|About the presenter: Judith Eckardt is a licensed speech-language pathologist in Arizona and is a Board Recognized Fluency Specialist in ASHA (American Speech-Hearing-Language Association). Beginning in 1999 to 2004, she was a clinical supervisor at Eastern Washington University in July for the Successful Stuttering Management Program. Much time has been donated to the self-help movement for people who stutter. She is a stutterer, founded NSA Metro North in the Chicago area, and now facilitates NSA Tucson.|
How many times have you heard this from an adult or teen who stutters? How many times have you thought this as you work with an adult or teen who stutters ? This statement seems to come most often from stutterers who have had some or even a lot of speech therapy.
For the most part, their speech therapy has focused on fluency shaping and/or fluency modification. Their therapy has only focused on the mechanics of talking--or as they say, "The tip of the iceberg." Why? Because that kind of therapy is the easiest way to create fluency and results in less stutters. If less stutters are present, does that mean therapy has been successful ? The answer is NO-No- and No. What it means is that there is a lower percentage of stuttering when it is measured in a specific point in time. In this counting, there is no measure of what the stutterer feels--his fears and his avoidances and his resulting shame of stuttering. Until we as speech pathologists help the person who stutters reduce his fears, avoidances, and shame of stuttering, his lowered percentage of stuttering will mean nothing as a measure of success. Why?
When the stutterer leaves the therapy session where he has practiced fluency shaping and/or modification techniques and enters his everyday life--at home, at work or school, and in the community--the odds are very good that he will not hold his improved fluency levels. His fears and avoidances are too great and he will not be able to use his mechanical speech tools. The stutterer will revert back to his old pattern of stuttering because he has very strong learned habits. In the past, these secondary behaviors when they were new did help him cope with his stuttering. This reversion back will only increase his fears and avoidances and his shame of stuttering. Then the thought will persist: "If I practiced more, I would stutter less."
What does a person who stutters need to do to break this cycle of "practicing more equals stuttering less"? With our help as professionals, the stutterer needs to begin to feel responsible for his own behavior and needs to realize that change happens in small steps. He needs to begin to work on his fears and avoidances in a systematic way and try to reduce his "shame of stuttering". Basically, he needs to work on the part of the "iceberg that is under water".
Because stuttering is a cyclical disorder and waxes and wanes, when it appears more prevalent, maybe the stutterer will no longer say, "If I practiced more, I would stutter less." Rather, he would take the time to examine what is happening in his life to increase his stuttering, plan what he can do to modify that, and make darn sure he is not slipping into the pattern of using avoidance behaviors to cope with his stuttering. At all costs, he needs to "avoid avoiding" and "feel the fear and do it anyway" in his everyday communication at home, at work or school and in his community. Eventually, his more fluent speech will return and his speech tools will work better. The cycle will repeat itself over and over but that is something that just happens.
Life is full of changes and challenges and stuttering occurs more and less as he goes through life. Learning to expect these cycles is most helpful and defensive for the person who stutters. Always remember AVOID AVOIDING is most important for the person who stutters and the speech pathologist working with him. It will allow him to move through cycles of stuttering more or less and his stuttering will not become an out of control monster which needs to be feared and avoided.