I have a master's education in speech-language pathology, with clinical and research experience in fluency disorders. Also I am a person who stutters, with extensive personal familiarity with a diversity of approaches to stuttering treatment, and have been active for decades in the stuttering self-help movements of various national and international associations. It always piques my curiosity whenever anyone announces a "breakthrough" discovery in stuttering theory or treatment, and claims to be introducing a novel quick-to-learn method for total and permanent elimination (effectively a "cure") of the disorder.
Such claims are not uncommon in the field, and it is always important to thoroughly and critically assess them when they appear. In many cases the author of such a claim (or director or founder of the originating clinic) strains all credulity by seriously insisting that their program is the only truly valid one in the world, or at least the very best one in the world, and that there is no reason on earth for a person who stutters to try any approach other than their own program. Here is one such example meeting all these points, a highly controversial program known as "Etalon".
Given the nature of this book's monumental stratospheric claims ("Stuttering Solved!", "Definitive Scientific Solution for Speech Perfection", "the first 100% effective, science-based complete Speech Education Program for the Elimination of Stuttering", "100% success guarantee to end anyone's stuttering forever", "every program graduate, who became stutter-free after only three days"), this little expensive volume, on the whole, does not stand up to critical scrutiny.
To be fair, there are some individual sections of the book that are helpful and worthwhile, and I will carefully note those during the course of this review. But much of the text is seriously flawed and hugely disappointing.
[I admit that I am biased in favor of science - any new theory concerning stuttering must be fully consistent with established scientific knowledge, or if not, must provide strong convincing refutations of prior research conclusions. I also believe it is important to analyze the methodologies of programs with reference to the more common treatment approaches that have been successful with many who stutter. Generally speaking, even programs that claim to be totally new and original have significant points in common with other treatment paradigms.
In addition I am convinced that no particular program or approach is the ideally suitable one for everyone who stutters. A program or approach that may be greatly beneficial for one person may not be the best fit for another. We who stutter are all different, and each who stutters must find their own way.]
That the material presented here is "scientific" or "science-based" is the easiest of the author's claims to refute. Deeter asserts that stuttering largely results from failure to learn to speak properly, with speech behaviors that she not only terms "incorrect", but also "immature" and "irrational". At one point she even uses the term "speech retardation". The author (perhaps unknowingly) brings back long-discredited ideas that were in vogue a century ago, when well-meaning "speech correctionists" were often motivated by the belief that people who stutter were developmentally slow in speech abilities.
In so doing Deeter completely denies any role of neurology in stuttering, which has now been thoroughly established through 40 years of scientific research, including a quarter-century of experimentation with direct brain scans. To support her claim that stuttering has no neurological basis, she spends some four pages attacking an obscure 19th-century Russian psychiatrist (I.A. Sikorski) who apparently was the first in that country to suggest that stuttering is of neurological origin, and blames him for instigating a "mass delusion" in the "world scientific community". This of course is not a substitute for providing credible evidence why all the brain scan studies of the last 25 years have been fallacious.
The Etalon program was first conceived by a Dr. Roman Snezhko of Moscow, who the author credits with "solving stuttering" in 1998. Deeter never tires of praising him to the hilt, and places him on a divine-like pedestal. From page 1: "the first one to unite the reality of natural science and the fantasy of religious beliefs in one unique scientific concept". From page 8: "scientist, researcher, medical professional, mechanical engineer, educator, psychologist, spiritual leader, Awakened Master, founder of several new scientific paradigms". From page 9: "He was enabled to discover and explain the natural ... algorithms for everything happening on the planet.... In 1998, Dr. Snezhko made a major scientific discovery of the Anti-Matter Laws of Nature." From page 10: "His exceptional breakthrough scientific developments have no parallel in the world." The author goes on to credit her mentor for "solving" not only stuttering, but also schizophrenia, deficient attention, stress, "speech neurosis", poor eyesight, psychologically induced fears, depression, and "mental stupor".
One would naturally presume that a top-level scientific genius who has solved a multitude of the world's medical and psychological disorders, not to mention establishing new laws of physics, would be world-famous. But an examination of numerous lists of the world's most prominent scientists and psychologists, and even lists limited to prominent Russians, fails to turn up a single mention of his name.
I give the author credit for an entertaining, engaging, and breezy writing style (something which has not been at all evident in her writings in stuttering forums). The book in this sense makes for enjoyable reading, even when serious flaws of content and factual errors permeate the pages.
Using current scientific and clinical understanding as a guide of reference, I'll now fully examine the book's theoretical claims and methodologies, chapter by chapter.
Chapter 1, "How Stuttering Became a Mysterious Neurological Disorder" -
The author, after attacking the 19th-century psychiatrist who kept insisting (quite presciently, it turned out) that stuttering has neurological roots, makes an attempt to summarize the history of contemporary American stuttering theory and treatment by analyzing the ideas of Lee Edward Travis, Wendell Johnson, and Charles Van Riper. She lazily relies on a single secondary source - an article by Dave Williams - for nearly all her information about these pioneers of the field. Numerous times she emphasizes that their reasoning was deficient for lack of future knowledge, as stuttering would not be finally "solved" until 1998. By stopping at Johnson and Van Riper, Deeter's history excludes all the therapeutic innovations of fluency shaping and the scientific advancements in knowledge of stuttering during the last 30 to 45 years.
In the first chapter, we see the first appearance of a false claim that will recur in later chapters, that brain activity ceases during a stuttering block. No brain scan study to my knowledge has ever shown that.
Chapter 2, "What Is a Human Being?" -
The author here claims that her mentor Snezhko "was the first scientist to provide a precise and clear definition" of a human being, and describes this alleged achievement as "ultimate truth". Human beings in this chapter are likened to electro-magnetic systems, and are then characterized as "bio-computers", with a chart comparing bio-computers to desktop computers.
Snezhko is credited here with yet another discovery, the concept of a "focused beam of attention". Supposedly no one had focused their beam of attention on this thought before Snezhko did in 1998, and Deeter describes this "discovery" as "revolutionary" and a "breakthrough". But casual Googling shows that this concept was mentioned in a 1967 scholarly psychological article, even before Snezhko was born. I know I had heard the concept long before 1998.
This chapter abounds in absurdities. Here is a direct quote from page 34:
"Can you read a whole word at once? No! Where will you begin reading a word? From the first letter! How do you read a word? One letter at a time: you direct your attention focus to the first letter and then, move it to the second letter, third and so on ... until you have read all the letters in the word!"
My word! The author believes we all read like first graders, or should. She calls it an "irrational" "reading mistake" to even "attempt" to read a whole word at once. Wow. (I could do that before I even entered school. Higher - and indeed lower - education would simply cease to exist if we all had to laboriously focus on one letter at a time.)
And herein lies another major fallacy: Deeter - or rather, Snezhko, in the mouthpiece of Deeter - likens human beings ("bio-computers") to desktop computers, and adamantly claims that a human being can only focus on one tiny bit of information at one time. But as computer experts know, we human beings have a special ability that nearly all computers do not have - we can take in many bits of information simultaneously. In reading we can scan a whole word, indeed many words, at once. Nearly all computers cannot do this; they must operate in step-by-step fashion, no matter how quickly they operate. They can give the illusion of simultaneity, but only an illusion. Facial recognition is very difficult for computers, but easy for human beings, as it requires processing many bits of visual information simultaneously.
This all leads to yet another "discovery" credited to Snezhko, his "First Anti-Matter Law", which states that two physical events cannot occur simultaneously, only sequentially. Deeter grandly states: "This Natural Law is absolutely true for any physical object or event, without any exceptions, always and anywhere."
No exceptions at all - hmmm. I'm a pianist, and can certainly talk - indeed fluently - while I play. How can I do that, if such actions violate this absolute law of physics? I know musicians who can sing and play the piano simultaneously, with a vocal line very different from the piano part. There is no possibility of sequencing when a voice tone must be initiated at the exact same time as a piano sound. How in the world could this be possible? In an example that many people can relate to: How can people talk and drive a car simultaneously? Here one needs to perform separate tasks simultaneously with concentration on each. (It is also curious that Snezhko as a scientist would use the term "anti-matter", when his concept has absolutely nothing to do with the term's long-established meaning in physics.)
Aha! But indeed a "proof" is offered, via a photo of Snezhko holding his arms outstretched as if he's about to fly, showing that a person cannot move (or flap around) any particular arm up and down simultaneously, except in one's imagination. Well, okay then.
From here, Deeter proceeds into a 10-page explanation of one of her and Snezhko's favorite terms - "stupor", which they claim lies at the heart of stuttering blocks. Snezhko has redefined the word "stupor" for himself to refer to a particular "pathological state" that makes a task "impossible", such as violating his own "First Anti-Matter Law".
It is a most unfortunate choice of terminology. The word brings to mind its own standard dictionary definitions (which Deeter doesn't shy away from mentioning - "state of unconsciousness", "mental dullness", "torpor"), suggesting that people who stutter lack mental sharpness, or may be in a state akin to a drunken stupor, or may be in some way stupid. [Indeed "stupor" and "stupid" are linguistically related, both deriving from the Latin "stupere", meaning "to be benumbed".] Frankly the term is insulting. No other fluency program to my knowledge has chosen a demeaning word such as this to represent the core of stuttering.
And we "learn" that people who stutter deal with many types of stupor or mental dullness: stupor of distracted attention, visual stupor, mentally-visual stupor, auditory stupor, mentally-auditory stupor, tactile stupor, mentally-tactile stupor, smell stupor, mental smell stupor (I kid you not!), taste stupor, mental taste stupor, stupor of constituent parts, will stupor, splitting stupor, memory stupor, learning stupor, body stupor, stupor of violation of physiological laws, stupor of violation of speed (does one get a ticket for this?), stupor of violation of sequence, copy stupor. Indeed just reading all these terms (remember, one letter at a time, according to Deeter's rules!) can easily result in a stupor-saturation stupor.
Yet there is no mention of the physiological and neurophysiological processes that scientific research has actually determined to be involved with the stuttering block. The stupor theory, I admit, is creative and unique. It appears to have no scientific foundation as far as I see.
In a short section which follows, Deeter proposes the concept of "Learn and Live" to replace "live and learn", in order for people to avoid making mistakes in life (and "mistakes" in speech). While this idea is cute and has some merit, she proceeds to warn people who stutter that they need to "choose to learn" correct muscle co-ordination, "to be taken for an educated and well-mannered person in the human society". Those who do not like to co-ordinate such skills, she admonishes sternly, are to be regarded as "lazy" and "ignorant". She warns them to "stop their irrational stuttering living". This type of insulting tone is found often throughout the book.
Chapter 3, "Human Being's Discoordinations"
The author identifies four types of discoordinations involved with stuttering - will and energy for actions, attention focus and consciousness, mind and memory, physical body and muscles. For each one she lists various types of "irrational behaviors", with stuttering the only "irrational behavior" common to all the categories. Thus we find stuttering in the same categories as laziness, procrastination, and tardiness (will discoordination); not completing tasks, frequent mistakes, and forgetfulness (attention focus discoordination); asking irrelevant questions, wrong choices of actions, and forgetting what to say (mind discoordination).
Producing filler words and substituting words are included as mind discoordinations (though I fail to see how clever word substitution can be a product of a discoordinated mind). The physical body discoordination category she does get right; this one includes muscle tension, exertion, forcing speech out, and rapid speech rate, all of which are frequent characteristics of stuttering.
Deeter blames "will discoordination" for "a few" cases of failure of clients in the Etalon program. Just the fact that there have indeed been failures contradicts her claims elsewhere in the book that the program is "100% effective" for "every program graduate". Through my participation in stuttering forums I have also learned of clients of Etalon who did not succeed with the program in the long term.
Like clinicians of many other fluency programs, she blames the former clients for their failures, claiming they did not follow instructions properly. (Deeter follows the paths of many other clinicians and places full blame upon any former program client who happens to relapse into stuttering, not acknowledging the possibility that some clients may thrive better with a different approach.)
"Discoordination of atttention focus" is claimed to be "the primary cause of stuttering" in most who stutter, a "stupor" resulting from "lack of attention to their speech movements", or an "atttempt to split their undivided focused beam of attention". Deeter includes in this category "repeating the same speech segments", filler words, tensing speech muscles, and various "distracting activities", while collectively calling these examples "irrational actions of people who stutter". Repeatedly throughout the book she stamps the word "irrational" on people who stutter.
"Mind discoordination" is discussed next, giving the author an opportunity to expand on her view that people who stutter somehow never learned to speak properly. "[T]heir memory has carried the program of their immature speaking actions from their childhood to their adult life without any improvement", the author explains in full seriousness. "Because of their discoordinated mind ... their body muscles continue to perform many irrational speaking actions in the same way they did when they were young children."
This demeaning explanation, though, is not in any way a new theory. I remember reading much the same information in a medical dictionary written some 60 years ago (though without the "discoordinated mind" diagnosis). It is all too easy to connect the sound of stuttering to early childhood babbling or "immature" speech.
A number of times in the text Deeter refers to parental duties to teach their children to speak correctly, with the implication that it is often the fault of parents if children begin to stutter. This is uncomfortably reminiscent of ideas from the distant past, such as Wendell Johnson's writings blaming mothers for their children's stuttering. The author, to her credit, expressly distances herself from much of Johnson's thinking, but still espouses some similar concepts.
In this day and age, to bring back the old claim that stuttering is caused by deficient learning as a child, flies in the face of known science, and particularly what we know from genetics research. Three times as many males as females stutter. If stuttering was a matter of learning to speak improperly, the gender ratio would be more or less equal. Twin genetic studies show that identical twins show far greater concordance of stuttering/fluency than do fraternal twins or non-twin siblings. This would certainly not be the case if Deeter's theory were correct. Studies also show that when parent(s) who stutter adopt children, the children are not at elevated risk for developing stuttering, a fact which also contradicts the author's theory. Modern genetics studies run completely counter to the ideas of this book, a point that Deeter does not address.
A section on speech muscle discoordination is one of the few portions of the book which seem largely accurate to me. Muscle discoordination is indeed a factor in stuttering accepted by many theorists and researchers. I agree with the author (finally, a quote I can agree with!) when she states that "discoordinated speech muscles can only produce discoordinated speech". If only the rest of the book was as sensible as this particular section, the whole thrust of this review would be different.
Chapter 4, The Harm of Stuttering 'Cure'
The author opens this chapter by again alluding to Johnson and Van Riper, and their influence upon today's therapy programs, which Deeter classifies as either "acceptance of stuttering" (derived from Johnson) or "stuttering management" (derived from Van Riper).
Her classifications are about 50 years out of date. Acceptance of stuttering as an exclusive strategy of stuttering therapy is seldom found today. The 1970's and 1980's brought a sharp divide between advocates of stuttering management (or stuttering modification) and advocates of the newer movement of fluency shaping. Later decades have brought into many programs a fusion of ideas from these once-opposing schools of thought. But on the whole, fluency shaping - in some form - seems to be the more dominant approach today.
The author, however, lumps together stuttering management and fluency shaping into a single category of therapy, which would certainly be news to advocates of either of these approaches.
While she openly disdains the concept of fluency shaping, her program in effect IS a form of fluency shaping - she helps to reshape the speech of her clients with a goal of consistent fluent speaking. (Deeter also rejects the term "fluency", but as the old saying goes, a rose by any other name is still a rose.)
To her credit, Deeter rejects the concept of stuttering "cure", as do the large majority of speech-language pathologists today. She includes a small section discussing her concerns about the medical "stuttering cure" approach, concerns I largely share.
The next section, though, is highly problematic, riddled with errors and nonsensical statements. She expresses her view of the "harm" of "stuttering management" approaches (by which she means stuttering management approaches plus fluency shaping approaches; combined, these therapeutic schools of thought probably comprise more than 90% of stuttering treatment today).
Deeter slams all strategies relating to either stuttering modification or fluency shaping techniques, claiming they "discoordinate the natural mechanism" of the "speaking function", causing "irrational actions" and "stupor". She includes a long list of therapeutic or self-designed strategies and techniques that she considers harmful, failing to distinguish among strategies and techniques that many people who stutter have found very helpful (breathing exercises, sound prolongation, relaxing the diaphragm, focusing on abdominal muscle movement [diaphragmatic breathing], slow stretching), those that can only be helpful ("easy beginning" [easy onset], "calming down"), and those that are likely to result in secondary symptoms or increased severity ("making a certain 'helping' movement" of a body part, beating with hand or fingers, pushing out speech forcefully).
I have personally found diaphragmatic breathing exercises and relaxed calm passive breathing in conjunction with speech to be immensely helpful, and so have many others.
While I understand that not all find this helpful, it does bother me that Deeter condemns this practice as "harmful". I find that relaxed diaphragmatic breathing does not act to "discoordinate" speech muscles, as Deeter claims, but to the contrary helps to co-ordinate them by relaxing the muscles of the vocal fold area.
The author issues a dire warning against all strategies and techniques on her forbidden list: "By following such harmful 'discoordinating' tips, you have destroyed coordination of your own speech even further! In fact, the more you practice these harmful artificial exercises, the more severe the damage of your speaking skills becomes."
Hmmm. When I intensively practiced and monitored diaphragmatic breathing, I nearly always spoke very fluently. This helped me tremendously as long as I intensively practiced daily. If this was doing "damage", I loved the "damage" it was causing.
Deeter moves on to some completely ridiculous assertions. She claims that it is typical for speech professionals to remark to a relapsed client: "Your stuttering is too severe and you are obviously terminally ill." What??
She proceeds to label other stuttering treatment programs as "dangerous", "extremely harmful", and "sect-like" for allegedly "creating" a "continuous dependence" on the therapist. (I have never once known this to be the case, and I've been guided by many speech professionals.) It's ironic to me that Deeter labels other programs as "sect-like", given her own divine-like veneration of her mentor Snezhko.
The author rips into clinicians who reassure their clients that stuttering is not their fault. (So it's our own fault we stutter?) She blasts clinicians who empathize with clients by telling them that stuttering makes them "unique", and that such uniqueness can be accepted. "
But she doesn't stop there in her condemnation of any "feel good" approach or activity.
She pounces on all "Stuttering Centers, Associations, and Foundations", charging that they "reinforce the continuation of stuttering behaviors".
My own extensive experiences with "stuttering centers, associations, and foundations" have been uniformly positive, a view shared by the huge majority of participants at stuttering conventions and conferences. Indeed these events have helped countless people who stutter with their self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-confidence, while fostering a positive outlook on life and a sense of personal accomplishment in having successfully coped with the everyday challenges of their disorder.
The author warns people who stutter "to take personal responsibility for their own undeveloped speech" and for "their own immature vocabulary".
Yes indeed, you read that correctly. Deeter claims that people who stutter have "immature vocabulary", believe it or not. I've known many who stutter with graduate degrees (including doctoral degrees), who are academic researchers or college professors, who are top-level professionals such as scientists, physicians, and attorneys; who are professional writers or public speakers. Yet Deeter believes we who stutter all have "immature vocabulary".
The sheer ridiculousness of this nonsense aside, such an assertion shows that Deeter - who claims to have more than 30 years of speech-language pathology experience - seems not to understand the difference between a speech disorder and a language disorder, something that is (or should be) taught in the first day of speech-language pathology studies.
Chapter 5, "Coordinating Speech Education Program 'ETALON'" -
This chapter consists of an overview of the treatment methodology of the Etalon program. [The author prefers the term "education" to "treatment", but she is providing treatment for stuttering, not university lectures.] These 37 pages constitute the most - indeed the only - useful chapter of the book, outlining the specific treatment methods that Deeter (and Snezhko) have chosen to employ for their clients.
For anyone seriously contemplating Etalon therapy, it would be essential to familiarize themselves with this information to make an informed decision on whether this particular approach (as opposed to others) would likely be beneficial for them. To properly make such a decision, it is necessary to ignore self-serving hyperbolic statements as this one : "Such a professional scientific program for the formation of natural human speech has never existed in the world till the discovery of the ETALON method!"
Practically all the material presented in this chapter has similarities to therapeutic approaches found in other programs (despite the author's repeated claims that all of it is genuinely new, and first conceived by Snezhko in 1998). This likely explains the very high success rates reported by the program, which I have found no reason to doubt (despite the deeply faulty theory alleged to be at its foundation). Generally speaking, the various methods presented here have long-established roots, though specific details and terminology differ from program to program.
A section on "will coordination" emphasizes the importance of a client taking self-responsibility for co-ordinating their own speech muscles. That's good advice, and is the same that is dispensed by nearly all of today's effective fluency shaping programs. But this section is marred by assertions such as "ETALON Program graduates ... turn into fully functional social individuals", as if people are unable to socially "function" if they happen to stutter.
There is also a rather strange passage illustrating what the author considers a mother's proper training of her children in speaking:
"'Look how I am saying this word! Now, you say it like I did. Repeat it again! One more time! Good job! Remember it now! See, you are not a baby, you can speak like a big boy now!' Encouraged by mommy, the boy remembers such a positive outcome ... and continues to always say this word the correct way."
Oh, please. Give me a break. Deeter's implication is that people who stutter are like babies who need to speak like the "big boy" in this passage. How demeaning.
The next section on "mind coordination" informs us that the program includes a focus on teaching correct speech muscle movements for the production of individual sounds, including details of lip shaping and tongue placements.
For some who stutter this approach may be helpful. For others, an overemphasis on articulatory aspects (which people who stutter do not have a problem with when they happen to be fluent) may increase anxiety about specific sounds. Nonetheless, a similar approach is found in many of today's fluency programs.
A short section on "attention focus coordination" emphasizes that one should focus their attention on individual speech movements, one at a time. Perhaps. Similar advice can be found in fluency shaping programs that reconstruct client speech from the smallest speech units.
Does not hold up to critical scrutiny -
The author's following section on "speech muscle coordination" is for the most part competently written. Although not new information by any means, it is a helpful and generally accurate description of the process of learning, mastering, and habituating fluent (or co-ordinated) speech muscle movements.
There are some problematic statements though. Deeter theorizes that due to vowel prolongation, people who stutter "never stupor in singing". If we presume the author is using her favorite word "stupor" here as a verb meaning "block", she is asserting that everyone who stutters is always fluent when singing. Most in fact are, and in nearly all cases, people who stutter have greatly improved fluency when singing. But it's not true that all people who stutter can fluently sing at all times. (I myself have blocked when chanting in public.) The theory of prolongation of vowels is one of quite a few explanations that have been historically offered for this still somewhat mysterious phenomenon.
Deeter's frequent admonition to never attempt to utter a speech sound at the same time as another totally ignores the lip shaping movement progressions necessary for diphthong vowel combinations. Diphthongs cannot be properly produced as a separate sequencing of two vowel sounds. "Ah-ee" is not the same as "I"; "ah-oo" is not the same as "ow". Such sounds must be produced by a smooth fusion of the lip shaping required for the first vowel into the shaping required by the second. Deeter never addresses this point in her book.
Also she ignores the frequent cases in everyday speech when pronunciations of sounds are influenced by neighboring sounds, which speech professionals refer to as the processes of coarticulation, accommodation, and assimilation.
Deeter now proceeds to list and explain a series of six "Natural Speech Rules" which evidently lie at the heart of the Etalon treatment program. Most of these "rules" can be found in some variation or another in many other therapy programs today. A majority of her points would be largely helpful for many who stutter, again providing support for the high rates of success reported by the Etalon program. Good treatment methodology can be often effective even if the expressed underlying theory has no factual or scientific foundation.
1. "Gain conscious control over your speech!"
I agree here with the principle, and with much of the presentation.
The author in this section lays out a reasonable strategy for gaining control over one's speech muscle movements and producing fluent speaking. She discusses the problems of circumlocution (which she calls talking in a "roundabout manner") and word substitutions; advises facing one's sound, word, and situational fears head-on (the same strategy used in most stuttering modification programs); and provides directions in sequentially producing speech phrases being thought at the moment without thinking ahead to future phrases. This is all good helpful advice consistent with the knowledgeable treatment strategies of many therapy programs today.
2. "Never repeat!"
While in theory strategies based on the given advice could be helpful, this section is unfortunately filled with major errors and misconceptions which severely limit its usefulness.
First Deeter reaches back a century or so in the past to resurrect a long-discredited notion about the etiology of repetition blocks: "Children copy this way of speaking after their parents, older siblings or ineffective teachers."
Essentially the author believes in the old myth that children can "catch" stuttering from others.
This is false and ignorant, and nothing in science supports this. At one time this myth was widespread. The exact same view was expressed some 90 years ago by Benjamin Bogue, who ran a notorious commercial stammering school in Indiana. (In his 1924 text, he even warns parents of fluent children not to associate with children who stutter, for fear of "contagion" - at least Deeter has the sense not to carry her ideas to similar extremes.)
Deeter fails to explain why there are many children who stutter who do not have stuttering in their immediate family, but do have relatives who stutter whom they have infrequent or no contact with, or deceased relatives who stuttered whom they never knew. There is certainly no "copying" in these cases. She fails to explain why parents who stutter don't "transmit" stuttering to all their children (and in many cases have no children at all who stutter). She fails to explain - or perhaps is unaware of - a significant finding that stuttering is rare among children adopted by parent(s) who stutter.
The author characterizes sound and syllabic block repetitions as simply a "bad habit", as if they were the occasional stumblings of a normally fluent speaker. She does not seem to understand that there is a difference between mere repetition (conscious or unconscious) within the context of normally fluent speaking, and repetition resulting from stuttering blockage. She tells readers matter-of-factly: "I urge you to drop this really bad habit!", as if telling children to stop sucking their thumbs. If ending sound repetition blocks were really this simple, people who stutter would have discovered themselves how to do it thousands of years ago.
I'm reminded of a little incident that took place some decades ago. Our local stuttering support group was meeting with the author of a recent small book on stuttering, in which he claimed knowledge of how to cure "stuttering, stammering, and similar disorders". (This author never achieved any fame; today I don't even remember his name.) One of the members of our group, a young woman doctoral student, had a stuttering disorder primarily characterized by syllabic (mostly) and sound repetitions. The author at that meeting told her: "I have a little suggestion for you. I hear you repeating sounds a lot. Instead of saying a sound many times, just say it once." We were all suppressing internal chuckles at this simplistic na•ve advice, a suggestion that could only come from someone who lacked understanding of the complexity of a stuttering disorder. The woman, trying hard not to laugh, politely answered, "Thank you. I'll try to remember that."
Another fallacy in this section is Deeter's contention that such sound repetitions are the result of a speaker trying to say an entire word, or a multitude of sounds, at the same time. This is obviously not true. The problem in this type of stuttering is a failure to connect the first sound to the second sound, usually an initial consonant with the vowel that follows. I know of no evidence to back up Deeter's assertion, either science-based or anecdotal. (When I'm blocking on a sound, I know I'm focusing on that particular sound only. I have never heard a person who stutters claim something different.)
The advice that the author gives to a person who stutters who finds that he/she has repeated an initial sound is to stop, close his/her mouth, open it again, relax all speech muscles, and then begin the second sound of the word. I find this suggestion to be highly dubious and self-defeating, as the person who stutters will have then given up on the connection between the first and second sounds, an implicit admission that he/she cannot do it at the moment. The resulting break between the first two sounds would also render the word nearly unintelligible to a listener. I would suggest instead that the speaker stop, relax all speech muscles, and try the word again from the beginning. Then a successful connection between the first two sounds would bolster the speaker's self-confidence that he/she indeed can connect the two sounds in question.
But the most serious flaw in this section occurs in the following paragraph, which I and many others can personally attest is totally untrue:
"The ETALON science has proven that no person who stutters will ever stutter while pronouncing single alphabet sounds.... It's impossible to stutter when you produce one-by-one separate sounds.... Even the most severe stutterer will not stutter. . . . Go ahead and pronounce your Ôdifficult' sounds in a sequential fashion as many times as you want and note that you will never stumble on them."
Hmmm. I guess no one has ever told my vocal cords that. They stubbornly insist on doing what "science" has "proven" impossible. I remember some tough blocks trying to say sounds in isolation. One day in French class during junior high school days, everyone in the classroom had to pronounce a French "u" sound individually. When it was my turn, I could hardly utter any sound at all. I have always found uttering vowel sounds in isolation to others, for example to demonstrate a particular pronunciation, to be quite a difficult task.
Blocking on vowel sounds in isolation, unlike repetition-type blocks, is a form of pre-vocalic locking up of the vocal cords. I and many others with severe forms of stuttering often experience silent blockage before words, where the problem is not connecting the first two sounds of the word, but reaching an enunciation of the first sound itself. It is a form of blocking that Deeter nowhere addresses in her book.
3. "Know what and how to say prior to opening your mouth!"
I can think of a number of people who could very much benefit from this advice (and they don't even stutter!).
This section provides some useful advice for coming up with meaningful and coherent answers to questions while maintaining fluent speech. I give the author credit here for addressing the issue of content when speaking - I believe this should be an important component of all fluency programs, as maintaining interesting content adds an extra challenge to concentration on mechanics of fluent speaking. The advice in this particular section is quite well expressed and generally accurate.
4. "Pronounce each speech segment ... separately and sequentially!"
I basically agree, with some exceptions as I've discussed above.
5. "Produce no more than 60 words per minute!"
This "rule" is surprising. 60 words per minute is much slower than the standard rate of normally fluent speakers, which is more like 160 words per minute, more than 2 1/2 times as fast. At 60 words per minute, there is the distinct danger of producing robotic-sounding speech, unless very careful attention is paid to vocal variety. At the very least, a rate this slow will sound unnatural to many listeners.
The author explains that the extra time is needed for attention to speech muscle movements. Maybe so. But if this rule is included, there should be a provision for gradually speeding up speech over a period of time, as fluent successes continue and solidify, until one's speech rate is within an acceptable normal range. The slow end of a normal range would be around 140 words per minute. 60 words per minute, though, might be a good starting rate, during the initial instruction phase of therapy.
6. "Develop vocabulary!"
As I mentioned before, it's astonishing to me that anyone familiar with stuttering - especially a trained experienced speech-language professional - would believe that a stuttering disorder is associated with deficient vocabulary. As a matter of fact many who stutter have purposely expanded their vocabularies to have a wealth of words to draw upon for substitutions when "needed".
Now comes a section of this book that I was genuinely and eagerly looking forwards to.
In stuttering forums the author had often mentioned that her mentor Snezhko had devised a "new", "revolutionary", and "unique" concept known as the "Sound Matrix". The idea sounded mysterious and enticing, and Deeter frequently praised it as one of the original "discoveries" of Snezhko in 1998, and a testimony to his (allegedly) omniscient genius. The Sound Matrix (English-language version) appears on page 120 of this book. I was looking forwards with anticipation to finally seeing it in front of me, but decided not to jump ahead in the text prematurely.
First there is an 8-page buildup of suspense:
"Just like the creation of the multiplication tables systematized mathematical operations, the appearance of the SI tables systematized Natural Science, and the formation of the Mendeleyev Chemical Element Table systematized Chemistry, so did the development of the unique Sound Matrix Table by R.A. Snezhko systematize Phonetics".
My goodness! I was totally unaware of its central importance in the field. Deeter continues: "Dr. Snezhko has identified three main types of speech movements made by all people on the planet ... 'ringtones', 'simple coringtones' and 'compound coringtones'."
After further preparatory discussion, including comparisons of the learning of writing to the learning of speaking, and additional reminders that "rational" persons cannot say two sounds at once, we finally arrive at the Table itself that so revolutionized the field.
I looked at it. And I looked at it again. And I looked at it again. And then I asked myself: "Is this all it is?"
I turned the page, eager to see if there was anything more to it than what I was seeing on that particular page. No, there wasn't. Hmmm. This indeed is all it is.
The Great Sound Matrix that so revolutionized the field is nothing more than a basic chart of elementary phonetics.
The commonly used English consonant sounds and vowel sounds are paired together and arranged into a simple chart. Each consonant-vowel combination is transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). That indeed is all it is.
And the new classifications of "ringtones", "simple coringtones", and "compound coringtones"?
They are simply new names for old very elementary concepts: "Ringtones" are vowels; "simple coringtones" are consonants; "compound coringtones" are consonant-vowel combinations. And oh yes, there are other new terms as well: "Wispered [sic] coringtones" are unvoiced consonants; "voiced coringtones" are voiced non-nasal consonants; "voiced nazal [sic] coringtones" are nasal consonants.
Despite its simplicity, the table here has errors. A number of common English vowel sounds are omitted. And some of the IPA transcriptions are plainly wrong.
One thing is for sure: This table was not a "new" "unique" concept in 1998. Similar tables can be found in phonetics and linguistics textbooks going way back. I remember constructing a similar chart in the mid-1980's for practicing sounds for fluency shaping exercises.
Chapter 6, "The ETALON Method's 100% Success Guarantee" -
The author proclaims: "ETALON instructors offer a 100% success guarantee to end anyone's stuttering forever". She declares that stuttering is now "solved" (as did Dr. Martin Schwartz who wrote a "Stuttering Solved" book 40 years ago, and as did stammering school director Benjamin Bogue 50 years before that). She quickly explains "what is stuttering" in a handful of lines, and indicates in less than a half-page "how can I stop my stuttering forever". The book then concludes with many pages of success stories, as do nearly all books written to promote a particular stuttering program. Although this point is not mentioned in the book, the author - just in case anyone is wondering - has explicitly indicated in stuttering forums that the oft-quoted "100% success guarantee" is NOT in any way a money-back guarantee.
The author, in response to critical points about this program raised in stuttering forums, frequently refers to video evidence of Etalon clients speaking without stuttering after their three days of "instruction". Many other fluency programs also publicly present video or audio recordings of the speech of their successful fluent clients, especially right after completion of their intensive short-term training course.
That Etalon, like most other short-term intensive fluency programs, has many successful "graduates" I do not doubt. And I congratulate all who have succeeded in the Etalon program and wish them well. May they continue to enjoy their successes on a permanent basis.
I of course wish the same for all the successful "graduates" of the many other fluency programs of the world.
Most such programs, if they have been around for a while, have an abundance of "success stories" that they boast about and love to share with the world. (Each program also has its cases of clients who do not succeed in the long term, a fact which they are reluctant to admit to. Not every clinical approach works well with every client.)
Fluency programs accumulate "success stories" due to their chosen methodologies of treatment and the administration of their particular treatment protocols. Their own expressed underlying theories about stuttering are not of central concern here (though belief in a program's expressed theories can enhance resulting success due to a placebo effect). The Etalon program's successes are clearly due to its methodologies sharing important similarities with the tried-and-true methods of other fluency programs. This is the most positive aspect of Etalon - based on the author's descriptions, there is little that is new or original in the treatment provided, but there is enough methodology included with a long-established positive track record to result in a successful treatment experience for many. In particular, developing conscious control over one's speech muscle movements, together with appropriate attention focusing, is found in nearly all programs of fluency shaping.
But it is most essential to realize that different people who stutter will gain their maximal benefits from different programs and approaches. There is no single program or approach that is ideal for all people who stutter, and it is my hope that in the future more speech-language pathologists will come to realize this basic fact, instead of ridiculously claiming that their and only their approach is the answer for everyone.
For example, from my personal experiences with a wide diversity of treatment approaches, I have found the most success with programs that include a calm passive relaxing breathing technique. Since most of my blocking is pre-vocalic and involves tension in the vocal folds (especially on vowels), I find that a relaxing breathing technique helps to drain all that tension away, and if it's practiced enough, will allow me to speak easily and fluently. Deeter is absolutely opposed to any type of relaxing breathing technique. Therefore I can say with absolute certainty that the Etalon program would not be a good fit for me.
While some of the methodology here is useful, the theory and general presentation about stuttering found within this little volume is, with few exceptions, virtually worthless. It ignores known science and raises from the grave discredited myths from long ago. The author's frequently insulting tone, referring to the "irrational" and "immature" nature of people who stutter, their "discoordinated minds", their alleged inabilities to learn to speak properly as children, their "really bad habit" of repetition - along with a term distinctly related to "stupid" to refer to stuttering blocks, and labelling those who choose not to seek assistance "lazy" and "ignorant" - certainly doesn't help matters.
In the final analysis, given the high price of this book and the clear falsity of much of its information, I cannot recommend its purchase. For accurate information about stuttering, there is an abundance of excellent informative texts about the disorder, available here at Amazon for a small fraction of the cost. Other authors do not ignore science, and do not use insulting language to refer to people who stutter.
If the methodology as described here seems appealing to you, I would suggest contacting the author through her websites. At these sites you can learn more about Etalon, to help make an informed decision. It's very possible that this program (despite its serious shortcomings) may be effective for you. I wish to emphasize that nothing I've written in this review should be construed as a warning to stay away from the author's program. We all must find our own way, and nearly every fluency program - including Etalon - has its share of success stories and enthusiastic adherents.
But be aware that the expressed "theories" behind this program are not accurate and lack scientific foundation. Remember too that there are many valid programs and approaches out there, and if this particular one does not meet your expectations of success, the best choice for you could well be a different type of approach.
The underlying theories as presented in this book merit the lowest possible rating. But the methodologies as described include some worthwhile information similar to other fluency programs, and therefore I raise the rating a notch.