|About the presenter: Michael Nawrocki, M.A., CCC-SLP, received his B.A. in English from Grinnell College in 1994 and his Masters in Communication Disorders from the University of Minnesota in 2000. He has been working with Katie Dauer at ACE Speech and Language Clinic, LLC, since the summer of 2000. His expertise is with people who stutter across the lifespan.|
|About the presenter: Kathleen Dauer, CCC-SLP, is a Speech and Language Pathologist who owns and practices in her own clinic in St. Paul, MN. She has been in the field for 18 years and graduated from Minnesota State University at Mankato. She was among the inaugaral cadre of stuttering specialists accepted by the Specialty Board of Fluency Disorders. Her love for working with people who stutter and for teaching others about treatment of stuttering grew after she was first assigned a three year old little girl who stuttered severely (87 disfluencies/100) as her very first client and who also recovered after a year of treatment. She owes her love for stuttering treatment to her former professor, the late Dr. Bruce Hanson.|
A hierarchy of difficult situations has been a cornerstone of treating people who stutter (PWS) to face their fears. We present the hierarchy to our adults and adolescents as a way to gradually face difficult situations and to become desensitized to the emotions and anticipation associated with stuttering. We ask our clients to focus on what they anticipate the situation will be like before they talk or what thoughts (negative or positive) emerge before speaking. Then we have them evaluate the situation after it occurred. This sometimes helps them to see that their anticipation or anxiety may be worse than the actual situation and that their negative thoughts may be affecting the outcome.
Benefits of the Hierarchy
When used appropriately and at the right time, a hierarchy can have the following benefits in therapy:
Proceed with Caution--When to Use the Hierarchy
With input from the client, the SLP needs to determine if and when the client will benefit from such a structured, task-oriented approach. At its best, the hierarchy can serve as a catalyst in therapy. Organized and regular assignments create accountability. They can drive a PWS to take well-advised risks she may not have done in the absence of accountability. While the SLP may want to encourage the use of a hierarchy in therapy, it should be a mutual decision.
Designing the Hierarchy
Once the PWS has provided us with a list of about 30 situations that are difficult for them, we create an Excel spreadsheet, and place them in their order from easiest to hardest. For each situation, we ask a set of questions that the PWS needs to answer. The depth and type of question the client answers is individualized. An adolescent may answer simpler, broader questions than an adult. However, it is important that the questions encompass what the PWS was thinking and/or how the PWS felt before and after the event, and maybe even during the event. These situations could include specific situations that have been avoided, the use of desensitization techniques, and the expression of feelings and attitudes about their stuttering.
Working through the Hierarchy
Each week the PWS chooses one situation from the hierarchy he or she will attempt and then analyze. Each person's journey through the hierarchy is individual. As the SLP, it is very important that we demonstrate understanding and patience as the PWS faces increasingly challenging situations. If a challenge was too difficult to face one week, we must emphasize that this is not a failure. It is merely a data point. We now know that more time and discussion is needed before the PWS is ready to take on that specific challenge.
The End Game
The SLP's job is to gently nudge and encourage risks, offer support, and help redefine what success is in terms of effective communication. The clients have the more challenging role of rolling their sleeves up, facing these challenges, and letting the SLP know what is helping and hindering their progress in therapy.
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