|About the presenter: Erik Turnquist grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He has participated in one-on-one speech therapy throughout middle school and high school. Erik is currently a Computer Science major at Iowa State University.|
At the beginning of my previous year of college, improving my speech was not one of my priorities. I had just recently changed my major, and I was rather worried about my studies and graduation. At that time, I was indifferent towards improving my speech because other issues seemed more important. However, during the year, my indifference gradually became fear and avoidance. Small ideas and doubt began to appear in the back of my mind; I was afraid that as a result of my stuttering, I would be unable to communicate and would be unable to get the information that I need from others. Since stuttering was not one of my priorities, I put off dealing these feelings and they were allowed to grow. Whenever I spoke to someone, I was always worried that my stuttering would impair my ability to communicate and I would give up out of frustration.
The moment of enlightenment occurred January of this year while I was home on break. After reflecting on the past semester, I realized that my stuttering had crept into my school and personal life. I had actively avoided making contact with other people during the semester, and my grades and happiness were affected. I then realized that the avoidance of stuttering - not stuttering itself - was my biggest obstacle to success and happiness. I knew that my friends and family would be there for me whether I stuttered or not, and I began to feel more confident. I remembered that I have been able to communicate in the past, so I would be able to communicate in the future. From then on, communication would be my goal rather than avoidance of stuttering. I decided to go back to my speech therapist to actively learn about and practice improving the way in which I communicate through speech.
The first lesson with my speech therapist was to explore the ideas that I had about speech and stuttering - that I would be unable to get important information, and that I would give up. I was given homework assignments which would test the validity of these ideas. I asked questions during class, and sought out more conversation with my peers. I gradually began to disprove both of these fears about my ability to communicate. With my fear of missing information, I discovered that if I avoid communication all together, I wouldn't receive any information at all. As for my fear of giving up, avoiding the situation and refusing to try are a form of giving up as well. With these fears gradually shrinking, I became more comfortable communicating and socializing. The next goal of the therapy was the transition from avoidance behaviors toward open, forward-moving stuttering. I practiced stuttering modification techniques and attempted to change silent and audible blocks, and starter phrases into easy part-word and whole-word repetitions.
After winter break, I continued to have therapy sessions to further improve my ability to communicate. I gradually began to notice that I was more confident in my ability to speak. Socializing became easier and more comfortable for me; I took the time to get to know my roommate's friends, and I was pleased to discover that most of them were cooler that I originally assumed. I also became more confident in my abilities as a student. Whenever I asked my professors or TA's a question, I discovered that the source of my confusion was most often in the instructors' explanations and not my ability to understand the materials. As I prepare for another year of college, I remain confident that these turning points have improved my ability to communicate. I look forward to a new and better experience with both college and the rest of my life. As of the drafting of this article, I have not fully reached my goal of easy stuttering and forward-moving speech. Still, I am pleased with the progress that I have made, and I am confident that there will be more to come.