How Bad Do You Stutter?

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Re: Secondary Behaviors Questions

From: Russ Hicks
Date: 13 Oct 2007
Time: 21:57:56 -0500
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Hi Patricia, Thanks for reading my paper - and asking some really difficult questions! <grin> How did I get rid of my secondaries and stop struggling? The answer is very slowly! That process took YEARS of trial and error and lots of soul searching and more observations and actions that you can possibly believe. My early days in speech therapy - when dinosaurs roamed the earth - concentrated on CONTROL of my speech. Fluency was the only thing that mattered. And CONTROL worked very well - but only for a relative short time. The problem with control is that ultimately it means war and force. You try extremely hard to make yourself do something that you really can NOT do over a long period of time. The more you try NOT to stutter, the more the tendency to stutter builds up. It's said that we stutter when we try not to stutter. That's absolutely true. ..... Secondaries start with strange actions which act as distractors to break a block. If you blink your eyes and the block is broken, that "trick" goes into your bag of tricks. The next time it may work - but it may not. So you blink harder. As time passes you're not only stuttering but your blinking like crazy and nothing works! But amazingly enough every once in a while it still works! If you've studied psychology, you know that "partial reinforcement" (something that works sometimes but not always) is the most difficult pattern to break. If it NEVER works again, you eventually throw it away. But if it works SOMETIMES, you tend to keep it forever! ..... And I've tried every trick in the book. Eye blinks, head jerks, finger tapping, even whistling and arm waving! And every one of them worked at the start but they ALL failed eventually. I must have looked a sight when all I was trying to do was talk so that people could understand me. .... My jaw still drops occasionally. Is that a secondary or part of my stuttering? Probably a little of both. But even that has gotten a lot easier over the years. ..... How did I get to this point? I finally realized - intellectually - that those tricks were more of a distraction than my stuttering was. My head understood, but my heart was unconvinced. When I finally joined the NSA in 1984 I began to work on my "heart" by sharing a lot of what we stutterers go through with other people who stutter. And that was - and continues to be - very therapeutic. In 1988 I joined Toastmasters (my God, was that ever scary at first!) and slowly I began to realize that people really didn't care if I stuttered or not. That was a real shock to me! So I began to concentrate on good COMMUNICATION and let fluency slide. And amazingly enough even my fluency began to improve. It's never even approached total fluency, but that's okay. My stuttering has opened doors for me that are amazing. See my ISAD paper last year called "Because I Stutter" at for details of this. ..... Most secondaries start out voluntarily but once they become totally engrained in your speech pattern, they can appear to be involuntary. It's painful to watch a really severe stutterer really struggle to get out single words. But I can honestly relate to their frustration. WHY does this have to happen to me? I HATE this! <sad face> ..... You used the word CONTROL in several places. A very good (actually more than that, more like world class) SLP friend of mine said once that is she'd like to eliminate two words from stuttering therapy, they'd be CONTROL and FLUENCY. Boy howdy is she ever right! The more you try to CONTROL things, the more trouble you get into. (Just look at the current world situation as a prime example!) CONTROL becomes force and power and struggle and war and it becomes a self-defeating downward spiral. So after you nearly die trying, you find that you have to give up control, just let things happen naturally. The newsletter of the National Stuttering Association is aptly named "Letting Go" and I love that title! It says it all. Just Let Go and wonderful things begin to happen. No, you still don't become fluent, but your entire LIFE becomes better and less of a daily battle with uncontrollable forces. It takes the passage of time and encouragement from lots of people who understand - including our wonderful SLP friends who can play such a vital role in helping us make all this happen. It's not an easy journey, but it's a life-changing process. The goal is NOT fluency, but a more successful, enjoyable life. ..... Where did I pick all this up? In my day I didn't have an SLP who really understood to help me. I wish I did. One man who probably influenced my life almost more than anyone - and he deserves an entire ISAD paper to tell about him - said that we must conquer our fears every single day by actively seeking out the very things we are most afraid of, look them straight in the face with our eyes wide open, and laugh! He was a cross between Norman Vincent Peale and Tarzan, and even though he was tragically killed in a car accident three days after I met him, I feel his presence with me every day of my life. Public speaking was perhaps my worst fear, and when the opportunity came to join a Toastmaster club at work, I knew I had no choice. And my life began to change. I met this man through the National Stuttering Association - which is perhaps the most powerful force in my life - and my work in Toastmasters has magnified my ability to touch other people. I wouldn't trade my life for all the fluency in the world. ..... Patricia, I can tell by your questions - hard though they are! - that you are going to be a WONDERFUL SLP some day. I wish you the very best in school and your journey through life. I hope our paths cross some day. .... Russ

Last changed: 10/22/07