FAQ #4 - Successful Stuttering Stories

July 2, 1995

Send comments to: kehoe@netcom.com

The author, Thomas David Kehoe, is owner of Casa Futura Technologies,
president of the San Jose chapter of the National Stuttering Project,
and a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

I would like this file to have stories about people who are successful
despite stuttering.  I wrote the following article for Advance For SLPs
magazine, and I've submitted it to Letting GO, the National Stuttering
Project newsletter.

If you like this, please write an article about someone you know who is
a successful stutterer.

Colleen Wilcox: "If I'm Special, It's Because I Stutter"

This is about a woman who stuttered severely.  She used a variety of
compensatory strategies to overcome her inability to communicate.  The
result was that she not only overcame stuttering, but also became a very
successful person.

Colleen Wilcox, Ph.D., is Superintendent of the Santa Clara County
Office of Education.  She is responsible for 33 school districts, 7
community colleges, and other education programs.

Dr. Wilcox is a speech pathologist.  She is on the board of directors of
the American Speech-Language Hearing Association Foundation.

Dr. Wilcox has written and illustrated two children's books.  She plays
piano, guitar, banjo, and mandolin.

She says that all that is a result of stuttering.

Growing up in Moline, Illinois, she was an hour from the University of
Iowa's famous stuttering clinic.  At age seven she was treated by
Wendall Johnson.  Johnson believed that stuttering is caused by parents'
negative reactions to a child's normal disfluencies.

Wendall Johnson's therapy didn't help, and Dr. Wilcox no longer agrees
with Johnson's views on stuttering.  But she decided to be a speech
pathologist when she grew up.

Unable to talk, Dr. Wilcox developed her talents as an artist and a
musician.  Stuttering also made her sensitive to other people's needs.
She worked harder at everything she did.  She concludes, "If I'm
special, it's because I stutter."

Dr. Wilcox also realized that communication is essential in every area
of life, both professional and personal.  She married for the first time
a year ago, at age 44, because she felt unable to form close
relationships at an earlier age.

Dr. Wilcox's speech sounds fluent now.  She developed fluency through
laryngeal awareness and control.  She believes that stuttering is a
dysfunction in the area of the brain that controls the larynx.

She explained that your vocal folds vibrate when they catch air flowing
past.  To phonate, the vocal folds must be neither too relaxed (allowing
air to flow past without catching), nor too tense (blocking air flow).

Sounds can be voiceless, such as /s/ and /p/, which are produced by the
lips and tongue; or voiced, such as vowels, which also require vocal
fold vibration (phonation).

Because most words have both voiced and voiceless sounds, your vocal
folds start and stop vibrating many times each second as you talk.

Stuttering occurs at the transitions from voiceless to voiced sounds.
If you say "c-c-c-c-cat", you're saying the /c/ just fine.  Your problem
is getting your vocal folds to relax to say the /a/.

Dr. Wilcox explained that all stuttering therapies ultimately do one
thing: continuous phonation.  If you keep your vocal folds vibrating,
you won't stutter.

There are many ways to do this.  Speaking slower with prolonged vowels,
maintaining steady air flow, using voiced starter sounds, even speaking
in a Southern drawl or singing enables continuous phonation.

Dr. Wilcox uses a unique technique to speak fluently:  she substitutes
voiced for voiceless sounds!  For example, her stepmother Patty is now
"Baddy".  Because she speaks quickly and emphasizes vowels, no one
notices the change.

While there is no one technique that works for everyone, Dr. Wilcox
believes that everyone can and should find a technique that works for
them.  Communication is so important in every aspect of life that you
should do everything you can to improve your communication skills.

Dr. Wilcox explained that the larynx is one of the first muscles tensed
when experiencing fear or anxiety.  When you fear a speaking situation,
you tense your vocal folds, and are unable to speak.  While learning to
reduce your fear of speaking is important, Dr. Wilcox believes that
stuttering is ultimately neurological, and people who stutter must learn
compensatory behaviors to produce normal phonation and speech.