In 1941 Wendell Johnson wrote an Open Letter to the Parent of A "Stuttering" Child. Within this letter, Johnson provided an extensive description of stuttering and suggestions for parents of children who stutter. In my closing chapter I would like to write an open letter to you, the graduate student in speech-language pathology and the practicing professional. I hope that this letter is something you can share with your colleagues to provide encouragement to those in our profession who are reluctant to work with persons who stutter. Andrews, Neilson, and Cassar (1987) remind us that "Becoming fluent is hard work" (p. 2-4). These authors suggested that our clients must work hard to improve speech fluency. I'd suggest to the reader that learning to provide therapy for persons who stutter is hard work. My perception is that you already know the difficulties associated with fluency therapy and that's why you're so apprehensive about jumping in. However, do you think that you can find anything as rewarding as dismissing an adolescent client from therapy after he tells you that you are responsible for opening possibilities that he never dreamed possible? Is there a better feeling than receiving a handmade Christmas ornament in the form of book entitled Be Fluent, Be Free? I'm hard pressed to find anything that's more rewarding. This is the reason that I wrote this book. Yes, stuttering therapy is hard work. However, many of the skills that you developed to work with children with language disorders, older children with articulation disorders, and adults with traumatic brain injury are all applicable when you work with persons who stutter. First you have to be willing to try. It is my hope that this book will enable you to develop the confidence to provide effective therapy for persons who stutter.
I also wrote this book because of my concern for our profession. We are being asked to work with a greater variety of clients in a greater variety of locales while we're still mastering the skills necessary for the traditional clients who are still confusing us. Our national organization has eliminated the requirements to obtain supervised clinical hours with persons who stutter and many training programs have latched onto this idea with statements like "we don't have stutterers in our community" or "there's nothing you can really do with persons who stutter, so why bother." I'm telling you that this is clearly the wrong approach to take. My experience suggests that whether you're working in the wheat fields of Winnipeg, the snowdrifts of Syracuse, or the cornfields of De Kalb, there are always children and adults who will benefit from therapy. My philosophy is best summed by Kinsella (1982) in his book Shoeless Joe and later heard by Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams, "if you build it he will come, and "ease his pain. These two phrases solidify the idea that if you provide therapy, clients will show up at your clinic. If you know how to provide effective stuttering therapy, you are going to ease the pain associated with stuttering.
What happens when we abrogate our responsibility to treat persons who stutter? Clearly, the void will be filled. Unfortunately, that void is filled by persons who believe that they have found the cure, then promote the cure, and fleece the flock. Historically, this has been the case and will continue to be the case unless our profession takes some responsibility for dealing with the problem.
This book is an attempt to deal with our failure to help persons who stutter. We need to begin by teaching our graduate students the necessary methods for providing stuttering therapy. Classroom discussion on the history of stuttering and explorations on the controversial issues all have a place in our coursework. However, until the specialists in stuttering therapy start demonstrating to our students the methods for providing therapy, we will continue to search for individuals with the necessary skills to provide stuttering treatment. Stuttering therapy requires more than skill. The clinician has to be committed to providing the best form of treatment for the client. The specialist has the responsibility to excite the graduate student to learn how to provide stuttering therapy and the potential to reflame a practicing professional's interest in a problem that often becomes a second priority. For the practicing professional, I realize that relearning or learning for the first time to provide stuttering therapy becomes one more burden to add to your list that includes learning about pediatric swallowing, ventilators in the classroom, and the differences between pervasive developmental disorder and autism. I'm sorry to add to this burden. However, we need more people to provide the treatment to deal with this problem. I WANT YOU.
Howard D. Schwartz, Ph.D.