Only when the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of change did I begin to alter my life. ---
Dr Grady Carter, Stop stuttering
Alan attended the intensive Passive Airflow course of Dr Schwartz in 1981 in South Africa, and also became part of the self-help group which was created as part of the course. At the time he was a 34-year-old accountant. I include my interview with him as I thought his answers insightful.
How would you describe your speech at school?
Primary school turned me into a recluse as far as my speech was concerned. I remember a specific incident in standard 1. The entire class had to do an oral test. When it was my turn, I went to the front of the class. At that stage the teacher had not seen who was next. He looked up, saw that it was me, and said impatiently: ‘No, not you, I don’t have the time to give up the whole period to you.’
How did you feel about this?
I know that when this kind of thing happens, other stutterers wish they could sink into the ground. I always became furious, however. I wanted to kill the teachers who behaved in this manner.
Because of my speech problem I became very lazy. I never asked the teachers to explain things I did not understand. I was far too self-conscious, and especially intensely aware of the giggling and laughter. It was a mixed school, and my problem became even more embarrassing when I became interested in girls.
In high school I was the class ‘clown’. I learned to give some or other funny answer when I had to answer a question, such as: ‘I didn’t learn it. Was I supposed to?’ The class appreciated this kind of humour and always burst out laughing. I also did less work – I noticed that the teachers preferred not to ask me questions.
What about university?
Tutorials really got to me. One evening a lecturer asked me a question. I pretended not to know and was ordered to leave the class. Sometimes I gave the wrong answer on purpose – if it was easier than giving the correct one.
How did you manage telephone conversations?
I avoided them as far as possible. If I wanted to date a girl, I drove to her house. Then I would tell her that I ‘happened to be in the neighbourhood’ while in fact I may have driven 18 km.
When I did try to phone people, they often put the receiver down after a few seconds. I could not start speaking quickly enough and they would think that there was nobody at the other end. One day it happened again and a secretary put the receiver down. I phoned again and tried to speak. She shouted: ‘Stop playing with the telephone!’ I didn’t try again.
Describe your blocks.
The blocks were ‘internal’. My face and neck would turn blood-red and no sound came out. After struggling for about a minute, a completely unintelligible word would then ‘explode’ from my mouth. People would then often say: ‘Excuse me, I can’t hear,’ and the whole process would then start from scratch.
I would like to add one more thing. I had a brother who teased me a great deal because of my speech when I was young. At one stage I used to hop on one leg to say a word. My brother found this an endless source of fun, especially when his friends came over. When I entered the room, he would amuse his friends by hopping around on one leg.
When did you first have speech therapy?
I was in standard four. I went to a speech clinic in the city. I went every Friday afternoon. I hated it. The treatment included carrying out instructions – for example, I had to keep going to a restaurant to ask for something. I made a fool of myself.
For how long did you attend this clinic?
For twelve years.
What type of therapy did they use?
They called it ‘bouncing’. They try to make you stutter in an ‘easier’, more relaxed way instead of those immense blocks in which you can't say a word. With this in mind, they more or less teach you to stutter artificially, even when you don’t have a problem with a specific word. For example, they would give you a sentence, and then you have to stutter twice on each word.
Apparently some people learn to control their blocks this way. I believe that they are a very small minority. Afterwards I heard that this method can be very harmful. Artificial stuttering reinforces the stuttering habit.
They also tried the ‘sing-song’ method on me. You are taught to ‘sing’ your words. I found it completely ridiculous to start singing every time I got stuck! After a week of this treatment I told them that I was not prepared to carry on with it.
What happened then?
At the end of this period I was asked to see one of the therapists in her office. There she told me that I had made ‘enormous progress’ and that they could do no more for me. She said that I would always stutter and had to learn to live with it. The best thing would be to improve my adjustment to the problem. She recommended private therapy. Consequently I had private speech lessons for a few months. The new therapist also said that I had improved ‘a great deal’.
At one stage I decided to have neurological treatment. Some people at a hospital in the city believed that stuttering was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. They prescribed tablets, but after taking the medication for a week I was so hyperactive that I felt like jumping out of my skin. After two weeks I flushed the tablets down the toilet.
I can summarise the entire story of my stuttering by saying that it turned me into an introvert, even though I am not one by nature. I was forced to keep quiet.
What do you think of Prof Martin Schwartz’s passive airflow therapy now, five years after attending the course?
There is no doubt in my mind. If you work at it and use it correctly, it works. As far as self-confidence, speaking ability and the willingness to reach out and assert yourself are concerned, I have improved a thousand per cent.
How do you see the future?
At the moment I’m not practising; I’m riding a huge wave of self-confidence thanks to the progress I made in the last few years. And I know that if I now work at it again I will be completely fluent.
The rule is simple: Your progress depends on the amount of regular effort you put into your speech.
A few months ago I gave a speech to the local Rotarians. It was about stuttering. I was given a standing ovation.
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