The author of the following information is Herbert Goldberg who is head of a not-for-profit corporation formed to aid people who stutter: Foundation for Fluency, Inc., 9242 Gross Point Rd. #305; Skokie, Illinois; 60077; Phone 847-677-8280. Email - Mr. Goldberg is a retired businessman, and person who stutters. He is also a member of the ASHA Clinical Specialty Board.

What's Wrong With Using A Crutch If It Helps You?

by Herbert G. Goldberg - Foundation for Fluency - Chicago, Illinois

The word "crutch," to many of us who stutter, has a negative emotional connotation. To many of us, even thinking of using such a thing as a "crutch" is definitely a no-no! The most common dictionary definition of a crutch is: "Noun - a staff or a support to assist a lame or infirm person in walking." It is a matter of semantics.

To a person who stutters, using a "crutch" can mean using such a technique as pounding the table, stamping a foot, or for example, twitching the eyes in an attempt to break through a stuttering block. Our experience shows us that such a technique does not hold up after the diversionary component "wears off" and the procedure can become part of a stuttering block syndrome.

I receive phone calls from hundreds of people who stutter from all parts of the USA and Canada. Once in a while, I receive a call from a person who tells me that he used to stutter. After a few questions to help verify that such a person was indeed a "member of our fraternity" (as you know, we do admit some women into "our fraternity"), I always ask the key questions: "What did you do to help yourself?" In most instances the response is, "I just decided to stop stuttering." After further questioning, I find that the person usually considered himself or herself to be a mild stutterer, stated doing such things as "slowing down," "not running through a word so quickly," "thinking of what they want to say before beginning," and other methods that we, who stutter, can consider "old wives tales." However, they all ended up with what is sometimes called spontaneous recovery. The main point is they all entered into a fluent life-style - and I can easily detect this while talking with them on the phone. To carry the point further, in the broader sense of the term, they all used "crutches" successfully.

If you listen to recordings of Winston Churchill's speeches, you will find that he appeared to use the crutches, ah, ahem, and humming successfully. I did not know him personally so I am not aware if he really had a fluent life style - but I will guess that he did.

All the techniques and procedures used in speech therapy, in the broad sense of the word, are crutches. The only key to measure success is which techniques (or crutches) within the state of the art are best for you, personally. We, who stutter, are all involved - we have to choice. If you must be involved, the best thing to do is to "roll up your sleeves, dig in, get your feet wet" and find out all you possibly can about the disability and the state of the art in therapy today - then select the procedures and techniques that are best for you. Learn all that you can from specialists in the field, do not try to "reinvent the wheel," and then exercise your options.

I hear from many adults who stutter who only know the "crying towel" and "panic button" side of the disability - and that is sad. I urge them all to "dig in" and become informed and use any and all "crutches" that will help them personally come closer to entering into a fluent life style.


[Mr. Goldberg also shared some information about his experience with some of the "techniques and procedures used in speech therapy," including slowing down the rate of speech, changing auditory feedback, relaxation, and counseling. JAK]

Back to Basics . . . Back to a slower speaking rate

When I was a little kid and in the middle of a big stuttering block, sometimes some adult would pat me on the head and say, "now take it easy Herbie and just slow down." I would stop right in the middle of that big block (as you know we all can), get real angry and fantasize doing away with that person, then start up again in that big block just where I had left off. With that introduction to a slower speaking rate, when anyone would mention slowing down, a red flag would go up.

Now, as a more informed adult, I know that slower speaking is one of the "tools in the tool box" that is helpful. If you slow your speaking rate, you will be surprised, you will not be speaking as slowly as you think you are. If you use slower speech along with other techniques of therapy with which you are acquainted, especially when you feel most fluent, and PLAY with your speech, when the "chips are down" you will be more comfortable.

Slower rate is, of course, not the whole story, it is just one part of it. Most of us know of some of the tools of therapy. Slow speech is helpful if used in conjunction with any of them.

Now the big question. Why is it so difficult to maintain a slower speaking rate? Speaking rate is a HABIT based on physical dexterity and thinking ability. It is always difficult to change a habit. Normal speakers also have a hard time speaking continuously at a rate slower than their normal speaking rate.

Anyway, if you slow your rate down to a rate you would call slow normal and not objectionable to the listener, and PLAY with your speech, especially when you feel most fluent, you will find your comfort level when speaking will raise. However, for many of us, this is just one part of the puzzle. . . but is usually very helpful.

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow morning perfectly fluent and you knew it would last beyond any doubt?

This question really hits home. That is just what happened to me in the spring of 1978, and I was not prepared for it. I was able to become very fluent as a person who stutters beginning in 1978 due to being introduced to auditory feedback masking (the Edinburgh Masker). This technique is helpful to many of us, but is not for everyone who stuttering.

Accepting the opportunity to leave stuttering behind and enter into a fluent life style on such short notice is very traumatic to say the least.

First, I felt a sense of loss. The loss of a way of life on which I could substantiate failures and non-successes. A bittersweet existence which I was accustomed to, and had dealt with for so many years. There was definitely a period of mourning.

Not long after becoming fluent, I became bored, really bored. In the past, so much of my time and effort had been involved with stuttering that I now had open time and thought that needed to be filled with other activities. I had lost the anxiety of "Russian Roulette" with fluency. I lost the "high" of adrenaline flowing when, for example, attempting to talk to a store clerk and the feeling of victory when I would get the words out and the feeling of relief when the conversation was over. Unless I would have changed my life style, my life would have been a real bore. It so happened I did change my life style, and the years since the spring of 1978 have been the happiest years of my life. And the future looks super.

NOW for the main point of this [section]. I feel my personal experience brings home the point of how important it is for a therapy program to effectively deal with a component of the disability that can be overlooked -- to help prepare the client to really want to accept the responsibilities of fluency.

Therapy programs do no generally give overnight fluency that the client knows will last beyond any doubt. While in the program, a client has the time to "weasel out" of accepting fluency and without being aware that he or she is doing so. A client can unconsciously resist the therapy and "save face" when the real "bed rock" reason for resistance could be that the person is fearful of entering into, and assuming the responsibilities of a fluent life-style.

If this component of the disability is dealt with effectively, and a client is handled with "tender loving care" while at the "cross roads," a treatment program could be more effective.

Relaxation. . Is It Useful?. . Is It Helpful?. . Can It Be Harmful?

IS IT USEFUL? . . It certainly can be. Resting (relaxing) is a natural state in which animals rejuvenate themselves whenever not involved in other activities (such as finding food or defending their territory). Humans often use such time to think or worry. The animal does not have that ability.

however, we humans can develop an ability, through the power of our minds, to regulate our thinking (or worry) time and use this time to beneficially "charge our batteries." Relaxation is one technique that can be helpful in achieving this end. yes, relaxation is useful. Read on to learn a simple technique with which you can experiment towards this end.

IS IT HELPFUL?. . It certainly can be helpful to those of us who stutter. Some years ago, Dr. Hugo Gregory of Northwestern University, introduce me to a five minute relaxation exercise that has been very helpful to me. If you do this exercise every day for a month, and then evaluate the result, you will most likely be surprised how much more relaxed you feel even when just thinking about the exercise. This is how it goes:

  1. While sitting up straight in a straight chair, raise either leg out straight in front of you.
  2. Tense the muscles in that leg as tightly as you can.
  3. Then let that leg relax and your foot drop to the floor.
  4. At this time you can feel the tension leaving the muscles of your foot, lower leg, and upper leg. Be aware of this feeling.
  5. Now do the same with the other leg. However, while doing so, concentrate on keeping the first leg assembly relaxed. This is not easy, but with a little practice you will become more effective.
  6. Now do the same with each arm while also attempting to maintain the relaxed feeling in both legs. With practice you will be more successful maintaining the relaxed feeling.
  7. Next take a deep breath and hold it in trying to expel it against a closed throat. This will cause the muscles around the rib cage to tense. Let the air out and you will feel these muscles relaxing. Also while attempting to keep a relaxed feeling in both arms and both legs. It is helpful in keeping a relaxed feeling if you either "talk" or "think" yourself through this exercise. For example, "now I can feel my wrist relaxing, now I can feel my ankle relaxing."
  8. Now, in this relaxed state, move your head around slowly three times in one direction and three times in the opposite direction;
With a little REGULAR daily practice you will be surprised how this short simple exercise will help you generate a feeling of relaxation.

CAN IT BE HARMFUL?.. . Believe it or not relaxation can be harmful to people who stutter. [The late] Dr. Joseph Sheehan, University of California-Los Angeles, said, "Relaxation is a fair-weather friend. It leaves you when you need it most." I feel what Dr. Sheehan meant is if you expect relaxation ALONE to solve your problem, you will certainly be disappointed and from the experience could add one more "coffin nail" to your list of failures. Relaxation is one component and could be really helpful as an assist in conjunction with other techniques. Yes, relaxation can be harmful if you expect it to do more for you than it is capable of doing. Consider relaxation as one tool in your tool box and use it constructively.

The Fly In The Ointment

If the speaking more fluently approach is used with a client, or the stutter more easily approach is used, or a combination of the two is used, the biggest problem is how much to do and what to do when.

It is important that the client is challenged, but not beyond the point that he/she will have a feeling of accomplishment. Nothing is as successful as success. Every feeling of success, in the mind of the client (not in the mind of the listener), will melt some ice from the "iceberg of bad news." Every feeling of failure, in the mind of the client (not in the mind of the listener), will add more ice to the "iceberg of bad news." And there is a lot of ice there to melt.

In my personal experiences with speech therapy for people who stutter, I have had some very perceptive counselors who I felt did understand my needs at that point in time. I also have had experience with counselors who asked me to do things I was not ready to do and/or not capable of doing at that point in time. In hindsight, if I had the knowledge and the speech pathologist was more perceptive to my needs at that time, ice would have continued to melt at those times.

Counseling is a two-way street. I do not write of successes or failures. I write of a feeling of communication between the client and the counselor. This is a delicate balance. It can work if the client is open to guidance and the counselor is perceptive of the client's needs. It is not a simple matter.

added with permission December 5, 1997