Case Study 8 - What I Think Caused My Stuttering

I always attributed stuttering to the fact that I have been forced by teachers and my parents to write with the right hand, although I'm clearly left-handed. I was forced in both situations to go against my spontaneous will, which made me choose the first one to be the cause of the second. My parents attributed stuttering to a supposed lack of oxygen at birth, blaming the gynecologist for it.

However, I don't discard the "trauma theory" as a cause of stuttering. I know nobody wants to consider fear as a reason for stuttering. Only the fear of stuttering can make someone stutter.

Nevertheless, this is briefly the story of when I started stuttering. I don't give here any cause or explanation. Just facts. At least, I think I do!

Only few years ago, I told for the first time (with great emotion) to a close friend a situation where I was physically attacked when I was 8. I have always tried to forget this event. After that event I started developing tics I was very ashamed of, like head jerking. I also became afraid of being alone and of most strangers. I was afraid of falling asleep and be killed. So I would fight sleep until my body would give up. I would not trust anybody. I also gained weight. I lived consequently 2 years of terror.

Around the age of 9 people started noticing I was stuttering, but I was not always aware of it. Before that I had been considered as being fluent. I never had difficulty speaking. I even recited poetry, alone on the stage in front of hundreds of people when I was 3! I did not even hesitate on a word, according to relatives present in the audience. My sister and I were taking lessons with a friend of my parents, who was teaching acting to kids. He never noticed a speech problem. We had a lot of fun!

At school, teachers and classmates never said anything about my speech until I was eleven. Indeed, at the age of 10 1/2 another fearful situation reminded me of the first bad experience. I developed blocks at that moment only. Blocks were not with everybody, but with the people who reminded me - or were - those who were responsible for the traumatic event to happen.

I have been blaming SLPs and my family for many years for being responsible of my stutter, because they tried to teach me fluency. The fact is, they did not make me stutter. I stuttered before. If I had been able to speak fluently I would have done it right away, at least to make them stop bothering me.

For many years, I never told anybody about what happened to me, because it was (and still is) too painful to talk about. But mainly to protect my relation with the relative who was unfortunately responsible for this event to occur. I can't describe the whole event here, but it was a situation where I was physically attacked and I thought I was being killed by strangulation. Moreover, the trauma was also to the speech organs. I could not cry for help. I lost consciousness consequently.

Therefore, I wonder if stuttering could occur for different reasons in every person who stutters. For some it would be a genetic predisposition (nobody stutters in my family but me. Even several generations back and among far relatives nobody is known as a PWS), for others a traumatic event would cause it, and for others it would be the result of great psychological stress lasting a certain period of time.

Why would stuttering have the same cause for everybody? I read about this man who stuttered after a head injury. I know someone who started stuttering at 50! He was very frustrated in his professional life at that time. He never stuttered before. Today he is fluent again after having moved and changed profession.

I want to emphasize these facts :

  1. yes, my parents and I were looking for a trauma responsible for my stutter, and found many. Each one allowing us to blame someone else, and not feel any guilt.
  2. I experienced an "embarrassing" trauma which had been kept secret, and, for that reason, has never been considered as a possible cause of my stutter.
  3. I stuttered only after that traumatic event - all my relatives can testify!. I was a rather good speaker before.
  4. Nobody in my family stutters, which makes the genetic predisposition to stutter an idea difficult to accept.
I would be interested to know WHERE in the "research" I have a place, if I have any? I'm not different from any other person who stutters, because I react to it in the same way as everybody. But when I stutter, something very personal goes through my mind.

I know that it could be said that not all children who go through a life threatening experience stutter. However, people who heard the whole story wonder how I survived psychologically. Until they learn that I have been a very severe stutterer.

I don't think I'll be fluent again, since this occurred when I was a very young child, and I kept it hidden until the age of 44! However, I improved tremendously with voluntary stuttering, which is the technique which allowed me to let things come out of me. I even have moments remembering when I could speak without a stutter. I know what it feels to be fluent. (Am I a recovered fluenter?)

Fluency shaping techniques, which worked beautifully on some people like Annie Glenn or John Strossel, on the contrary those techniques helped me in keeping my secret.

I'll bet my stutter is related to these painful memories, which I try to repress so strongly at the same time.

added with permission December 3, 1998