(The following first appeared in Letting GO, the NSP Newsletter, and is reproduced below with the permission of John Van Riper, son of Charles Van Riper).
Having recently suffered congestive heart failure, my doctor has suggested that I put my affairs in order since my days are numbered. I have done so.
Yet one thing remains and perhaps your newsletter that I have enjoyed reading for many years may take care of that. I want very much to share with other stutterers what I have learned about the disorder in my 85 years before The Reaper cuts me down.
During my career I have worked with thousands of stutterers, done a lot of research, and published several books and many articles on the subject. More importantly, I have stuttered myself all of those years and have tried almost every sort of therapy ranging from rhythmic controls and relaxation and slow speech and breathing exercises to psychoanalysis and hypnosis. All of these failed to help me attain any more than some temporary fluency followed by relapse. Nevertheless I finally managed to become very fluent even though I continued to stutter.
The basic idea that led to my living a very successful and happy life came to me while hitch-hiking my way home from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where I had spent a month as the hired man on a farm, pretending to be a deaf mute because my stuttering was so severe and grotesque I could not get any other employment. I had hoped thereby to be able to live without talking, but after a month I couldn't bear it any longer and left to return to a home where I felt I would not be welcome.
After walking several miles I sat under a tree to rest near a field where a man was plowing. Soon an old man in a Model-T Ford pulled up beside me and he got out to talk with the farmer. I noticed that he had an odd way of speaking with many little hesitations but didn't think it was stuttering. When they finished their conversation, I accosted the old man with the thumb gesture for hitch-hiking and he told me to get in the car. Then of course came the inevitable question: “What's your name, son, and where are you going?” Oh, how I stuttered when I tried to tell him with gasping, facial contortions and body jerks! And then the old bugger started laughing outrageously. I could have killed him! Seeing my anger, he said, "Take it easy, son. Take it easy. I'm not laughing at your stuttering. I've been a stutterer all my life and I used to jump around and make faces like you do but I'm too old and tired to fight myself now so I just let the words leak out. And they do!"
Well, that hit me hard. All my life I'd been trying to talk without stuttering and avoiding it and hiding it whenever I could and all that had happened was that I got worse. That old man was telling me that what I should have been seeking was a way of stuttering that would be tolerable both to others and myself, that it was possible to stutter so easily and effortlessly that it wouldn't matter, that I could stutter and be fluent anyway. The insight that I should learn how to stutter hit me like a bolt of lightning. I wouldn't just wait until I was too old and too tired to stutter hard.
It wasn't easy unlearning all my struggling and avoiding but every time I stuttered I had an opportunity to change it to a more fluent form and so I persisted. At first the gains were small and the failures many but successes, even partial successes, encouraged me. Moreover, my fears and embarrassments melted away. Most of my listeners do not even recognize that I've stuttered when I do and I probably stutter as much now as I ever have but it's no big deal anymore.
Well, that's the message I'd like to pass on to my friends of the tangled tongue. Merely accepting one's stuttering is not enough; speaking out is not enough.
Learn how to stutter!