About the presenter: Tom Brennan states: I earned both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stephen F. Austin. I hold both the certificates of clinical competence in speech-language pathology and in audiology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. I have been in private practice since 1984 as both a clinician and researcher. My speech pathology specializations are with stuttering and aphasia and in audiology I work largely with Meniere's disease and with blind clients with hearing losses.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2009

Who, What, When, Where, Why Not?...

by Tom Brennan
from Texas, USA

I was born in Staten Island, New York in 1953, three months prematurely, weighing 2 pounds three ounces. In 1953 that was a fairly major event. In fact, shortly after my birth my mother and father were told that I would not live.

As it turned out, I developed fairly normally. I walked and talked as most other children do and it became apparent by the time I was a toddler that I was afairly intelligent child.

My father was in the military so I grew up traveling. After my birth in New York we moved to El Paso, Texas and then to several places in Germany. When I was seven we moved to San Francisco, California, where I started school and also began to stutter. I believe that I stuttered largely because of my father's constant expectations for me to perform as other children. Particularly when I began stuttering, he was quite hard on me about my speech and often told me how "stupid" I was and how I would never amount to anything if I didn't "straighten up".

My mother tended to be supportive even though my father wasn't. But even she was frustrated with me, although my seven-year-old mind often saw her frustration as anger with me.

Stuttering for me wasn't as much about being out of control as it was about something not working like I thought it was supposed to. I knew what I wanted to say but sometimes it would take me five minutes to tell someone my name. To my great relief and amazement I found that I stuttered less and more easily when I wasn't at home.

I started first grade and was in a class for the gifted. At that time I had a wonderful speech teacher who worked with me. She helped me deal with my stuttering so that overtly it has not been too much of a problem for me since then. She was a wonderful therapist and I would give anything if I could contact her today to thank her for all her help but I don't even remember her name.

After a year in California we moved to El Paso, Texa,s where I attended grade school. During my grade school years I can remember a few times when I stuttered, usually having to do with public performance such as in a play but none of those episodes was severe and talking in class never bothered me much.

When I was thirteen we returned to Germany for a little over a year. When we moved back from Germany we went back to El Paso where I finished grade school and completed two years of high school. I finished my last two years of high school in Austin, Texas.

While in Austin I had a teacher who stuttered and I discovered that being around him made me stutter. As a junior in high school I also stuttered moderately for most of that year. It made that year pretty frustrating for me.

I attended Stephen F. Austin (SFA) in Nacogdoches for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as post graduate work. I chose SFA because it both was and still is considered to be one of (if not the most) accessible universities for the "handicapped" and it was small (under ten thousand students). During my sophomore year in college I began to stutter rather severely for no reason that I could understand. For the first time it felt as though some alien had control of my mouth and there was nothing I could do about it. I had just about decided to seek therapy when, after about four months, the problem cleared up for no reason that I can understand.

I had originally intended to get a degree in psychology from SFA but I had a number of problems with the department head because of my visual disability. I ended up with a degree that included multiple majors ranging from social work. to work in blindness, alcohol and drug abuse, rehabilitation, and a second major in psychology among others.

After finishing my undergraduate degree I continued to do experimental psychology course work. One experiment I was running required around 200 pure tone audiograms done on subjects. I tried to find a person in SFA's speech and hearing department to do them for me but was unsuccessful. So I decided to take an introductory audiology course and learn to do them for myself which I did under Dr. Bernard-Thomas Hartman. When I was taking my first audiology course we studied about something called Meniere's disease. I was diagnosed with Meniere's a few weeks before receiving my graduate degree. As though stuttering wasn't enough of a bother, I was now a "dizzy stutterer."

I enjoyed Dr. Hartman's courses and after taking all of his courses as well as their prerequisites, I discovered that I nearly had a graduate degree in speech-language pathology and decided to continue in the graduate program. When I was at SFA I had to modify a good bit of equipment for both speech path and audiology. Dr. Hartman gave me his own equipment to modify since SFA would make no modifications for me. Again, this was prior to the ADA.

During both my speech pathology and audiology training I applied with the Texas Commission for the Blind for financial assistance for college. The "blindness experts" in the state rehabilitation organization refused my request saying that a blind person could not be a speech pathologist or an audiologist and that my stuttering was a further compication. So I was forced to pay for my college education.

A brief word about equipment is in order. When a person uses special equipment, such as for education, that equipment becomes a part of their education cost. In addition to paying for my education like most people do, I also had to pay for equipment and modifications. To give you some idea of the costs involved, a reem of print paper will cost a dollar but for braille paper its twenty-tree dollars. You can go to an electronics store and purchase a PDA for about fifty dollars but one that talks or has braille or other output will cost anywhere from two to twelve thousand dollars. Custom modifications to equipment and custom built equipment is very expensive and, of course, for a "pws", voice recognition technology for hands free operation (my hands are my eyes) is often out of the question.

Eventually I completed the degree. I earned the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) in speech pathology in 1989, doing my Clinical Fellowship Year under Dr. Hartman's supervision.

Dr. Hartman stuttered moderately and gave me an interesting outlook on the field of speech pathology. He told me that in the late '50s ASHA almost refused him certification because he stuttered. As it turned out, he became dually certified and was a truly great teacher and mentor to many students and as well as an outstanding clinician.

In 1984 I had started practicing in audiology. At that time, Texas had no speech pathology or audiology laws. Dr. Hartman supervised me and in 1985 when licensure laws were enacted I got an associate's license until I became certified.

Dr. Hartman felt that because I stuttered I might have some special ability to work with stutterers. I have actually discovered that stutterers seem to identify better with me if I am working on my stuttering while they are working on theirs. I have never had a problem with a client because of my stuttering, Meniere's or blindness, although at times other professionals and potential employers do.

After I earned my Cs in speech pathology, I attempted to get a hearing aid dealer's license from the state of Texas. Eventually the question ended up in the Federal Appeals Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the judges said that "a blind person fitting hearing aids constitutes a menace to the public." This was before the ADA was enacted so there was nothing that I could do about it.

In 1991 I earned my Cs in audiology thus becoming the only blind person ever to be trained and certified while blind although there are audiologists who have become blinded after having been certified and practicing. Since I've been blindfrom birth there's really no question of my having visual memory to help me.

In 2003 or 2004 I approached the people in SFA's counseling department. I felt that since a substantial part of working with stutterers (as well as others) involves counseling that I might consider a counseling degree. I had already taken a number of graduate counseling corses. However, I was told that I was simply attempting to become a "one stop shop for services" and that it would be inappropriate for me to be in the program. I had thought that since the speech and hearing and counseling programs are in the same building and sometimes work together that there would be some understanding of the importance, especially to stutterers, of a clinician well trained in counseling techniques.

After receiving my ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in audiology and becoming the only dually certified blind person, I continued in private practice 2005 when I let my Texas license lapse but not my Cs.

I enjoyed private practice and particularly liked working with stutterers. In audiology I liked working with Meniere's clients as well as blind clients with very specific audiometric problems particularly having to do with mobility.

In 2006 I moved to Temple, Texas, and married my high school sweetheart. I would not trade that marriage for the world. My wife, Dee, is also blind which also creates some rather unique challenges, especially with transportation. Since moving I have been job hunting. I would send a resume or call on the phone and be told that I had the job as long as I didn't stutter. Even when I'd been offered a job, when I walked in the door with my white cane, the job would mysteriously no longer be available or there would have been a mistake in offering it since I was told the position had been filled. For the past three years I have been told several times by hospital administrators that they "cannot have a blind person doing direct patient care". I have I have also been told by both local school systems as well as rehabilitation agencies (primarily home health) that they prefer to hire women and that no modifications can be made for a blind person or any therapist who stutterers or who has other "handicaps" because doing so would invalidate both assessments and therapy. Because of this I am not practicing at present although I have renewed my licenses and my ASHA CCC's remain current. I have done a small amount of consulting but that is the extent of things at present.

Ultimately the question is whether my stuttering or my blindness or my Meniere's is the largest problem. As it turns out, they are all problems for different reasons and surface in different situations.

Meniere's is simply a problem because it is unpredictable and is getting progressively worse. In a functional sense, my Meniere's sometimes gives me days when I cannot work.

My blindness is probably functionally my biggest problem simply because it involves access to printed materials and transportation. Since there are no materials for either therapy or assessment available in braille (so far as I know) and there is no modified audiometric or speech science equipment, it requires a good deal of extra work on my part to deal with these problems. This is particularly true because manufacturers and test suppliers (with a very few exceptions) are unhelpful at best and even refuse permission to braille their materials which is not only a problem for me as a clinician but is a problem for blind clients. In the real world, justice is expensive!

When I was in Nacogdoches in 2003 the Columbia shuttle crashed. At that time I did not have an amateur radio license but that event caused me to earn the three licenses available in the U.S. by September of that year. I have found that my covert stuttering has become a problem that I am truly aware of. I generally enjoy participating in nets on the radio. These are groups of amateur radio operating stations who get together for a specific goal such as relaying emergency traffic during disasters or even just to talk. There is a net controller who coordinates the nets and runs the radio operations. Often on the radio, I have a problem participating on the air because I "stutter in my head" and that somehow effects my speech. It tends to cause me to make mistakes on the air and you cannot afford them in an emergency so I do not usually run emergency nets although I do relay messages. This internal stuttering is not exactly anticipatory, it is more stuttering in my thoughts -- as I think the words I will say they stutter in my mind. If I need to talk clearly, and immediately, the stuttering can be the biggest problem for me, particularly in emergency situations, and stuttering is the creature that lives in my head and torments me at night or at times when I need most to be left alone.

Which is the biggest problem? Well, think about it and let me know what you think because I don't really know the answer to that question.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

SUBMITTED: July 31, 2009
Return to the opening page of the conference