Suggestions for Adult PWS

(The following is reprinted from TO THE STUTTERER, Publication Number 9 of the Stuttering Foundation of America's series, with permission The book has been translated into many foreign languages including French, German, Finnish, Lithuanian, Flemish, and others. It is available for $2.00 from the SFA. Dr. Williams paper describes the problem-solving frame of reference he believed is necessary in order to change any behavior. JAK)

By Dean E. Williams

     For purposes of this paper, I want you to assume that I am meeting 
with an adult group of stutterers for the first time and that you are a 
member of that group.  My purpose will be to suggest what I think you 
can do to improve the ways you talk.  The major points presented in 
this paper are those that would be discussed and elaborated and 
experienced during the subsequent weeks of therapy.  It is important to 
point out that I am talking to you as a group; for any one person in 
the group, I would direct my attention toward his own special feelings, 
viewpoints and needs.  Because this discussion is directed toward a 
group, it will be necessary for each of you to think through the 
comments made and to apply them to your own individual problem. 
*     *     *     *     *     *
     In working to solve a problem such as stuttering, you must first 
ponder the various ways that you think about the problem for they 
affect, in good part, what you do as you talk.  They affect the 
observations you make, the ways you react inside, and the ways you 
interpret the success or failure of what you have done.  Furthermore, 
they determine, in the main, what you will do the next time you talk. 
     Think about your stuttering problem.  HOW do you view it?  WHAT do 
you do that you call stuttering?  WHY do you think you do it?  WHAT are 
the most helpful things you can do when you stutter?   HOW do they 
relate to what you believe is wrong?  WHAT does not help?  Why?  When 
one begins to ask questions about what he is doing, it can stimulate 
him to make observations about his behavior.  This, in turn, encourages 
him to become involved with the ways he feels, with the ways he thinks, 
and with what he is doing as he talks.  This is necessary!  You cannot 
solve a problem by acting like an innocent bystander waiting for 
someone else to answer questions that you never thought to ask.  It is 
YOUR problem and you must face it.  Perhaps I can help stimulate you to 
consider your own beliefs by relating examples of how a few other 
stutterers of different ages have viewed their stuttering.  In my 
opinion, the ways they talk about the problem change in relation to the 
number of years they have attempted to cope with it.  
     The seven-to-nine-year-old stutterer is apt to be confused and 
bewildered by the ways he talks and by people's reactions to it.  One 
second grade boy reported that when he was in kindergarten and first 
grade he had repeated sounds a great deal.  People called it 
"stuttering."  Now, he tensed and "pushed" to get the words out so he 
wouldn't  "repeat," or "stutter," as he understood the meaning of the 
word.  Now, people were calling the tensing and pushing "stuttering."  
He was confused!
     A 9-year-old typically held his breath, blinked his eyes and 
tensed his jaw.  This, to him, was his stuttering.  One day he began 
taking quick breaths and then blurting the word out quickly.  He 
reported that he was doing this so he wouldn't  do the holding of 
breath and other behavior mentioned above.  People were still reacting 
to that as "stuttering."  He was bewildered.  The children were doing 
certain behaviors in order to "help them get the words out,"  and those 
behaviors were called stuttering.  When they did something else in 
order to not do those behaviors, people also were calling that 
stuttering too.  Their only recourse, then, was to do something else so 
they wouldn't do what they just did.  Does this sound confusing?  It 
was confusing to the children too!  Yet, one can observe the same 
behavior in adults.  When was the last time that you did something 
similar, for example jerking your head backwards, so you would not 
tense you jaw and prolong a sound?
     Children in their early teens often report more magical beliefs 
about stuttering than do the younger children.  When some 12 or 13-
year-olds were asked to discuss the question "What is stuttering like?"  
one 13-year-old boy reported that it is like trying to ride an untamed 
horse.  He worried about when it (the "stuttering horse") would shy 
away from a word , would balk at the sight of a word or would begin to 
"buck" on a word.  He felt that the only thing he could do was hang on 
as hard as he could, keep a tight rein on the horse and just "hope" 
that the horse wouldn't be too violent.  Another 13-year-old reported 
that talking was like Indian wrestling.  He constantly had to strain 
and to struggle so that his opponent (his stuttering) didn't get the 
best of him.  As he talked, he tried to overpower it.  The children 
talked as if they had to fight AGAINST their "stutter".  Their 
"stuttering" was an adversary with a mind of its own, and in most 
instances, they were afraid that it was stronger than they were.  With 
this viewpoint, then, it is quite natural for the child to feel that he 
has to tense, to struggle, and to use his muscles to fight the 
"stutter".  It has been my observation that adults who stutter 
generally do the same thing, although they may not explain so vividly 
the reasons for doing it.  
     As adults, you probably have stuttered for many more years than 
the children just discussed.  Whereas they still are actively trying to 
"explain" to themselves the reasons why they tense and struggle, you 
may have forgotten to ask "Why?" anymore.  You no longer question the 
necessity or helpfulness of doing the tensing or head jerking or eye 
blinking that you do.  You just accept it as part of what you, as a 
stutterer, HAVE TO DO to talk.  This is unfortunate because then you do 
not direct your attention toward observant, studying, and experimenting 
with what you can do in order to talk without the tensing and 
struggling.  Yet, you CAN learn to talk easily and effortlessly.  
     There is nothing inside your body that will stop you from talking.  
You have the same speaking equipment as anyone else.  You have the 
ability to talk normally.  You are doing things to interfere with 
talking because you think they help.  You tense the muscles of your 
chest, throat, mouth, etc., in an effort to try and fight the 
"stutter".  Yet these are the same muscles that you need to use in 
order to talk.  You can't do both at the same time because you only 
have one set of muscles.  Therefore, it is extremely helpful to begin 
studying what normal speakers do as they talk.  This is what you want 
to learn to do.  Observe carefully the way they move their mouth, lips 
and jaws as there are talking.  Then, sit and talk in a room by 
yourself, or read in unison with someone else and study the feeling of 
movement as you talk.  There is a certain "just right tensing" that you 
do as you move your jaw and tongue and lips.  Study it!  This is what 
you want to do when you talk.  Now begin to look at what you do to 
interfere with talking when you do what you refer to as your 
"stuttering."  If you begin to hold your breath or tense your jaw, for 
example, you cannot move as easily as you must do to talk the way 
normal speakers do.  In short, you need to develop a sharp sense of 
contrast between what you are doing that you call "stuttering" and what 
you do as you just talk easily.  Use a mirror or a tape recorder to 
help you observe what you are doing.  Above all, get a feeling deep in 
your muscles of the movements involved in easy talking.  Then you can 
become much more alert to what you are DOING (not what's "happening" to 
you) as you tense and interfere with talking.  
     After careful observation and practice of what you do as you talk 
easily and on-goingly, as opposed to interfering with talking by 
tensing, stopping, or speeding etc., enter a few speaking situations 
that are not so threatening that you cannot observe your behavior.  It 
has been my experience that ordinarily the person observes that he gets 
scared, or he gets a "feeling"  that he was going to stutter, and he 
tenses.  What is this feeling?  Work to be able to tolerate it so you 
can observe it carefully.  Enter more speaking situations.  Answer some 
questions.  To what is the feeling similar?  Does the feeling ALONE 
make you unable to talk?  Or, do you tense when you begin to experience 
the feeling?  When you start to talk do you pay attention to what you 
want to do (the movement you want to make) or are you attending to the 
"feeling" waiting for it to tell you whether you will be able to talk 
or not?  Study the feeling.  If you study it in various situations as 
you are talking you will become aware that it is a feeling that is in 
no way special from any other feeling of fear or embarrassment, etc.  
It is very normal.  However, it is a feeling to which you have learned 
to react by tensing, or by speeding or slowing your rate.  Essentially,  
you react to it by DOING extra muscular activity than is necessary to 
do in order to talk.. When you become aware that the struggling 
behavior you call stuttering is something that you are DOING as you 
talk, and not something that magically "happens to you," you are in a 
very good position to begin to change what you are doing as you talk so 
that you can talk easier.  Then, you can begin to talk by starting to 
move easily, being willing to experience the feelings that you may 
feel, but to continue moving easily.  You can tolerate a few bobbles as 
you do this.  Then, you can begin to see that there is a way out of 
this jungle.  There is a reason to become optimistic because it is 
within your ability to do it.  It's essentially a problem of learning 
to just "let yourself talk."  You have learned to do too much.  You do 
things to interfere.  Learn by observing and experimenting that these 
things do not help.  Talking is essentially easy ongoing movement of 
the jaw, tongue and lips, etc.  Tensing unnecessarily only gets in your 
way.  Your success in countering the excessive tensing as you talk will 
depend upon two factors.  The first involves the thoroughness with 
which you come to understand that there is no "stuttering" to be 
FOUGHT, AVOIDED or CONTROLLED, other than the tensing you, yourself, 
perform.  Once you understand this as you talk, your own tensing 
becomes a signal for you to begin reacting constructively by 
immediately easing off on the tensing and attending to the easy on-
goingness of talking.  
     The second involves practice.  You must practice talking easily as 
you would practice typing or playing the piano easily and on-goingly 
even though you had a feeling in your stomach or chest that you might 
"goof" it at some point.  Then, expand your speaking situations--and 
practice--until you can talk comfortably at any time you choose to 
     This is the beginning of therapy for you.  From now on, it is up 
to you!