|About the presenter: Reuben Schuff graduated in 2007 from Purdue University with a BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering and works in the Aerospace and Defense industry. Reuben participated in the speech therapy programs and Purdue, and the University of Maryland as well as a private practice. Over the past decade Reuben has made lasting improvements in his communication and speech abilities through speech therapy, individual work, and the support of NSA and the community of people who stutter. He is active as a chapter leader in NSA and continues to work on becoming a better communicator through Toastmasters and other opportunities.|
GGG. . gg-ooodd eeeveninnnng, mmmy naaame is . . . . Rrreuben Schuff. Thanks for joining me tonight. I'm working on planning out my speech work for tomorrow and taking a little time to review the past day. You see, I've been in speech therapy for a while, off and on for nearly a decade in fact. And while I don't meet with an SLP regularly right now, I'm still very much working on my speech. I'm not as SLP, but I have become somewhat of a humble expert on stuttering, specifically, MY stuttering.
A successful process of speech therapy for a person who stutters and struggles severely in to adulthood is a journey of the most profound change, on a deeply personal and internal level. Somewhere along the way of this journey, we, the person who stutters, must learn to become the most excellent, awesome, and supreme personal SLP of our own world. To get to this part of the journey, I couldn't do it alone and needed the help of many treasured professionals and friends. But before I can begin a useful essay on "speech therapy", clear definitions of "therapy" and the "disorder of stuttering" are required
While "stuttering" is classified as a fluency disorder in the formal literature and professional citations, "fluency" itself is but a part of the tangled torment of those who are or have severely struggled with producing useful speech. The "disorder of stuttering" is less of a speech disorder, and much more so a communication disorder. The disability and even the handicap of stuttering are not in the disfluencies of the speech motor system, but in the limitations on the communication in life. None-the-less, for many, the journey of change begins with chasing fluency and searching for tools, methods and exercises to achieve fluent sounding speech. Fluency of the speech-motor system is part of effective communication, and is therefore part of successful therapy. However, the picture is much bigger than I realized when I first ventured into the speech clinic of Purdue University my sophomore year and began to learn about prolonged speech, pullouts and other modification techniques. I used to hold firmly that if I could fix the stuttering (the disfluencies), then the disorder would be solved. Much to my surprise and, at times great frustration, my journey in the last decade has shown me that if you fix the communication disorder, the disfluencies start going away. For the purpose of this essay, please accept that my definition of "speech therapy" extends greatly beyond the sounds and syllables that form words, which allow us to communicate in our language and culture to fill our needs. Speech therapy is the life and living, the change and choice, the journey and struggle. And the disorder of stuttering isn't captured by the percent of syllables stuttered, but in the enjoyment and effectiveness of our communication with the world.
I can no more claim that my story of speech therapy is correct, than I can say that my course of study in Engineering was ideal. It's what I've done, it's how I've gotten from there to here. Although I can only speak as humble student of myself, I believe some fundamentals apply communally. Each person is different, but we all know that. The challenge is to know who we are, what our stuttering is, what we do. Stuttering does not follow the medical disease model, where a "patient" seeks the services of a "professional" to "fix the problem". The teacher-student or coach-athlete model is far more applicable for stuttering. It's the person who stutters job to learn, to work, to risk, to make change by doing. Stuttering therapy is not something that takes place for a few hours a week in an isolated room or in an intensive immersion environment for a few weeks. Stuttering therapy is applying, doing, and making new choices in the day to day, and the hour to hour situations of communication in life.
As I've worked through speech therapy, my goals have changed from "fluency" to "effective communication", opening the doors of life that I thought were closed due to my disorder. But I've spent the majority of my life to get to the point of making effective positive change. That means I got to low enough points in my journey that I've become willing to take new risks because life, as it was, reached an intolerable point. I've had a vicious cycle of reaching a low, making improvements, and then relaxing and trying to coast in a new place only to fall back and slide to a new intolerable low point, where change is again worth the risk and the work involved. Perspective is a funny thing, coming out of my undergraduate degree, I thought my speech had come a long way from the therapy I'd done at Purdue and it had. I remember being virtually mute freshman year, fearing how I'd ever pass the required COMM 101 class with FIVE speeches. I thought this whole college idea just might not work out at all. I remember my sophomore engineering design class when I had to present my first five-minute technical presentation, and I thought I wasn't going to be able to become an engineer at all. I remember the confusion of my fellow students in that class asking me quietly what was "wrong with me". I remember not having any answer or response to that at all, because I really didn't know myself. I'd start speech therapy the next semester.
I remember getting an internship after sophomore year for the summer, feeling strong and confident that I'd managed that. And then I remember returning to school totally destroyed by my lack of fluency over the summer. I remember my SLP telling me junior year that I probably wasn't ever going to be perfectly fluent, believing it for the first time, and never feeling so crushed. I remember making it to senior design and blocking so hard and long during my first 5-minute presentation that the professor asked me to his office after class. He suggested that I could make my PowerPoint charts and stand up and just point to the bullets in silence, rather than struggle to make noise as he'd seen earlier that day. I respectfully refused to do this, and he agreed to let me keep trying. I remember giving my presentations every other week in his class that semester, fearing all the time that I was going to fail the course and never get a degree. I remember asking to make a non-required presentation to help the class prepare the final report (we all wrote a 300 page document together, 80 students) and the professor agreeing to let me speak for half the period.
I remember feeling stronger and more confident than ever before when I finished my undergraduate degree and started an internship. I remember quickly realizing that my communication on the scale of the professional world was not going to cut it, and I expected to find myself quietly working at a desk for my career, not able to lead or advance. I remember starting graduate school at Purdue and going back and working on speech more. I remember how proud I was my first year to be an co-author of a technical paper and present it at a national conference. I remember having a quiet confidence that I could stand up for two hours to defend my thesis to my advisor board and anyone else from the university who wanted to come in and pick at me. I remember feeling immensely substandard my second year of grad school presenting at a conference, because I could only communicate about half the information in the allowed time as my peers, because of my struggle with stuttering. I started my first professional full time engineering position after graduate school feeling more confident than ever that I could communicate and manage my stuttering effectively.
My confidence shattered quickly as again I saw my communication as inferior to my peers. Phone calls, presentations every week or more, conference calls daily, and meetings showed me with certainty that I could not compete at my current level. I was fortunate to find speech therapy help at this time from University of Maryland and began my involvement with the National Stuttering Association (NSA) as well. I remember going from an isolated engineer stuck at a desk, struggling to make a phone call, to being a lead engineer on the manufacturer floor responsible for executing projects. I remember going from barely able to say my name on a conference call, to leading them. I remember struggling with even minor presentations and wanting to stand up as minimally as possible, to wanting to speak to my team, management and customers, and being asked to do so frequently. I remember going from being fearful of walking in to my first NSA meeting, to becoming a facilitator and welcoming others.
I've learned that confidence doesn't come in leaps and bounds, but is rather slowly built with relentless commitment, resilience and healthy defiance. The work of speech therapy is something that becomes a part of life, every day. It's not a treatment program that is completed as some point, but a process of learning, growth, discovery, struggle, rejection, despair, hope, inspiration and endurance. The goal of speech therapy for me started out as to correct a fluency disorder by teaching me how to eliminate stuttering (disfluency). That goal changed to learning how to effectively communicate without struggle and enjoy the communication of life. But this goal is too board for any program or person to administer as a treatment to a disordered patient. I have to become the expert, because I have to know what to do through the highs and low, the depressions and the triumphs. It is for me to learn, and to do, for it is by the doing that we grow. You don't learn to become an athlete by watching competition. You don't learn to be a musician by reading books about it. You must do the change you wish to make in yourself. Family, friends, professionals, and organizations can and do help, but the journey is an inside job.