An article by Bill Bockelman about his experience with an electronic aid called the Fluency Master. Originally printed in Letting Go, March, 1995. Reprinted below with permission of the author.
To Accept or to Keep on Striving
by Wilfred (Bill) Bockelman
13841 Echo Park Lane
I have always felt that one of the major contributions of the NSP is to help people who stutter understand that their self-esteem and identity is not totally tied up with their fluency or lack of fluency.
I have heard a lot of people who do not stutter but are very disfluent. The difference is that they do not look upon their disfluency as being abnormal, perhaps not even as a handicap.
Granted, disfluency is probably more painful for a person who stutters, but it is not a character flaw. Thanks to the NSP for helping all of us who stutter to understand this.
I am reminded of the serenity prayer: " Give me the willingness to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to work on those things that can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference."
And therein lies the rub. How do you know the difference? How do you accept the fact that you stutter and at the same time strive to overcome your stuttering? Or do you just give up?
Let me tell you my story. I am now 73 years old and have stuttered ever since I could talk...until about four months ago. Well, the change wasn't quite as sudden and drastic as that may sound, but let me continue.
I am the youngest of five boys. All four of my brothers stuttered when they began talking, and all of them outgrew it, so my parents thought I would do the same. But I didn't.
I went to a one-room country school for eight years, with an enrollment of 13 to 19. Fortunately, I was a good student. I don't know if that was the reason or not, but I don't recall any of the students ever making fun of me.
When I was a junior in college, I spent a day with a man who was rated as one of the top speech pathologists in the country. He told me I was about the third worst case of stuttering he had ever encountered. He wondered whether I had all of my senses in wanting to be a preacher. I found out later that he was an agnostic, and decided that might have influenced his opinion of anybody becoming a preacher.
I went through various speech clinics and overcame my stuttering enough that I did become a preacher. I served as a parish pastor for two years, and although I had some problems, I was functioning satisfactorily.
Since I had stuttered so severely all during my high school and college years, I had developed a great interest and considerable skill in writing. I got a masters degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 38 years of my career on the national staff of my church body as a writer, editor, and communicator.
I continued to improve in my speech, had speaking engagements all over the country, traveled world-wide and initiated and responded to international telephone calls. One night I even gave a 70-minute monologue on the stage of the prestigious Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, during which I halted very momentarily on one word. After all, I had accepted myself as a person who stuttered.
There was one situation, however, in which I stuttered very severely. I couldn't read in public. Well, sometimes I could and sometimes I couldn't, but I would never know when I could and when I couldn't, and that would add to the anxiety.
Although I could preach from the pulpit with very little if any difficulty, if I were to read something during the sermon I would have great struggles. So, when I was invited to preach somewhere, I would always make sure someone would be there to read the liturgical part of the service.
I could teach a class without difficulty, but if I wanted to read something, I would stutter all over the place. I solved that problem by having the students do the reading. That method of getting student involvement was undoubtedly a good pedagogical principle. Nevertheless, I was irritated that I couldn't do it.
But I had accepted my situation. After all I was 73 years old and I was functioning at what I considered a 90 plus percent of efficiency. Why should I strive to do better?
Then I was introduced to the Fluency Master. It's a relatively new device that's been in use for several years. It looks like a hearing aid. It's hooked on top of the ear and has a miniature microphone attached with adhesive to the skin just behind the earlobe.
While the cause of stuttering remains unknown, there is general agreement that it has to so with how people who stutter hear themselves speak. The Fluency Master modifies sound returning to the speaker's ear from his or her own voice. I must admit that I don't totally understand why that makes it work.
I have a simpler explanation. I'm not sure if it's correct or not. The fact is that it works for me. The week after I got my Fluency Master I had occasion to give a couple of lectures and I make it a point to read several paragraphs during my address. I wondered whether or not I could do it. Later in the week I made a telephone call and read two full pages, something I could never have done otherwise. And since that time I have enjoyed unbelievable freedom from anxiety.
Why do I think it works? There have always been three situations in which I do not stutter: when I sing, when I talk while I am in a room all by myself, and when I talk in unison with others. I understand that many people who stutter have the same experience.
Well, when I wear my Fluency Master, I am really talking in unison with myself. the miniature microphone plays my own voice back into my ear, so I hear two voices, my own voice which I hear regularly, and another voice, also my own, which is played back to me through the earphone. It's not the least bit disturbing to me and it gives me an exhilarating feeling.
Although I have accepted my stuttering, I would rather not stutter than stutter. It's possible that I have oversimplified the explanation of why the Fluency Master works for me. I don't understand the workings of a computer either, but it's sure a big improvement over the typewriter.
The Fluency Master is make by GN Danavox of Minnetonka, Minnesota, a company that has been making hearing aids for more than 20 years. Danavox says that the Fluency Master does not cure stuttering, just as a hearing aid does not cure deafness. Danavox is also up front in saying that a Fluency Master will not help everybody. However, in a clinical test of 200 users of the Fluency Master, 80 percent expressed satisfaction. Danavox follows a money-back policy for those who are not satisfied.
At present the Fluency Master is available only through certified speech pathologists who have been specially trained to work with the device.
added on November 16, 1995 - JAK