe Sheehan observed "Stuttering is like an iceberg, with only a small part above the waterline and a much bigger part below." (See my 2003 ISAD paper called 'The Iceberg Analogy of Stuttering' at for more details of this.) ..... But back to your original question, it's a question of the downward spiral. The original stuttering is generally caused by a brain anomaly - a "short circuit" in the speech motor control area of the brain - which is, by itself, typically not that bad. But our reaction to the original problem makes it worse. The more we struggle trying to overcome it, the worse it gets. Emotions like anxiety are the RESULT of stuttering (and struggling), not the CAUSE of it. ..... Then you asked, "... do you see people responding differently to solely stuttered speech versus stuttered speech with secondary behaviors?" Oh absolutely! (I assume you mean the listener, not the person doing the stuttering.) The stuttering is relatively mild compared to the terrible "one man band" show. In my own case, the difference is like night and day. People react more to the struggles than they do to the stuttering itself. They pick up on the speaker's own reaction to his speech far more than they do an objective observation of the degree of fluency of the speaker. If the speaker HATES his speech, that is picked up by the listener who will typically mirror the speaker's feelings. Once the stutterer learns not to fight it, to accept his not-so-fluent speech, then the secondaries and struggles begin to disappear and the stutterer develops a far better feeling of confidence in his ability to communicate. And the listener picks up on that and mirrors that confidence too. It's a win-win situation. Human communication is a complex topic, as you can see. ..... Did I answer your questions? I hope so! ..... My best to you, Russ

Last changed: 10/22/07