(The following is reprinted from TO THE STUTTERER, Publication Number 9 of the Stuttering Foundation of America's series, with permission The book has been translated into many foreign languages including French, German, Finnish, Lithuanian, Flemish, and others. It is available for $2.00 from the SFA. Dr. Williams paper describes the problem-solving frame of reference he believed is necessary in order to change any behavior. JAK)
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULT STUTTERERS WHO WANT TO TALK EASILY By Dean E. Williams For purposes of this paper, I want you to assume that I am meeting with an adult group of stutterers for the first time and that you are a member of that group. My purpose will be to suggest what I think you can do to improve the ways you talk. The major points presented in this paper are those that would be discussed and elaborated and experienced during the subsequent weeks of therapy. It is important to point out that I am talking to you as a group; for any one person in the group, I would direct my attention toward his own special feelings, viewpoints and needs. Because this discussion is directed toward a group, it will be necessary for each of you to think through the comments made and to apply them to your own individual problem. * * * * * * In working to solve a problem such as stuttering, you must first ponder the various ways that you think about the problem for they affect, in good part, what you do as you talk. They affect the observations you make, the ways you react inside, and the ways you interpret the success or failure of what you have done. Furthermore, they determine, in the main, what you will do the next time you talk. Think about your stuttering problem. HOW do you view it? WHAT do you do that you call stuttering? WHY do you think you do it? WHAT are the most helpful things you can do when you stutter? HOW do they relate to what you believe is wrong? WHAT does not help? Why? When one begins to ask questions about what he is doing, it can stimulate him to make observations about his behavior. This, in turn, encourages him to become involved with the ways he feels, with the ways he thinks, and with what he is doing as he talks. This is necessary! You cannot solve a problem by acting like an innocent bystander waiting for someone else to answer questions that you never thought to ask. It is YOUR problem and you must face it. Perhaps I can help stimulate you to consider your own beliefs by relating examples of how a few other stutterers of different ages have viewed their stuttering. In my opinion, the ways they talk about the problem change in relation to the number of years they have attempted to cope with it. The seven-to-nine-year-old stutterer is apt to be confused and bewildered by the ways he talks and by people's reactions to it. One second grade boy reported that when he was in kindergarten and first grade he had repeated sounds a great deal. People called it "stuttering." Now, he tensed and "pushed" to get the words out so he wouldn't "repeat," or "stutter," as he understood the meaning of the word. Now, people were calling the tensing and pushing "stuttering." He was confused! A 9-year-old typically held his breath, blinked his eyes and tensed his jaw. This, to him, was his stuttering. One day he began taking quick breaths and then blurting the word out quickly. He reported that he was doing this so he wouldn't do the holding of breath and other behavior mentioned above. People were still reacting to that as "stuttering." He was bewildered. The children were doing certain behaviors in order to "help them get the words out," and those behaviors were called stuttering. When they did something else in order to not do those behaviors, people also were calling that stuttering too. Their only recourse, then, was to do something else so they wouldn't do what they just did. Does this sound confusing? It was confusing to the children too! Yet, one can observe the same behavior in adults. When was the last time that you did something similar, for example jerking your head backwards, so you would not tense you jaw and prolong a sound? Children in their early teens often report more magical beliefs about stuttering than do the younger children. When some 12 or 13- year-olds were asked to discuss the question "What is stuttering like?" one 13-year-old boy reported that it is like trying to ride an untamed horse. He worried about when it (the "stuttering horse") would shy away from a word , would balk at the sight of a word or would begin to "buck" on a word. He felt that the only thing he could do was hang on as hard as he could, keep a tight rein on the horse and just "hope" that the horse wouldn't be too violent. Another 13-year-old reported that talking was like Indian wrestling. He constantly had to strain and to struggle so that his opponent (his stuttering) didn't get the best of him. As he talked, he tried to overpower it. The children talked as if they had to fight AGAINST their "stutter". Their "stuttering" was an adversary with a mind of its own, and in most instances, they were afraid that it was stronger than they were. With this viewpoint, then, it is quite natural for the child to feel that he has to tense, to struggle, and to use his muscles to fight the "stutter". It has been my observation that adults who stutter generally do the same thing, although they may not explain so vividly the reasons for doing it. As adults, you probably have stuttered for many more years than the children just discussed. Whereas they still are actively trying to "explain" to themselves the reasons why they tense and struggle, you may have forgotten to ask "Why?" anymore. You no longer question the necessity or helpfulness of doing the tensing or head jerking or eye blinking that you do. You just accept it as part of what you, as a stutterer, HAVE TO DO to talk. This is unfortunate because then you do not direct your attention toward observant, studying, and experimenting with what you can do in order to talk without the tensing and struggling. Yet, you CAN learn to talk easily and effortlessly. There is nothing inside your body that will stop you from talking. You have the same speaking equipment as anyone else. You have the ability to talk normally. You are doing things to interfere with talking because you think they help. You tense the muscles of your chest, throat, mouth, etc., in an effort to try and fight the "stutter". Yet these are the same muscles that you need to use in order to talk. You can't do both at the same time because you only have one set of muscles. Therefore, it is extremely helpful to begin studying what normal speakers do as they talk. This is what you want to learn to do. Observe carefully the way they move their mouth, lips and jaws as there are talking. Then, sit and talk in a room by yourself, or read in unison with someone else and study the feeling of movement as you talk. There is a certain "just right tensing" that you do as you move your jaw and tongue and lips. Study it! This is what you want to do when you talk. Now begin to look at what you do to interfere with talking when you do what you refer to as your "stuttering." If you begin to hold your breath or tense your jaw, for example, you cannot move as easily as you must do to talk the way normal speakers do. In short, you need to develop a sharp sense of contrast between what you are doing that you call "stuttering" and what you do as you just talk easily. Use a mirror or a tape recorder to help you observe what you are doing. Above all, get a feeling deep in your muscles of the movements involved in easy talking. Then you can become much more alert to what you are DOING (not what's "happening" to you) as you tense and interfere with talking. After careful observation and practice of what you do as you talk easily and on-goingly, as opposed to interfering with talking by tensing, stopping, or speeding etc., enter a few speaking situations that are not so threatening that you cannot observe your behavior. It has been my experience that ordinarily the person observes that he gets scared, or he gets a "feeling" that he was going to stutter, and he tenses. What is this feeling? Work to be able to tolerate it so you can observe it carefully. Enter more speaking situations. Answer some questions. To what is the feeling similar? Does the feeling ALONE make you unable to talk? Or, do you tense when you begin to experience the feeling? When you start to talk do you pay attention to what you want to do (the movement you want to make) or are you attending to the "feeling" waiting for it to tell you whether you will be able to talk or not? Study the feeling. If you study it in various situations as you are talking you will become aware that it is a feeling that is in no way special from any other feeling of fear or embarrassment, etc. It is very normal. However, it is a feeling to which you have learned to react by tensing, or by speeding or slowing your rate. Essentially, you react to it by DOING extra muscular activity than is necessary to do in order to talk.. When you become aware that the struggling behavior you call stuttering is something that you are DOING as you talk, and not something that magically "happens to you," you are in a very good position to begin to change what you are doing as you talk so that you can talk easier. Then, you can begin to talk by starting to move easily, being willing to experience the feelings that you may feel, but to continue moving easily. You can tolerate a few bobbles as you do this. Then, you can begin to see that there is a way out of this jungle. There is a reason to become optimistic because it is within your ability to do it. It's essentially a problem of learning to just "let yourself talk." You have learned to do too much. You do things to interfere. Learn by observing and experimenting that these things do not help. Talking is essentially easy ongoing movement of the jaw, tongue and lips, etc. Tensing unnecessarily only gets in your way. Your success in countering the excessive tensing as you talk will depend upon two factors. The first involves the thoroughness with which you come to understand that there is no "stuttering" to be FOUGHT, AVOIDED or CONTROLLED, other than the tensing you, yourself, perform. Once you understand this as you talk, your own tensing becomes a signal for you to begin reacting constructively by immediately easing off on the tensing and attending to the easy on- goingness of talking. The second involves practice. You must practice talking easily as you would practice typing or playing the piano easily and on-goingly even though you had a feeling in your stomach or chest that you might "goof" it at some point. Then, expand your speaking situations--and practice--until you can talk comfortably at any time you choose to speak. This is the beginning of therapy for you. From now on, it is up to you!