I hope they made improvements in the physicality of the device since 1987/1988. In the midst of the Texas summer heat, the white band around the throat and the custom made plastic ear molds(ear phones) became very uncomfortable. Also, after a while I began to hear over the constant buzzing noise generated in my ears when I spoke. I used to refer to the Masker as my crutch!
In the absence of good stuttering/fluency techniques and confidence in my speech, the Edinburgh Masker was a welcome relief. It enabled me to undertake job interviews and thus was a short term fix. However the longterm remedy for me was a good stuttering fluency technique based program combined with an overall increase in personal confidence.
The severity of my stutter caused me to acquire an Edinburgh Masker, which I wore at all times while on duty. I also used it on social occasions and always kept it near to the telephone at home. I became so reliant on the device that I wore it for 10/12/14 hours daily.
I developed the belief that I could not exist without it, and always had an array of spare parts on hand in case of failure. It became my mechanical crutch for more than 20 years, during which time I did not hear myself speak whilst it was activated. I was subjected to a buzzing noise every time that I uttered a sound, making it impossible for me to hear others who spoke simultaneously. Consequently, I became very adept at lip-reading. I also experienced frequent headaches and ear infections.
From a practical (and aesthetic point of view) I wore my hair longer than regulation length to conceal the ear moulds and tubing. Due to the presence of the throat microphone (which was affixed below my Adam's Apple), I could never wear an open-necked shirt at anytime of the year.
After several years of using the apparatus, I persuaded my employers to allow me to return to operational duties. With the aid of the Masker, I renewed the much-needed public contact that I had been denied. I gave evidence in court, dealt with incidents and even attempted some lecturing. I continued to wear it in social situations.
I met many people daily. My speech was better in some circumstances but I was never fluent. I constantly lived with the fear of mechanical failure and always carried spare components.
Although the apparatus never eliminated my stutter, it gave me the confidence to venture into situations that I might, otherwise, have avoided. Consequently, I expanded my comfort zones and developed very useful interpersonal skills.
Despite experiencing considerable setbacks, I built a system that would eventually support greater fluency and self-expression later in life. I am in no doubt that, had it not been for the Edinburgh Masker, I would never have been in such a favourable position to take advantage of another approach when it subsequently became available. The device provided invaluable assistance when it was most needed. Without it, I would have floundered.
Reflecting on my lengthy experience of wearing the Edinburgh Masker, I have become increasingly appreciative of the important interim contribution that it made in, subsequently, enabling me to deal with my stuttering issues.
In 2000, I made the decision to abandon the Edinburgh Masker. It had been a faithful servant for two decades, sustaining me in my greatest hours of need. It had played an immense part in enabling me to cope with the extensive demands that I faced during my former police career. Without it, I have no doubt that I would have remained confined to administrative duties.
I felt that it was time to move on and release myself from the dependency that I had developed upon my mechanical crutch. Severing the connection was similar to losing a close friend -- after all, it had been my constant companion for two decades. We had been through so much together.
In the absence of the 'reassuring' (yet infuriating) buzzing sound, I felt rather 'naked'; I was being exposed to the outside world without my protective cloak. It was, initially, disconcerting to listen to my voice, as it had been purposely silenced for so many years. But, I soon became accustomed to it and liked what I heard (and I haven't stop talking since) :-)
My divorce from the Masker coincided with my decision to adopt a more pro-active approach to my stutter. This involved, inter alia, total non-avoidance (including zero-tolerance to word substitution) and extensive expansion of my comfort zones.
I am of opinion that some forms of technology can work to the disadvantage of persons who stutter, particularly where their use fuels avoidance. The Internet and text messaging certainly fall within this category. However, I would like to make it abundantly clear that I am not in any way criticising such usage - I'm merely making an observation.
It would be improper of anyone to question the motives of those PWS who lean upon technology for assistance. It's entirely their choice. Who can blame those who wish to avoid the adverse reactions that sometimes occur, simply because we are unable to communicate in a manner that is acceptable to some sections of the community? Who can blame those who wish to escape ridicule, isolation or lack of respect? Who can blame those who wish to avoid the erroneous perception that they are of a nervous disposition, uneducated or unsociable? Who can blame those who simply wish to converse with a friend; commence a relationship; or contribute to discussions at work, school, or social events?
We should never berate ourselves for indulging in avoidance. So many people evade things that cause them fear or discomfort. Such behaviour is not exclusive to PWS.
My decision to discard the Edinburgh masker, while simultaneously attempting to deal with the issue of avoidance, was generated by a desire to gain independence from the support that both had provided for so many years. Those dual crutches (I certainly consider avoidance to be a crutch) served me well for so long. But, having been supported for such a lengthy period, I finally wanted to stand on my own two feet. I wanted to walk unaided through life.
Relinquishing the Masker, and choosing to say the words of my choice, irrespective of the consequences, proved to be so liberating. I felt that I had finally broken free from the debilitating oral shackles that inhibited me since childhood.
I wish to stress that the route that I have taken is unique to me. We all come from different backgrounds; possess different personalities; have encountered different life experiences; and accumulated different degrees of emotional baggage. We also set out from different starting lines, and have different aims and aspirations.
I am not, in anyway, suggesting that others should attempt to follow the path I have trodden. That was my choice and mine alone -- it was what I wanted to do. We each have to accept responsibility for our own journey through life, and make whatever decisions we feel are pertinent, in accordance with our individual circumstances.
Whilst readily acknowledging that technology can have a positive effect upon the life of a PWS, I also firmly believe that there are occasions when it may be less than positive. That is why I feel it is healthy for us to take time to examine our attitudes towards, and the use of, such items.
If we simply take possession of a prosthetic device, and confine ourselves to our safe environments, then we will, forever, retain our fears of speaking in more challenging situations. If we continue to practise approach avoidance, then we will continue to have self-limiting beliefs about the words, and situations, from which we choose to shelter.
In my view, prosthetic devices should not be viewed as a 'quick-fix' or a 'cure'. I feel that they are best used (perhaps in conjunction with some kind of therapy, approach, or stuttering management) to assist the wearers to challenge their fears/self-limiting beliefs and expand their comfort zones. As I discovered, there is a need to change the stuttering mindset.
Our thoughts and actions are shaped by our beliefs and self-image. As long as we continue to hold self-limiting beliefs, or fail to change the way that we see ourselves, we will continue to act in accordance with those beliefs and image.
During my lifetime of stuttering, technology has been both a help and a hindrance. The Edinburgh Masker was, undoubtedly, a valued friend - always on hand in times of need; sharing in my successes and witnessing my tears. Other types of technology have, unwittingly, become foes by allowing me to increase avoidances.
But, even the best of friends sometimes part company. Relationships alter; the attraction wanes; the bond lessens. That's what happened when I made the decision to change the direction of my life. But, unlike most break-ups, we parted on amicable terms - there were no recriminations. I will cherish the memories of the time we spent together.