Stuttering and Science, William H. Perkins, Singular Publishing Group,
San Diego, 1996 ($29.00 from the publisher at 4284 41st Street, San Diego, CA
92105, 800-521-8545 phone, 619-563-9008 fax)

Review by Darrell Dodge

New books on stuttering are so rare that each one is an event. This one is no
exception. William Perkins is Professor Emeritus at the University of
Southern California. He is not a stutterer, but his book reveals that he has
spent a great deal of time trying to feel and think like one.

Perkins' belief is that the reason a cause of (and a reliable cure for)
stuttering hasn't been found is that the scientific method has not been used
rigorously enough in the search. Whether or not one is convinced of this,
Perkins' review of stuttering therapy approaches and their scientific
failings, and his discussion of the nature and causes of stuttering provide
some rich food for thought. One of his major contributions here is a new
point-of-view regarding the method for distinguishing stuttered versus
non-stuttered speech, which has bedeviled researchers for some time. He
defines stuttering as "the experience of losing control of the speech
mechanism," and goes on to place his trust in the stutterer--rather than the
non-stuttering observer--to determine when the subject has stuttered. Perhaps
just as importantly, he points out that stuttering can only be understood at
the level of the individual, rather than in the aggregate. In other words, he
suggests that to find a cause (or causes) of stuttering, one must look at
individual stutterers first and draw broad conclusions only after many
individuals have been studied. This is particularly important for treatment,
where the therapist and the client must begin to understand how the
stuttering mechanism operates in the individual before there is a real hope
of making progress.

To assist in developing new hypotheses with which to challenge current
researchers, Perkins places people who stutter into two broad categories,
based on his own experience as a therapist for hundreds of stutterers:
1)"transient stutterers" who primarily seem to have trouble initiating
syllables, and 2) "chronic stutterers" who experience fluency breakdowns in
the middle of syllables.

While Perkins is adept at setting forth the rationale for both genetic and
psychological (or environmental) causes of stuttering, his hypotheses come
down on the side of those who think that the cause of stuttering is primarily
psychological. While I don't particularly buy this [NOTE: I think it's a
combination of nature/nurture that can vary from individual to individual],
Perkins does provide a good sample of the rationale for this view. It is all
the more telling when Perkins provides some anecdotal "evidence" for this
view which clearly demonstrates his subjectivity, as when he interprets a
talkative stutterer's domination of conversations as proof that his
stuttering is a "covert means of being assertive;" which could be a fine case
of projection on Perkins' part.

His most controversial hypothesis is that a predisposition to stuttering
requires an experience of helpless terror in early childhood related to the
sound of one's voice (specifically, being habitually ignored while crying.)
This seems to overlook the possibility that a feeling of helplessness could
come from the very act of stuttering in early childhood.  Not to mention the
potential needless pain this theory could cause to parents of people who
stutter if it is not true.

Perkins' compassion and respect for people who stutter is evident throughout
this book and, together with the air of open inquiry he provides, makes it
easier to keep an open mind about even those hypotheses with which one may be
somewhat skeptical.

- Darrell Dodge
added April 24, 1996