About the presenter: Dorvan Breitenfeldt is a Professor Emeritus from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. He received his B. S. and M. S. degrees in Speech Pathology from the University of Minnesota, and his PhD in Speech Pathology from Southern Illinois University. He also completed a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at Case Western Reserve University. He has made presentations on stuttering to numerous organizations including the American Speech and Hearing Association, the National Stuttering Association, the International Fluency Association, and the International Stuttering Association.He developed the Successful Stuttering Management Program (SSMP), and has facilitated more than 40 intensive stuttering workshops. As a life-long stutterer, his passion has always been to improve the quality of stutterers' lives and to develop qualified clinicians for the treatment of stuttering.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Dorvan Breitenfeldt before October 22, 2003.

A Stutterer's Odyssey Through Life

by Dorvan H. Breitenfeldt
from Washington, USA

Webster defines an odyssey as "a long wandering marked by many changes of fortune." After living most of my life, I have come to the realization that life is not a destination, but a venture. Webster defines a venture as "an undertaking involving change, risk and danger." My "long wandering" as a stutterer has certainly involved danger, risk taking and exciting changes!

My odyssey began on a farm in 1930, during the "Great Depression." I had the good fortune of attending school in a one-room schoolhouse, in which all eight grades were taught by one teacher. My stuttering began in the early preschool years and progressed rapidly in severity. I compensated for my stuttering by becoming an academic overachiever, which enabled me to avoid exposing my stuttering. I felt constant shame and guilt, avoided stuttering at all costs, and even hid from my parents the fact that I was a stutterer.

At age 14, when I completed the eighth grade in the one-room schoolhouse, my stuttering had already developed to a severe level. Because I could not endure the humiliation of stuttering, I became a high school dropout during the ninth grade, and remained out of school for three years. The severity of my stuttering increased greatly during those three years, and by age 17 my stuttering was controlling my entire life. I had long silent blocks and would say only what I could say without exposing my stuttering. I avoided almost all speaking situations, substituted words frequently, often felt "why me," and developed a seriously damaged self image.

I withdrew from almost all social contacts, could not ask a girl for a dance or a date, never used the telephone, and allowed my parents to do all of my shopping. My stuttering was truly an iceberg, with most of it beneath the surface. I shed many tears over my stuttering and -- for all practical purposes -- my life seemed to be at a standstill. I had even contemplated suicide. During this period, I read a magazine advertisement from the Benjamin Bogue Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana, which stated that they could cure stuttering and would send the information in a plain brown envelope. I secretly sent for this literature, read it in private and eventually shared it with my parents in a tear- filled evening. This was the first time my parents and I had ever talked about my stuttering. My parents said that they knew that I stuttered at times, but had absolutely no idea how severely handicapping and debilitating stuttering was for me. They just thought that I was a shy, quiet person.

My parents were skeptical about sending me to the Bogue Institute and instead, took me to a family doctor who sent me to a medical clinic in North Dakota. After 2 days of testing they could find no physical reason for my stuttering, so they referred me to Dr. Bryng Bryngelson at the University of Minnesota. The referral proved to be the beginning of my fulfilling, stimulating, exciting and challenging life, in spite of having stuttering as a constant companion and albatross. I attended a University of Minnesota intensive six-week group therapy program with an emphasis in stuttering modification. Unfortunately, after three weeks into the therapy program, I developed the old nemesis "lucky fluency," which stayed with me during the remaining portion of the program. I returned home with essentially "fluent speech," my word and situation fears were reduced, and I had a greatly improved self image. When the therapy program ended, my self-imposed exile from society also ended. At age 17, I returned to high school and began my freshman year. I remained fluent for about three months, after which I experienced a very sad relapse. This was an extreme low point in my life.

I attended the same intensive program one year later and fortunately (in hind sight) did not experience the "lucky fluency." I returned home with essentially the same amount of stuttering I had at the beginning of the program; however, this time I had obtained a great deal of experience and practice in managing and controlling my stuttering, as well as a healthy attitude and the knowledge that I would likely be a lifetime stutterer and could not depend on "fluency." I will be forever grateful to the many people at those two intensive therapy workshops. Specifically, my gratitude and thanks go out to the four clinicians, Dorothy Baronofsky, Myfanny Chapman, Ed Lander and Dr. Gordon Low.

I returned to high school for my sophomore year at age 18, and graduated at age 21, the oldest graduate ever from Perham, Minnesota, High School. It was then that I decided to become a speech pathologist, and to attempt to make some positive impact in the stuttering community. Then, as it still does today, my stuttering continued to cycle with periods of much stuttering to cope with, followed by periods of much less stuttering. My stuttering has always been situationally determined, and word fears would come and go. In order to manage my communication and my life, I have always found it necessary to advertise my stuttering and never attempt to posse as a fluent speaker. Perhaps, because of my early childhood and need to compensate for my stuttering by overachieving, I continued to be a high achiever in high school, and graduated with "honors."

During high school, I worked three summers as a counselor at Camp Dowling, a Speech and Hearing Camp in Fairbault, Minnesota. Associating with over 20 Speech Language Pathologists/Clinicians each summer, further cemented my desire to become a Speech Language Pathologist, and to seek and develop better treatment for stutterers.

I enrolled at the University of Minnesota three days after graduation from high school, and joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps. The military did not want to admit me into the advanced corps of the ROTC, as regulations stated that stutterers could not serve on a commissioned status. To prove that a stutterer could also be an officer, I was required to drill cadets under the cadre's watchful eyes and to give a 15-minute presentation in front of three officers. I passed the test and was admitted into the advanced ROTC Program. By now, I had developed an almost neurotically compulsive attitude that my stuttering would never prevent me from doing whatever I wanted to do or to accomplish in my lifetime. I declared Speech Pathology as my major, and my advisor was Dr. Bryng Bryngelson. Dr. Bryngelson was opposed to stutterers entering the speech pathology profession and strongly discouraged me, as well as "challenging" me throughout my undergraduate program. However, I would not be denied! Many years later at a cocktail party at an ASHA Convention, he confided in me that I was the only stutterer who ever got through his undergraduate program, and that he had since changed his objections.

I completed my bachelor's degree and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the Army. I might mention here that my master clinician in the public schools was Myfanny Chapman, my clinician from eight years previous. I immediately pursued a master's degree, and had the good fortune of working as a graduate clinician in the same intensive stuttering program that I had attended eight years earlier. One of my clients was the late Einer Boberg, who had a tremendous impact in the stuttering community during his lifetime. He developed the I-Star Program at the University of Alberta, which is still one of the top recognized programs in the world. Later on he always referred to me as his "old clinician."

Upon completion of my master's degree, I went on active duty in the Army as a 2nd Lt., and was later discharged as a 1st Lt. I very much liked the "spit and polish" and the regiment of the Officers Corps. Again, I needed to prove to myself and to the Army that I could be a stutterer and serve on a commissioned status.

I then accepted a teaching position at Idaho State University, teaching basic speech pathology courses and directing intensive stuttering workshops during the summers. After three years, I resigned my position to pursue a PhD at Southern Illinois University. Dr. Gene Brutten, a gifted researcher, taught me to evaluate information critically, with attention to detail. I learned there, from my experience, that "relapse happens," and also learned the importance and necessity of establishing a lifetime stuttering maintenance program.

Upon completion of my PhD, I received an appointment to the faculty at Eastern Washington University with the titles of Chairman of the Department of Communication Disorders and Director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic. Neither a department nor a clinic existed at that time. I was fortunate to have the opportunity and the University support to develop the academic curriculum and the clinical programs. It was a one- person program for three years, supplemented with summer guest faculty. I taught almost every course in the curriculum, and directed an intensive stuttering therapy program each summer. Throughout my academic career I have always had to advertise and acknowledge my stuttering in all my classes, committee meetings, presentations and social functions.

After directing and supervising more than thirty intensive stuttering workshops, I wrote the Successful Stuttering Management Program (SSMP), with the tremendous assistance of my former student, colleague and close friend, Delores Lorenz. It would never have been written if Dr. Richard Mallard, of Texas University, had not visited my Workshop one summer. Dr. Mallard "shamed" me into writing it by saying that I needed to "share what I do" with the professional community. THANK YOU, DICK, FOR "PUSHING" ME!

During my 36 years at EWU, I had the good fortune of teaching more than 1000 Speech Pathology students in stuttering classes, supervising more than 900 clinicians in intensive therapy programs and working intensively with more than 600 stutterers. I have appeared on many radio and television interviews, as well as given presentations on stuttering to various local clubs and organizations. I have dedicated a lifetime to improving the quality of life for stutterers. My passion has always been direct, hands-on contact with stutterers, and developing skilled clinicians to treat stutterers successfully.

I conducted and established a SSMP Workshop for the Speech Pathology Department at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. After retirement at EWU, I was invited to the University of Utah to set up a Successful Stuttering Management Program Workshop for their Speech and Hearing Sciences Department. I spent the next three summers at the U of Utah, working with Tom Gurrister to establish the Successful Stuttering Management Program Workshop.

The SSMP has been translated into German and Spanish, and there are now ongoing workshops in Germany and Argentina.

Of the various awards and recognitions that I have received over the years, I remain most touched by, and proud of the plaque given to me by my students at the time of my retirement from Eastern Washington University. It reads as follows:

Dr. "B" Defined

B -- Beacon for those lost in academic boot camp

R -- Respect without reservation

E -- Encouragement served warm and in a bottomless cup

I -- Inspiration to do better tomorrow than today

T -- Trust in the capabilities of his students

E -- Excellence in teaching

N -- Navigator for students, when most would jump ship

F -- Firm, but fair

E -- Energy unbound

L -- Love reflected in an open office door

D -- Dedication to his students and his craft

T -- Teacher, not a preacher

Now in retirement, as I enter my "sunset years," I find that my stuttering is still there at times. It runs in cycles, varies according to situations, and can be just as severe as it was prior to my therapy. It appears as if chronic/advanced stuttering, for most of us, is incurable, therefore, we need to learn to live successful fulfilling lives in spite of this "ball and chain" we have as a constant companion. If there is such a thing as being "born again," I feel that I may have come close, when I was released from the bondage of stuttering at age seventeen.

I loved university teaching and miss the opportunity to work with enthusiastic young minds. For almost 40 years, five days a week, I taught a class at 9 A.M. The "down cycle" of my stuttering was that I would have more stuttering to manage during the weekends and vacations. The 9 A.M. class proved to be an excellent maintenance tool to assist me getting my stuttering back on the "up cycle," and made it more manageable for the rest of the day and week. I have always, and still do, have difficulty with pragmatic speech. Perhaps because I made no effort to participate in the easy flow of the give and take of conversational speech in small or larger groups as a child and teenager, I find that I still frequently become a listener instead of a participant. Perhaps this skill is more difficult to learn as an adult. To keep my speech from deteriorating, and to prevent old word and situation fears and self-image problems from developing, I now have to work at establishing opportunities to make presentations to a local men's talk club that I have belonged to for more than forty years, as well as to local, national and international conferences and conventions. I need to acknowledge and advertise my stuttering to new people I meet in all situations.

Prior to my retirement, my University established the "Dorv Breitenfeldt Endowment," to provide ongoing support for Eastern Washington University's SSMP Summer Workshop. I have been absolutely astounded that we have succeeded in raising more than $200,000, through the generosity of former students and stutterers who have gone through the program, and from the very generous matching fund challenges from the Malcolm Fraser Foundation. The interest generated from these endowment funds goes to support the SSMP Workshop each summer, thereby, keeping therapy affordable. My two very capable colleagues, Kim Krieger and Greg Dempsey currently coordinate the EWU SSMP Workshop.

In my personal life, the best life-decision that I ever made, was to wed Diane in 1994. Between the two of us, we have five successful adult children, sixteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren, with expectations of many more. Diane is not only a great lover and companion, but loves the involvement with the stuttering community. She has become somewhat of a self-styled expert on stuttering, and has even taken to dispensing advice to stutterers when they call and I am not around. She is a physically fit lady who shares my enthusiasm for aerobics, golfing, skiing, hiking, fishing, camping/backpacking, big game hunting and traveling.

As I look back over nearly three quarters of a century of this odyssey, I often wonder what my life would have been like, if I had not been a stutterer. I, most likely, would have taken over the family farm, been much richer monetarily, but much, much poorer in life contacts, experiences, personal satisfaction and fulfillment. It is gratifying beyond words, to realize that I have made some small contribution to improving the quality of stutterers' lives. The stuttering community has been, and has made my life.

For all of you who stutter and confront and conquer this adversary, you have my greatest admiration and respect. I wish you all the very best, as you continue through this venture called "life."

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Dorvan Breitenfeldt before October 22, 2003.

June 16, 2003