A Typical (?) Stutterer's Story
Kenneth O. St. Louis
Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology
905 Allen Hall, PO Box 6122
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV 26506-6122
One of Several Contributions to
Various Paths to Long-Term Recovery From Stuttering
Seminar Presented at the 2nd World Congress on Fluency Disorders
San Francisco, California
Why tell my story? There is a new and growing area know as narrative psychology which explores ways in which individuals make sense of their world through stories. Significant positive or negative events (i.e., "nuclear episodes") mark turning points in one's life. Remembering and telling stories about these events captures the essence of a host of complex experiences and emotions. The story of my stuttering is unique, as are all the others you have heard, but it helps me come to grips with who I am. It may or may not be representative of your client's stories. Take what fits and leave the rest.
We all have significant memories and experiences from our youth that influence our adult life. Most of mine took place on a cattle and sheep ranch and a one-room country school in the Rocky Mountains of northwestern Colorado.
I have stuttered ever since I can remember. I had virtually no speech therapy until the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. It was during that summer program at the University of Wyoming that I decided to become a speech-language pathologist.
I underwent therapy at my undergraduate alma mater, Colorado State University, using a Van Riperian desensitization and voluntary control approach. After nearly two years my clinicians' supervisor, Bill Leith, instituted a "get tough" policy with me which produced a dramatic turning point in my therapy. For several months, I was able to be a stutterer or a near-normal speaker at will.
After completing my undergraduate work, I entered the Peace Corps in Turkey. During that two-year period, I returned to my old stuttering, but mainly in the Turkish language only. I never have resolved that "relapse."
After completing graduate work at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, I have worked continually as a faculty member in speech-language pathology, three years at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and 21 years at West Virginia University. Throughout this period, I have treated, or supervised treatment, of child and adult stutterers continually. My training and experience in stuttering therapy is broad and eclectic, including: voluntary controls, fluency shaping, anxiety reduction, linguistic management and contingent management.
Following are some of the principles that guide my thinking a approach to treating stuttering;
- Little or no stuttering as a result of therapy is more likely to be acceptable to clients and to the public than considerable residual stuttering.
- Preschool stuttering children can often be "cured."
- Adult clients should be presented options and should decide themselves just how fluent they want to be.
- Motivation is best viewed in terms of effort or cost for the client at any given point in his or her life versus the benefits expected or already achieved.
- There are some stutterers that we probably cannot treat.
- Natural speech with a little stuttering is a lot easier for the client and clinician to take than mechanical-sounding speech with no stuttering.
- I use what works.
- I typically opt for the most direct way to get the client to experience fluency.
- Clients must use their therapy techniques to "try to talk in a new way" and not to "try not to stutter."
- Clients who are successful in therapy from "speak more fluently" and "stutter more fluently" approaches typically end up doing the same things.
- Clients respond positively to straight talk and honesty.
- Clients also respond well to humor.
- Emotions often do play a significant role in stuttering and, if so, need to be addressed in therapy.
- Successful adults who stutter:
- Have made conscious decisions to assume responsibility for their own progress
- Have confidence in their therapy skills.
- Have sufficient control over thoughts and feelings in order to modify their speech when necessary.
- Excellent clinicians for stutterers do not have to be stutterers themselves.
- There will always be more to learn.
added with permission August 23, 1997