My life long battle and hard fought fluency using technique, psychology and technology

by Geoff Johnston
Balhannah, South Australia


This paper is a good news story: one of hope and encouragement for mature aged stutterers and the speech pathologists who support them in their quest for fluency. My 48 year long battle with stuttering has been both frustrating and exhausting. Some might say it was too late for me to change the stuttering behaviour of a life time. I have proved over the last four years however, that with the right knowledge, application and will to be fluent, and with the appropriate support and encouragement, long-term improvement in fluency can occur.

This paper is the story of my own particular "brand" of stuttering, the factors that I believe delayed my progress and the techniques I have used to improve my fluency. My motivation in writing this paper is that I believe it is critical for other stutterers and speech pathologists to hear about strategies that are being used successfully. It is only with access to this information that we can take control and responsibility for our own fluency and make informed choices about what will work for us.

In addition, I am presenting a message of hope; it is my experience that many adult stutterers (and possibly their pathologists) have thrown in the towel and given up hope of permanent and long-term improvement in fluency.

This paper will cover many aspects of stuttering. I intend to relate my own stuttering history and how my fluency has improved dramatically over the past four years using a combination of technique, psychology and technology. Any successful treatment of stuttering requires attention to a combination of factors; concentrating purely on a fluency technique for example, will not achieve long-term fluency.

This paper expands on the role fear and anxiety play in maintaining stuttering behaviour and how smooth speech and the process of desensitisation using a portable electronic device has turned the issue around for me and has improved my quality of life.


I started having dysfluent speech at the age of about 4 years. My parents with the best of intentions took me to see a speech therapist who informed my family that I was stuttering and labelled me as a stutterer; thankfully current treatment of children is quite different.

I was a sensitive child who liked to please my parents and teachers and I immediately tried to eradicate this undesirable behaviour by trying terrible hard not to stutter. That was the start of a lifetime of trying not to stutter whenever I had to speak. The stuttering (or perhaps natural dysfluencies of a young child), rapidly progressed to a stuttering "disease" with most of the secondary behaviours.

Throughout my life to date, I have tried most treatments including elocutionary, hypnotherapy, psychology, assorted flavours of speech therapy. etc. Most had short-term benefits but none were able to provide me with the control and confidence required to communicate freely in the "real world".

Over the past four years I have achieved improved fluency using a combination of technique, psychology and technology.


I found the most effective fluency technique was smooth speech. Over 12 years I attended four smooth speech intensive programmes. The immediate results were always very impressive but it seemed that no matter how hard I worked at maintenance, the old fears and anxieties returned after 1-2 months and my relapse was always total. I began to think that something was lacking in my personality; that perhaps I was lazy or incapable of change.

I then began to understand more about the impact anxiety and panic was having on my fluency. The many years of negative experiences in most speaking situations always counted against me when I had to speak. I tried to use the technique at which I had practised so hard, but it seemed almost that because I had to cope with the anxiety as well, I had no "brain power" left to do what I knew was required.

Certainly the steps of transfer of smooth speech were too great no matter how small they were.


I tried to use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to relax myself before I had to speak but always at the point immediately before I spoke, the feeling of panic always grabbed me and I was unable to use my technique effectively.

I realised the only way to overcome the feelings of anxiety and panic was to desensitise myself to speaking situations. This is nothing new of course; during the smooth speech intensives the transfer activities although not expressly stated, are about giving us experiences of fluency in a variety of speaking situations thereby reducing our anxiety about those situations.

Desensitisation however, was only effective if I could be fluent in the particular situation. If I was dysfluent that only reinforced the feelings of failure in that situation. A solution that has worked for me is the use of a portable version of delayed auditory feedback.


DAF has been around for a long time and has been used with success in clinical situations. With recent technology however, a portable version of DAF has become available.

It was by attending the 1994 Speak Easy Convention in Queensland, that I was first introduced to a portable delayed auditory feedback device. The device had been used successfully within the USA for a number of years and was the subject of a presentation by Dr Kay Monkhouse in Queensland.

Late in 1994, I began to use the device that for me was the missing link in the fluency jigsaw. It enabled me to use my technique and to control my speech speed in real-life situations. It also made the steps in transferring my fluency technique smaller and more manageable.

As I began to speak fluently in situations in which I would normally stutter severely, my confidence grew and the fear and anxiety associated with those speaking situations reduced.

My involvement in Speak Easy, was also of immense benefit and support during transfer assignments.

To explain briefly how the device works, my voice is fed via the microphone into the black box, delayed by 60 to 300 thousands of a second and then fed back to me via the earphones. By adjusting the delay interval, I can slow down the feedback thereby slowing down my speech because the aim is to talk in time with the feedback.

This device is no miracle cure for stuttering but it does help the transfer of a speech technique such as smooth speech. Although it is possible that a stutterer who has not learnt a fluency technique to be fluent using the device, the device in my opinion is only useful in the long-term as a tool to transfer a new form of speech.

Stutterers need to permanently change their speech pattern if fluency in all speaking situations is to happen. Keeping smooth speech in your pocket until you need it simply will not work for most people.

When I started to phase out using the device in some speaking situations, I quickly became unstuck if I tried to depend on spontaneous fluency rather than smooth speech.


An adult stutterer has maybe 20-50 years of negative experiences in talking situations; the strange looks, the ridicule, the discrimination, the embarrassment. And in trying desperately hard not to stutter, has only compounded the problem.

We hear there is a physiological cause for stuttering, but I believe at least in adult stutterers, a major contributing factor is the sheer panic when we have to speak. Indeed in many ways, "stuttering is what stutterers do when they are trying hard not to stutter".

Somehow the fear of speaking situations and indeed the panic and fear of stuttering must be broken down and replaced by confidence in the success of the technique. DAF helps to transfer the slow smooth speech skills to everyday situations and over time assists with a new mode of speech in which the stutterer has confidence.

I would like to finish by relating a simple story:

A man was outside on his hands and knees below a street light when his neighbour walked up to him.
"What are you doing, John?" his neighbour asked.
"I'm looking for my key, I've lost it."
So his neighbour got down on his hands and knees too and they both searched for a long time in the dirt below the street light. Finding nothing, the neighbour finally turned to John and asked, "Where exactly did you lose it?"
John replied, "I lost it in my garden, but there is more light out here."
The moral of this story is we are always looking for answers away from ourselves but the key is almost always within us..........

How often do we sit back thinking it's all too hard, hoping our Speech Pathologists will somehow "cure" us or someone will invent a magic pill. It simply will not happen; we must take responsibility for our own fluency and understand:

"If it's to be, it's up to me."