Applying the Technique in Real Life

Stuttering is like a flea bite. You know you shouldn’t scratch it, because it will become infected; you also know you should use the airflow rather than stutter. But it’s so much easier just to stutter, or to scratch where it itches. Having a successful technique is one thing; to get yourself to actually use it, is a different matter entirely. --- Robin, 44, sales manager



It’s not difficult to learn a new speech technique, even though it requires a lot of effort. The real challenge is to apply the technique in real-life speaking situations, when it is easy for your conditioned reflexes and fears to simply take over.

Even so I believe that there is a narrow little path that can lead you out of the world of stuttering. This road wanders between the abyss of despondency down below and the clouds of impatience up above.

The golden rule is to successfully apply the technique at levels of low stress until you have overcome your tension and fear, and then to advance gradually to more difficult stress levels. This principle will become apparent when the various hierarchies are discussed.

Put another way: the idea is to use the strategy of gradual, step-by-step stress desensitisation to overcome your situational fears and stresses. The result is increased speaking confidence and lower base-level tension in these situations.

To understand this, one needs to understand feared or stressful speaking situations. Situational fears and stresses may be acquired over many years, and each type of situation is unique. Someone for whom a telephone does not pose a problem, may experience intense difficulties when ordering food in a restaurant. A stutterer who finds speaking easy while maintaining eye contact, may find telephone conversations a huge problem. Because of this it would be incorrect for a stutterer, who has managed to conquer shop situations, to assume that he will automatically now also be able to speak fluently over the telephone, or when making a speech. Each situation has to be dealt with individually.

It may be difficult to face a stressful situation for the first time, even when using a fluency technique. Therefore the best approach is hierarchical (step by step) – the stutterer initially uses the technique only at lower levels of stress within that situation, so that it is relatively easy to really test and apply his new speaking technique. Success at this low level tends to lead to speaking confidence and fluency, but only at this level. The airflow speaker continues to use his technique at this level until he achieves sustained fluency. Only then is he ready to advance to a more difficult situational level. (This type of approach is sometimes used in the treatment of other fears, eg phobias – lift phobia, claustrophobia, etc.)

Note that this approach exerts no pressure on the airflow speaker to face feared situations regardless of the tension involved. Higher levels of difficulty are only attempted when the airflow speaker feels up to them.

Ideally a therapist would guide the airflow speaker through the different steps. The therapist should develop each hierarchy according to the specific needs of the particular individual. We who stutter tend to be impatient. We want to reach the highest level of the hierarchy before the lower levels have been mastered. Consequently we begin to stutter at a particular level, feel frustrated and reject the fluency technique. The therapist’s responsibility is to eliminate these frustrations.

At this stage it will benefit the airflow speaker to join a self-help or support group for people who stutter. Such support is discussed in the next chapter. Right now I would like to discuss a fundamental and well-known principle in the treatment of stuttering, ie openness, or self-advertising as it is called nowadays.

Self-advertising

The person who stutters (abbreviated as PWS) - perhaps a more acceptable (albeit politically correct) phrase than the rather negative word ‘stutterer’, which reduces the fullness of a human being exclusively in terms of a speech defect – should be prepared to discuss his problem with others, explaining the possible cause of the reflexes and the treatment.

In this way he will be able to get rid of many guilt feelings that have been accumulating over the years and increased his base-level tension. Though many PWS find such openness difficult, those who attempt it will be surprised by the interest shown by fluent speakers. Often the listener will share his own unique problems with you! The non-stuttering public loves ‘winners’, success stories and people who actively do something to overcome their problems.

The spin-offs can be surprising. Prof Schwartz told us a story about one of his clients who implemented the command to discuss his treatment with others in a very special way. He would go to nightclubs and tell women about his experiences as a recovering stutterer. It apparently worked wonders. The women hung on his (non-stuttering) lips and he often took his company home ...

With open discussion the PWS will also encourage greater understanding for stuttering amongst the general public.

It is very important to inform one’s family, especially parents, about the possible cause and treatment of the defect. Parents often experience intense feelings of guilt because of their child’s stuttering. They wonder if they were inadequate in some way - in teaching the child to speak, or in not taking him to a therapist in time. Some of the older theories of stuttering attribute substantial responsibility for the cause of the disorder to the PWS’s parents. Parents should realise that the problem is inborn as well as acquired and stress-related. They are not to blame.

Always remember that stuttering is not a disgrace nor a sin! There is no reason to feel guilty about it.

More openness can be achieved by doing the so-called Education and Demonstration Exercises. The airflow speaker should demonstrate his fluency technique whenever possible to others and explain the theory of stuttering and airflow to fluent speakers. All family members, friends, classmates and colleagues should be educated. This also creates opportunities to demonstrate the technique. Don’t be shy to repeat these things to the same person – people tend to forget what stuttering entails.

If applying for a job and being interviewed, you should briefly explain the disorder at the beginning of the interview and demonstrate your technique. The same applies to oral examinations. Those who explain themselves will most probably experience an immediate lowering of their base-level tension and a substantial improvement in their speech.

An alternative form of education and demonstration that can be used in situations where explaining the technique would be inappropriate, is to prepare the listener for the fact that you will be speaking slowly (since slow speech makes the technique much easier to apply). You could for example say:

‘Let’s talk about this calmly and slowly.’

or

‘This is a complicated matter, so I’m going to discuss it slowly and carefully.’

or

‘I don’t want to become tongue-twisted, so I’m going to speak slowly.’

You get the idea? You may want to devise your own, similar sentences to prepare the listener. Note that the word ‘slowly’ occurs in all three sentences above. This prepares the listener for your slow speech.

At his workshops Schwartz gave each attendee a lapel button with the wording: ‘I am an expert on stuttering – ask me any question.’ Attendees were encouraged to wear this button whenever possible, and at least for one hour per day. In fact some people found that they hardly stuttered when wearing the button, if only because it introduced them as people who stutter, thereby reducing their tension levels.


Exercises for using the technique in real life

The following exercises are specifically aimed at helping you use the technique in real-life situations. Remember this important rule: Practise those situations which you find difficult – don’t waste your time with situations you have already mastered.

At this stage less time should be spent on basic exercises such as the Reading Exercises (see previous chapter). Focus on the following:

Target Person Exercise

Every day you should choose somebody you want to or have to speak to, eg a café owner, a colleague, a friend, etc. Decide to use the technique only once during your conversation, at the beginning of a sentence. If it works, gradually try to use the technique more than once in the course of the conversation. Record details of the conversation in the Practice Report (see next chapter).

The Target Person Exercise is extremely important and effective and builds a bridge between fluency in a controlled situation and applying the technique in everyday life.

Intensive Interval Exercise

Choose a short period of time (two or three minutes) during office hours, school, a party, etc in which you make a point of using the technique all the time. Anyone who talks to you during this time becomes a Target Person (see the previous exercise). If you have a digital watch, use its hourly alarm signal to remind you of Intensive Intervals.

Ideally the intensive periods should become longer, with more people becoming Target Persons. Eventually these distinctions will no longer be made and the technique will be used in every conversation.

Appointing a monitor

The monitor is someone appointed by you to ensure that you use the technique. The more monitors, the better. A monitor can be your spouse, family member, friend, colleague, etc. It is important that you train the monitor and show him the technique. A good monitor realises his value for the PWS and strictly adheres to the task at hand. He should not hesitate to indicate to the airflow speaker when he fails to use the technique and stutters.

Reading Exercise in the presence of one or more people (eg the monitor)

Toughening Exercise

This exercise, usually done within a self-help group, teaches you to resist speaking pressure. A fellow airflow speaker, therapist or anybody else peppers the airflow speaker with questions aimed at exerting as much pressure on him as possible. The airflow speaker should: i) remain cool ii) wait a second iii) inhale slightly and iv) answer the question with the aid of the technique, ie slowly and with the required airflow. The answer should be a complete sentence and be recorded for evaluation. The questioner should make a point of occasionally interrupting the speaker, who then stops immediately and pauses briefly before answering with the aid of the technique.

Reverse Toughening Exercise

Similar to the ordinary Toughening Exercise, but with the difference that it is now the turn of the airflow speaker to ask the questions, and to interrupt any answers with new questions.

These Toughening Exercises are useful preparations for actual social conversations where people usually interrupt one another all the time.

In a self-help group, Toughening Exercises tend to degenerate into playing the fool, so keep the questions serious! Participants could pretend that the airflow speaker is applying for a job or being questioned by the police, a public prosecutor or a magistrate/judge.

Role-playing Exercise

Also best done in a self-help group or with a monitor or therapist. The airflow speaker pretends to be in a restaurant, making full use of the technique to place his order.

Other roles suitable for role-playing include ordering food from a busy air hostess; explaining a problem to an impatient shop assistant; an interview with your boss; a conversation with a stranger who has lost his way; an argument with an aggressive traffic officer, policeman or neighbour; a conversation with a foreign customs official who hardly speaks English; a conversation at a noisy party – you want to introduce your wife or girlfriend to the others; testifying in court; apologising to your dentist for being late for your appointment, etc. Alternatively read an excerpt from a short play.

Specific situations – hierarchies

Let’s now consider the step-by-step mastery of specific situations. Remember that you have to master all feelings of stress and fear inherent in one step before proceeding to the next step.

In this respect there are similarities with the world of sport. A novice golfer who wants to become a champion would not tackle the most difficult courses without preparation. He first practises with friends; he practises holding the golf club and hitting the ball on a flat surface. He doesn’t try to hit the ball into the hole from the bunker because he knows he isn’t ready for this. Neither will he enter a major event – he knows that the presence of spectators will make him tense. Only as a skilled player will he have the self-confidence to play in front of large crowds without being distracted by all the attention.

Developing a skill requires time and effort, and is a gradual process. This principle is obvious, yet many PWS expect immediate success in the most difficult of situations!

It also makes sense to lower your expectations at times and occasionally return to an easier level which you have already mastered and where you can speak with ease. This could become necessary if you temporarily stop progressing – if you persist in trying to make progress, it will only cause stress. Sports people are very conscious of this. A weightlifter will sometimes revert to lifting lighter weights. A boxer showing signs of strain will select easier opponents before returning to new challenges.


The telephone

1. Lie down, or sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, relax and breathe calmly. Place your recorder’s microphone against your lips and record your airflow flutter. Evaluate until you hear the correct flow: soft and passive.

2. Sit next to a telephone. Get used to its presence. Only proceed to the next step once you have lost all fear or stress in its presence.

3. Lift the receiver and get used to this feeling.

4. Dial a toll-free number. Sit back comfortably, even lie down if possible, and close your eyes. Return the receiver without speaking. Repeat this every day until you lose any fears of dialling.

5. Dial another toll-free number. As soon as someone answers, exhale calmly without speaking. Return the receiver. Repeat several times and record the airflow. If you don’t hear a passive airflow, repeat until it can be heard on the recording.

6. Breathe calmly and phone another number. If someone answers, exhale calmly, think ‘rest’ and softly say the word ‘may’. Record it. Return the receiver. (Don’t worry or feel guilty about inconveniencing the listener. You’ve had your share of problems with telephones, and others have had their share of causing you problems with telephones. Now it’s their turn to be a little inconvenienced! It is in your interest to do this exercise. Most people would anyway be sympathetic if they knew they were helping you with your exercises.)

7. Evaluate the passive airflow and the slow first syllable. If you haven’t applied the technique correctly, repeat the exercise. If your technique is satisfactory, continue with the next step.

8. Dial another number and say a short sentence starting with the word ‘may’, eg ‘May I speak to Mr Simon?’ Record and evaluate. Repeat if you did not apply the technique correctly. Listen to your tone of voice. Was it too high? Decide to use a lower tone next time. If you are satisfied with your technique and if you’ve done the exercise lying down, do the exercise in a normal sitting position.

9. Repeat such telephone calls for twenty minutes each day. Record and evaluate yourself. Use longer sentences and different words.

10. Now use the Yellow Pages until you master these calls. Next, proceed to the smalls in the classified section of the newspaper, private calls and business calls.

11. Continue with the telephone exercises until all telephone-related stress has disappeared.

Instead of using toll-free numbers, you can begin by phoning your therapist, monitor, fellow PWS, friend, family member, etc.

It is very important to speak softer during telephone conversations. Some people speak too loud on the telephone, probably because the listener is physically distant. In fact the microphone of most telephones are highly sensitive. If the connection is bad, however, it helps to keep your lips as close to the mike as possible.

Before making a difficult telephone call, it may help to record yourself as you say your sentences into a dead receiver. In fact all calls that may cause problems should be practised in advance if possible.

Telephones can be used for a variety of exercises. They can be of special benefit to those living in rural areas far from other PWS or therapists, and can be used to phone these people for daily reading, description, toughening and other exercises.

Severe telephone fear / stress can be overcome by doing all reading and other exercises into a dead receiver. In this way one gets used to the telephone’s presence and gradually associates it with the technique.

The following telephone exercise will help you to resist communication stress (the pressure to be heard and understood). PWS usually find it difficult to respond to remarks such as ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you!’, ‘Speak up, please!’, ‘What?’, etc. These problems can be dealt with in the following way:

1. Dial a toll-free number. When someone answers, be inaudible or mumble on purpose, but use your technique.

2. When the other person says ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you!’, use the technique again, but speak unclearly.

3. When the person repeats his complaint, speak audibly – still using the technique. In this way you will learn to resist this type of pressure and stress. This exercise puts YOU in control of what is heard. This feeling of control is very beneficial for PWS.

Ordering in a restaurant

1. First use role-playing (see above) to practise this situation. Let your monitor / therapist / fellow PWS act as a ‘waiter’. Record to assess if the technique was used.

2. Go to a restaurant – preferably with your monitor or therapist – and order something simple. Use the following strategy: Make eye contact with the waiter, lower your eyes to the menu, use the technique (in particular ‘thinking rest’), slowly say the first syllables and only resume eye contact with the waiter once you are already speaking. Contrary to common wisdom in stuttering circles, lowering your eyes is sometimes necessary because maintaining eye contact could distract your attention from the technique.

3. Try more complicated orders, gradually without your monitor.

4. Eventually try to engage the waiter in conversation.

5. The final step is to eat out with friends or family and to order on their behalf.


Public speaking and making speeches

‘Public speaking’ means conversation with more than one listener. The highest level of this hierarchy is making a speech in front of a large audience. The following strategy will be useful in these situations:

1. When in a lift with a friend, make a point of speaking just loudly enough for others to hear you. Or speak loudly enough so that the driver can hear you if you and a friend take a taxi. Use your technique. This, too, is public speaking.

2. If you want to address a group, start with small groups, perhaps at work. Practise the speech in advance. Decide exactly what you want to say and study the subject to eliminate the stress of uncertainty. Try practising in front of friends or family. Gradually increase the number of people listening to you. Record the speech and evaluate the extent to which you used the technique. Repeat the exercise until your technique is perfect. Try practising in the actual hall/room where you will be speaking.

3. If you are an advanced technique-assisted speaker, you should join a public speaking society such as Toastmasters. Your first speech should be about stuttering and your technique, and should include a demonstration of your technique.


At work

1. Demonstrate your technique at work – especially to your boss, if possible – and show how you use recordings during your exercises.

2. Appoint one or two monitors at work.

3. Make labels with the letters SFS (Slow First Syllable), LES (Low Energy Speech) and PFSS (Passive Flow, Softly and Slowly) and paste them onto your telephone and desk. Practise your technique on the way to work.

4. Do your ‘nickel and dime’ exercises (see the previous chapter) at every opportunity. Record and evaluate.


Introducing yourself and saying your name

1. Lie down comfortably. Imagine introducing yourself to different people.

2. Practise aloud, record and evaluate until your technique is perfect.

3. Practise with friends or family; introduce them to one another. Record, evaluate and practise until your technique is perfect.

4. Choose situations where introductions are not really expected, eg when speaking to bank clerks and tellers, and introduce yourself to them.

5. If you have already mastered the telephone exercises, dial a number, for example in the Yellow Pages, and say a short sentence (including an introduction) that you have practised when your call is answered. Practise until your technique is perfect.

6. Continue with this exercise until all related stress has disappeared.

7. If you have problems with saying your name (or any other particular word or sound), you should devote four focused days to eliminate this problem. Use the technique to say your name as much as possible every day for four days (and remember to ‘think rest’). Vary the exercise with full sentences, eg ‘My name is (name)’. Four thousand applications – one thousand per day for four days – should remove much or all of the word stress associated with your name. This is called Mass Practice (see the previous chapter for more info on Mass Practice).

This procedure is based on the reconditioning principle in psychology. By saying your name fluently so many times, you "overwrite" your previous "programming" lodged in your brain. Because of your stuttering in the past, your brain contains "stutter pathways". But when you say your name fluently so many times, you overwrite those stutter pathways and replace them with fluent pathways.

I personally found this exercise, and Mass Practice in general, to work very well. I actually took some days off from work just to practise saying my name for hours at a time. It was one of the best investments I ever made in my life. One’s name is a symbol of yourself; if you can’t say it, it really damages your self-esteem, so it pays to work on this. I know it's a boring procedure, and demanding - but the effort should be well worth it.


Shopping

1. Practise a shopping conversation in advance with a therapist, monitor, friend or family. Record and evaluate.

2. Let your therapist / monitor etc assume the role of an impatient shop assistant. They should speak rapidly, so putting pressure on you. Your aim is to remain calm and continue using the technique.

3. Accompany your therapist / monitor etc to a shop. Talk only to your monitor, but aloud. Continue until you are confident that your technique is perfect.

4. Let your monitor talk to the shop assistant. Join in with a question. Repeat until your technique is perfect.

5. The next step is to INITIATE a conversation with an assistant. Practise this before you do it.

6. Then go shopping without your monitor and start a conversation. Use a standard sentence, eg ‘When does this shop close?’ Ask this question to about ten people. Avoid eye contact at this stage. If you experience problems, practise at home with your recorder and evaluate.

7. If you are successful, try other questions such as: ‘Where is the men’s section?’ Continue to ask different questions in different shops until all stress disappears.


Asking directions

1. Practise asking questions such as: ‘Excuse me, could you please tell me where the post office is?’ while alone and record them for evaluation.

2. Practise this in front of your therapist, friends, family, monitor, etc. Record and evaluate.

3. Practise a question, go to a shop and ask the question to a staff member. Focus on the airflow, not the question.

4. Ask the same question at different shops until you have perfected your technique.

5. Now ask DIFFERENT questions at DIFFERENT shops.

6. Practise until all stress related to this situation has disappeared.


Eventually you can develop your own stress desensitisation steps to overcome specific problems and situations.

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