About the presenter: Walter Manning, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a professor and Associate Dean in the School of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology at The University of Memphis. He teaches courses in fluency disorders and research methods. He has published more than 60 articles in a variety of professional journals and has presented on many occasions to regional, national, and international meetings. He is author of the text Clinical decision making in the diagnosis and treatment of fluency disorders. He is a fellow of ASHA and has received the honors of Tennessee Association of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists. He holds Specialty Certification in fluency disorders from the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

Understanding Stuttering as a Gift?

by Walter Manning
from Tennessee, USA

It was 1996 and I was a few hours away from taking part in a presentation to my colleagues at a national meeting of my professional association. As I rehearsed my talk I turned to my roommate, a long-time friend from graduate school, and commented on how I had come to consider stuttering to be one of the best gifts I had ever received. He immediately suggested that, "As a child I must have received very few nice things for Christmas." Of course stuttering was not a gift I would have chosen for myself. But, somehow or other, it's what I got.

I know that the level of fluency I eventually achieved made it much easier to eventually interpret my stuttering as a gift. Although I still stutter on rare occasions I do it with little effort and avoidance or anxiety does not accompany the experience. In my earlier years it was impossible to have imagined such a perspective. For many years stuttering was shameful, painful and embarrassing - something to be denied and certainly hidden. More basically, because of my avoidance and caution with all things associated with speaking, stuttering prevented me from understanding who I was or knowing what I was capable of becoming. Decades later I began to understand that my lack of spontaneity in speaking also limited my spontaneity in thinking.

As I've written previously, for many years I had things to say and I refused to try. I refused to even consider making the choice to say them. Perhaps even more basic, I had things to say and I didn't even know it. It's a like typing on a computer screen, you don't know what you think until you type it or you say it. And then those ideas lead to new thoughts that you wouldn't have had otherwise. (Manning, 1999, p. 128)

Over the years I eventually came to see my stuttering as a gift. It may be that my stuttering saved my life. Following graduation from college my immediate goal was to become an officer in the Marine Corps. I never got the chance to find out if I could have accomplished that goal for during my induction interview I made it only as far as the first few lines of the "Grandfather Passage" before my obvious stuttering was revealed. I believe it was the phrase "black frock coat" that got me. Not to be outdone, a few weeks later I tried again, this time at the Air Force recruiting office. Anticipating the Grandfather Passage I was unprepared for another story titled "Author the Young Rat!" Again, I only made it for a sentence or two before I was discovered. Many years later my understanding of these experiences turned from shame to an appreciation of my good fortune. This was in 1964 and Viet Nam was a common, and sometimes final, destination for many young officers, including some of my friends.

I will always remember the challenges and excitement of beginning to expand my fluency and myself during my intensive therapy with Eugene Cooper and the clinicians at Penn State University. That experience began to long process of reinterpreting me and my problem with stuttering. It was exciting to understand that I wasn't the problem - the problem was stuttering - and I had some choices about how I might respond and change my relationship with stuttering.

With that beginning I was able to have a career that allowed me to help others like myself - to grow as a clinician, a writer, a teacher, and a researcher. I have seen myself reflected in the eyes and words of those who come to me for assistance - whose stories of fear and struggle are always unique but in so many ways similar to my own. I have heard many of these people explain how they also began to reinterpret their stuttering as a gift. Like me, their own struggles made them aware of both the suffering and victories. In my case the gift of stuttering enabled me to enter an interesting field and experience an exciting career. I have been able to work with talented colleagues and students, to travel and meet so many wonderful people throughout the world. Perhaps most amazing of all, I came to realize how much I enjoy speaking, even making presentations to groups of people. I found, to my amazement, the excitement that goes along with interacting with an audience while providing useful information, laughter, and sometimes even insight and inspiration to others.

As I said when concluding that presentation in 1996, I rarely take my fluency for granted. If stuttering can be a gift, certainly fluency is also. Most people take fluent speech for granted, perhaps regarding it as a basic human characteristic. If you happened to be a person who begins life without it, fluency is a characteristic you have to work for. And whatever the requirements of the adventure, it's well worth the effort.

Manning, W. H. (1999). Progress under the surface and over time. Chapter 10 (pp. 123-130) In N. Bernstein Ratner & E. C. Healey, Stuttering Research and Treatment: Bridging the Gap. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum, Inc.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

SUBMITTED August 21, 2008
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