VOLUNTARY STUTTERING By Bryng Bryngelson
originally from Bryngelson, Bryng, "Voluntary stuttering," The Professional Discussions of the Ninth Annual Convention of the American Speech Correction Association, 1934, Vol. 4, pp. 35-38.
Many various causes of stuttering have been listed in the literature from time to time. Likewise, a variety of treatments has been described. But I know of no method which does not consider the emotional factors in stuttering. Most of the clinicians handling stutterers agree that the stutterer does experience mental distress of one sort or another. Many people believe that the mental aberrations are of etiological significance, and others, few in number, believe that the emotional deviations are the natural results of a disintegrated speech function. The latter group holds to the neurological considerations as the basis in the etiology of stuttering, and contends that the emotional maladjustments of the stutterer, as revealed in a clinical situation, are the results of his inability to speak fluently.
Until very recently I have faithfully followed the contentions of this latter group. However, during the past seven years, I have had occasion to study some 2,000 stutterers, ranging in age from two years to sixty-two years, and I find that I must modify my beliefs about the physiological nature of stuttering.
Indeed, there are many stutterers who possess neither anxiety nor fear in relation to their broken rhythms in speech. This situation I have found to be quite prevalent in children, as well as in adults, who have stuttered since the onset of speech. It is an interesting observation that these folk show no marked abnormal reactions to anything about themselves or to their environments in general. They meet the requirements of well-adjusted personalities. This past year, I have studied more than fifty stutterers, both mild and severe in character, who do not desire treatment of any kind. They passed through the lower grades in school with stuttering speech, but suffered no hardships, and developed no conflicts or sensitivity. They were quite well aware of their differences in speech but had never felt the need of help. I have likewise studied children between the ages of two and ten, to whose parents the stuttering was of great concern; but to whom, personally, stuttering was just a way of talking. I am trying to point out that not all stutterers need mental hygiene therapy, and moreover, because they are adjusted to their stuttering, they may never come to a clinic for any kind of treatment.
On the other hand, there are those who are decidedly sensitive about the fact that they stutter. I would be unwilling to say whether or not this group is in the majority. But this type of case usually gets into a training situation, either through voluntary decision on their part, or through the common avenues of suggestion and advice from parents, teachers, and friends.
There is a possibility, not too remote for consideration, that research in the future will warrant one to conclude that the fact of sensitiveness on the part of the stutterer is dependent upon inherent factors of the nervous system, predisposed by heredity. If the child does not come into the world with a predisposition to react nervously to a stutter, he may continue to stutter for many years without showing any unusual reactions to it. It is becoming more and more positive to me that a child will not become sensitive to his stutter unless he inherits a neuropathic disposition. In the family studies we have made at the University of Minnesota there are excellent examples of this condition. We have stuttering siblings, one of which will take the stuttering very seriously, and the other show no concern whatsoever. Then, too, the sensitive child is often reared by very well adjusted parents. The environmental conditions may not be altogether responsible for such differences.
So much by way of introduction. In this paper I desire to discuss a type of therapy, which has come to be called Voluntary Stuttering. It serves many useful purposes, as it has a great significance for the maladjusted stutterer and can also be used in the treatment of the well-adjusted stutterer.
As I intimated earlier in this paper, I belong to the minority group of speech pathologists who believe that stuttering is a deep-seated neurological disturbance of the central nervous system. Dr. Lee Travis of the State University of Iowa, the leading exponent of the theory of cerebral dominance, describes stuttering as a conflict between higher and lower neural levels. The stutterer's brain lacks a dominant gradient of excitation in one cerebral hemisphere of sufficient potentiality to integrate the bilateral structures of speech. In the act of stuttering, says Travis, cortical control is lacking, and the speech function is under the dominance of subcortical levels. In the treatment, then, of any case of stuttering, we believe that one should aim at setting up a center of speech control on one side of the cortex, thus relieving the sub-cortical levels of any direct hierarchy over the speech function.
Stuttering is involuntary. The spasms occur at an irregular rate, last for an indefinite time, and are relieved usually, with great difficulty, as indicated by the numerous compensatory movements of the face, hands, and body of the stutterer. In voluntary stuttering, the stutterer is taught to willfully imitate the spasms as he studies them in his own speech. By the use of a full sized mirror he observes his spasms and then tries to reproduce them. No one can reproduce a stuttering spasm accurately, either as to rate or as to form. This fact was established experimentally in research which I carried out in the Iowa laboratories in 1930 -- 31. Therefore, there is no danger of increasing or intensifying the actual stuttering by such a practice of trying to stutter. The neurological advantage of this way of talking lies in the fact that the cortex is exercised instead of the sub-cortical levels. Constant repetition of the initial letter, syllable, or word mobilizes speech energy on the highest level of response and tends to ultimately build a center of greatest dominance in the brain.
It doesn't make any particular difference neurologically, whether one has the stutterer begin with clonic spasms repeating each initial letter of the worth as he reads, or whether he immediately tries to imitate the tonic spasms he has in his stutter. The voluntary drill is fatal, however, if one happens to place a very sensitive stutterer before the mirror and asks him to imitate his spasms, the reality of which has never been apparent to him. I recall the Case of Joe, who was so thoroughly frightened at the sight of his own stuttering that when he was asked to repeat those peculiar expressions and grimaces he ran out of the door and never returned. It is safer to begin with all cases on the clonic spasms and then, after the psychological adjustment to the stuttering has been made in the mirror, one can employ the tonic type of manipulation. An outline of the individual exercises will be listed at the close of the paper.
The chief neurological values of this type of therapy are the following: it exercises the higher voluntary levels; it conserves a great deal of nervous energy which is ordinarily dissipated on the lower levels; and it directs the flow of nervous energy into one center of control as in normal speech. Thus, whether or not a stutterer is in need of mental hygiene, voluntary stuttering is efficacious for his cure.
I wish now to discuss the psychological benefits derived from the voluntary stuttering practice. Obviously, when a stutterer who has tried to hide the fact of his stutter for many years is found face to face with his stutter in a mirror, some change in attitude is bound to be effected. Needless to say, the clinician prefaces the mirror drill with conferences pointing out the need for the adoption of a more objective attitude toward his speech defect. It IS made clear to him that he can live like a normal human being while he is undergoing neurological treatment for his stutter. As a matter of fact, many stutterers are unable to stay at the task of establishing sidedness, essential for a complete cure, unless they can be helped in obtaining a more wholesome attitude toward their stuttering. One of the first assets of the voluntary stuttering technique to the maladjusted stutterer is that it enables him to discard all so-called "crutches," which until now he has been accustomed to employ in order to disguise his defect. I refer to such techniques as markedly slow or rapid speech, talking on inhalation, spelling, substituting, looking into space, or avoiding speech situations. Willfully imitating his myospasms tends to minimize the need for such "crutches." True, voluntary stuttering is a crutch inasmuch as it keeps one from stuttering, but it is a good crutch because it advertizes the stuttering. The activity employs the same muscles used in stuttering, but it does so freely and effortlessly. Through the voluntary practice the stutterer says what he wishes, and fear of stuttering tends to be minimized.
The use of a full-sized mirror aids the stutterer in seeing himself as others see him. He sees the humor of stuttering before others see it. This has the psychological effect of putting the listeners on the defensive -- the reverse of the situation in which a stutterer is self-conscious of his spasms. His former defense mechanisms, through the voluntary stuttering, lose their former true emotional basis. Instead, he makes a very positive affirmation of his speech difference and thus gains control over a speaking situation which formerly baffled and defeated him.
Success in voluntary stuttering brings confidence, assurance, and successful communication to the foreground. The hypersensitivity, with its morbid social implications, vanishes, and the stutterer is for the first time an emotionally free individual, ready for work in a clinical routine fashioned ultimately to rid the nervous system of its dysintegrations, which lie at the basis of the inherent stuttering pattern.
Aims: to adjust the stutterer to his speech spasms, and to enable him to gain more control over his speech.
General rules to follow:
The first sound in each word should be repeated clearly and distinctly several times.
The number of repetitions at the beginning of words should he varied, to avoid establishment of a set speech pattern. Whenever a stutterer has a spasm while using voluntary stuttering, he should repeat the word, using "voluntary," until he can say the word without any difficulty.
In longer words, "voluntary" may be practiced on each syllable. On the initial syllable, varying sound combinations may be used to advantage. (E.g. -- s-s-stutter, or, st-st-stutter.)
"Voluntary" should be practiced in front of a mirror at first. After the stutterer begins to master the technique, he should employ that type of speech not only in the classroom, but also in every outside situation.