A Possible Cause of Stuttering

I realized that stuttering was more than just a physical problem and more than just a psychological problem. It was both. If I stuttered, I saw myself as a stutterer; if I saw myself as a stutterer, I stuttered. One problem perpetuated the other. --- Dr Grady Carter, Stop stuttering

Speech experts disagree on the cause or causes of stuttering. Numerous theories have been presented, and some of them are rather far-fetched. The theory of Dr Martin Schwartz, however, makes sense. It is comprehensive enough to explain the various riddles about stuttering that have been baffling the experts (and that have resulted in a mystification of the defect). This is the theory:

All people are affected by stress, whether they stutter or not. A fluent speaker facing his first public speech will most probably experience tension. Possible signs of such tension could include perspiration, accelerated breathing and pulse rate, trembling, etc.

Stress is known to affect people both psychologically and physically. It can cause muscular spasms in the back, shoulders or neck, often resulting in muscular pain. Some people develop ulcers, spastic colons or tension headaches. The detrimental effect of stress on our health is well known. In 1983 the American Academy of Family Doctors found that stress-related symptoms can account for no less than two-thirds of all visits to doctors.

If person A gets a headache from stress and person B a spastic colon, it could be that our bodies respond to stress in different ways, and that every person has a specific body part or parts extremely sensitive to stress. This is the basis of Prof Schwartz’s theory of stuttering. According to him the vocal cords of two per cent of all people are hypersensitive to stress – in whatever form.

Several important types of stress may affect the stutterer’s speech:

* Situational stress, for example a telephone conversation, public appearances, a conversation in a shop, etc. This type of stress is learned, as are the majority of stress types.

* Word or sound stress. Once again this type of stress is learned and reinforced in the course of time. Often it is the result of word or sound fear. If you stutter repeatedly on a particular word/sound and if you experience the stuttering as traumatic, you will eventually begin to associate that word/sound with unpleasant emotions and develop an accompanying fear.

* Authority figure stress, for example talking to an employer, teacher, preacher, parent, lecturer, police officer, cabinet minister, etc. The subordinate in these social encounters may experience a measure of tension which may affect his speech.

* The stress of uncertainty, for example due to uncertainty about the correct pronunciation of a word (when learning a foreign language there is additional uncertainty about grammar, vocabulary, etc) or appropriate behaviour, for example when talking to strangers or in a new career or environment, etc.

Stress of uncertainty may also play a role when pronouncing unusual words seldom used by people. Many stutterers are extremely aware of vocabulary and prefer everyday and easily understood words.

This is how Hannes, an engineer aged 30 years, puts it:

My speech is much better when talking to my colleagues, because we use technical language with a limited vocabulary. Under these circumstances I have more control of the language and vocabulary. The possibility of ambiguity or uncertainty is greatly reduced.

As speech and ideas are closely related (speech and language are after all the conveyors of ideas), some people can speak with complete fluency when discussing everyday matters, but become stuck when expressing ideas with a low incidence, for example rarely heard thoughts or thoughts that are complicated or unpopular.

* Physical stress due to exhaustion or illness. However one should keep in mind that exhaustion or illness can also distract one’s attention and lead to temporary improvement.

* External stress, for example discovering that your car has been stolen, or hearing that a relative is seriously ill.

* Speed stress plays an important role in stuttering. It is probably the most important contributing factor to stuttering in children and is caused by speaking too quickly. The quicker the speech, the higher the tension on the vocal cords.

* Communicative stress. Communicative stress refers to the pressure on the speaker to be heard and understood. A person’s speech is often better when he says or reads something familiar to the listener and if he knows that the listener is aware of the facts. This relieves the pressure on the speaker to convey the message and reduces his communicative stress.

It may therefore happen that a stutterer says a specific sentence without stuttering, but if you ask him to repeat it, he may experience a block. This happens because the request to repeat himself increases the stutterer’s communicative stress. In addition he may also speak more loudly the second time and this will increase the pressure on his vocal cords. At the same time the aforementioned stress of uncertainty may come into force.

* Linguistic stress. Speech and language are interrelated, and certain linguistic sources of tension may also affect the stutterer. It has been found that most stuttering occurs at the beginning of sentences or words. This may be due to the way in which the vocal cords move closer together and begin to vibrate to form sound when a person begins to speak. The spasm in the vocal cords – the so-called laryngospasm that results in stuttering – usually does not occur once the vocal cords vibrate. This is why a person who has already managed to start a sentence will usually be able to complete it, unless his vocal cords stop vibrating. (This phenomenon has given rise to therapies where the stutterer is taught to keep his vocal cords vibrating.)

Moreover the speaker’s general tension level often drops after he manages to begin the sentence or word. However it can happen that he pauses slightly in the middle of a sentence. This stops the vibration in the vocal cords and makes it possible for the spasm to recur.

Many therapists teach stutterers to pause a great deal while speaking. While this may reduce speed stress, it could result in more laryngospasms. The technique of pausing should therefore be used with great circumspection.

Obviously a person with a low general tension level prior to speaking will not have serious problems. However his tension may increase in the course of the sentence, ultimately causing blocks.

The vocal cords vibrate when vowels and voiced consonants are pronounced. Click HERE for more information on the forming of speech sounds.

Stuttering also occurs more often on the emphasised syllable of a word (as in ‘Thursday’, or ‘Mississippi’). This natural emphasis, and the way in which the emphasised part is said more loudly, increases the pressure on the vocal cords.

Stuttering also occurs more often when saying long words because tension in the vocal cords increases.

Another source of linguistic tension derives from the significance of a word or sentence. Meaningful words or sentences carry more risk than insignificant utterances. Key words such as the interrogative word why in questions, and nouns, verbs and adjectives, are more risky compared with prepositions, conjunctions and articles. In a sense the entire utterance revolves around these key words. The stutterer tends to focus all his attention on them and this increases his tension.

* Speech stress. The physical pronunciation of sounds, ie the physical movement of the speech organs, also contributes to tension in the vocal cords.

* Emotional stress. Feelings of fear, frustration, worry, guilt, etc may also cause stress, as illustrated by the following case study recorded in the Netherlands:

Harry B was a bright pupil and always scored the highest marks in primary school. During his last year the local pastor visited the school and asked the principal who the best pupils were. Harry and another boy were immediately pointed out. ‘So, you are the brightest ones,’ the pastor said. ‘Well, in that case you will have to study theology.’

Three months later the two boys found themselves in a preparatory seminary and after high school Harry studied for the priesthood.

After studying philosophy for a year, Harry developed a stutter. He found that year particularly difficult since he no longer trusted his career choice. He discussed his problems with his confessor, who was sensible enough to refer him to a psychologist. After two sessions the psychologist advised him: ‘You have the makings of an excellent father, but a poor priest. I would advise you to choose another career.’

Harry then joined a large firm. His employer urged him to study law part-time, and in spite of a small salary Harry agreed. In the meantime his speech problem continued, and he consulted a speech therapist. The therapist established that Harry’s mother, who lived in another town, was an extremely difficult woman. She was a widow who expected her employed children to support her. Harry found himself between the devil and the deep blue sea. As a conscientious young man he deeply believed that one should honour one’s father and mother. On the other hand he could not afford the high financial demands placed upon him by his mother.

Fortunately the state instituted a pension for widows during that time, and this provided Harry with the opportunity to cease his contributions. His mother was furious and stopped writing to him. His speech deteriorated further. Only his confessor’s approval of his action succeeded in salving his conscience. Gradually his speech improved. Eventually he completed his studies. He married soon afterwards and fathered two daughters.

(Discussed in P Faber, Achtergronden van stotteren en spreekangst, 1979)

Often, at a given moment, several types of stress such as those described above may influence an individual. The total of all the different tensions affecting an individual at a given moment is known as base-level tension. Base-level tension is the total tension on the vocal cords when a person is not speaking or does not intend to speak.

Figure 1 illustrates important concepts such as base-level tension and threshold:


Figure 1: Speech tension with increasing time.


The top horizontal level represents John’s ‘threshold’, ie the level at which his vocal cords will begin to constrict if his speech tension (the muscular tension required for speech) should rise to that level. The dotted line in the middle indicates John’s base-level tension. Suppose John meets a pretty girl at a party. He knows that sooner or later he will have to say his name, and he also knows that he usually stutters when he says it. As a result his name is one of the words that he fears. Eventually he has to introduce himself. He wants to say the sentence: ‘My name is John.’ When he says the word ‘My’ his speech tension is still below his threshold and he will not become stuck. But as the feared word ‘John’ approaches, his speech tension rapidly increases. By the time he has to say ‘John’ he has already exceeded his threshold ... and he stutters.

Usually the base-level is located below the threshold. When a stutterer speaks without stuttering, his speech tension remains between these two levels. On days when he has a high base-level tension, for example due to fatigue, the margin within which he can speak without stuttering decreases. This illustrates how important it is for a stutterer to keep both his speech tension and his base-level tension low.

THE VERY IMPORTANT IMPLICATION OF THIS IS THAT, IN ORDER NOT TO STUTTER, YOU NEED TO:

 1) USE A SPEECH TECHNIQUE TO REDUCE YOUR SPEECH TENSION SO THAT IT WON'T EXCEED YOUR THRESHOLD, AND

2) USE STRESS REDUCTION TECHNIQUES TO LOWER YOUR BASE-LEVEL TENSION

so as to widen the gap between your threshold and your base-level tension.


The vocal cords

Many people mistakenly think of the vocal cords as a number of ‘strings’, such as the strings of a guitar. In fact the vocal cords are two elastic folds in the mucous membrane of the larynx. They are located on opposite sides of the windpipe. In the absence of speech the vocal cords relax and remain at a distance from each other so that the air for breathing can move freely to and from the lungs.

During speech the vocal cords move closer together, narrowing the vocal slit (the gap between the vocal cords).


Figure 2: The position of the vocal cords in the respiratory tract.


This narrowing and the flow of air from the lungs increase the air pressure in the larynx, causing the vocal cords to vibrate and produce sound.

A stutterer is a person whose vocal cords contract excessively during speech due to tension. The contraction can be so intense that it forces the vocal cords together, closing the vocal slit and making speech physically difficult or impossible. Despite this physical impossibility the stutterer tends to persist in trying to say the word. This causes struggle behaviour, ie the behaviour we call ‘stuttering’. Stuttering can therefore be seen as an attempt to reopen the vocal slit.

This has been established in controlled experiments conducted in the USA. A hundred people were placed separately in rooms with a relaxed atmosphere. They sat in comfortable chairs and were linked to sensitive electronic measuring equipment monitoring areas of bodily stress and the intensity of the tension. The participants were then subjected to a variety of emotional shocks. Responses indicating contraction in some part of the body were obtained in 98 per cent of the participants. Two participants experienced exceptional contraction of their vocal cords. Both had stuttered for years. The experiments were repeated several times using different people and it was established that one-and-a-half to two per cent of all people focus tension in their vocal cords. This tendency is probably inherited.


Figure 3: The position of the vocal cords during breathing.

These people (ie those who have sensitive vocal cords) do not all stutter. They may however start stuttering under certain conditions. This can happen in several ways. For example: A young child has recently learned to speak in sentences. He talks to the dog, when suddenly the door slams. He gets a fright and his vocal cords contract. He wants to continue with his sentence, but cannot utter a word due to the contraction in his vocal cords. He then struggles until he is able to utter the word. The reward for this struggle (ie sound repetition, facial grimaces) is that he can say the word. The next day the child may again be faced with a stressful situation as he wants to say something. The previous day’s experience is repeated: vocal cord contraction followed by struggle behaviour until the word is said. In time this may become a deep-seated habit. Adults who started stuttering in this way are therefore actually suffering from a childhood habit.

Many stutterers start like this. As the child grows older, the stuttering speech patterns become established in his subconscious. The struggle behaviour (stuttering) becomes a conditioned reflex. Tension results in laryngospasm, followed by struggle behaviour and, finally, pronunciation of the word. However the laryngospasm can be so severe that the struggle behaviour fails and no word is uttered (the so-called internalised or silent stuttering).

One must keep in mind, however, that non-stuttering children between the ages of three and five do not always speak fluently. Normal acquisition of speech includes a variety of speech irregularities. Most children outgrow such irregularities. Consequently these irregularities should not be confused with stuttering.


Figure 4: The position of the vocal cords during speech.

Some children start stuttering after the tension that accompanies a traumatic experience such as an accident. The origin of the habit may also be related to other kinds of stress. I know of someone who began to stutter at the age of seven after the family had moved house three times within a short period of time. The natural process of learning new vocabulary and perfecting pronunciation may also play a role in increasing tension on the vocal cords, resulting in the child beginning to stutter.

Most stutterers begin to stutter before reaching school-going age. But others start when they are older. If a person belongs to the group whose vocal cords are sensitive to tension, any traumatic event could, as it were, activate the latent stuttering. For example, it is a well-known fact that the extreme stresses of war have led to some previously fluent soldiers beginning to stutter.

According to some experts it is much easier to cure people who started stuttering at such a late stage – the stuttering is after all not deep-seated. Psychological counselling and the accompanying decrease in tension are often sufficient to cure the patient.

During the Second World War a young Dutch doctor stationed at a marine base experienced a severe bombardment. During a period lasting several days and nights he continuously treated and operated on the injured. After this experience he stuttered for a few months, but it eventually disappeared.


Years later he practised as a doctor in a peaceful rural hospital. As usual he strolled through the wards one morning, talking to each patient, when an ambulance suddenly raced into the hospital grounds, its tyres screeching. The patients could not believe their eyes – upon hearing the screeching tyres the doctor cowered, visibly shaken. He then pulled himself together and stuttered: ‘Wh-wh-what a h-h-h-horrible sssound.’ His dysfluency continued for the next three days.

This doctor had not fully assimilated the trauma of the bombardment. The screeching tyres retrieved the trauma from his subconscious mind and temporarily increased his base-level tension to such an extent that his speech tension exceeded his threshold, resulting in stuttering.


(Case discussed in P Faber, Achtergronden van stotteren en spreekangst, 1979)


‘Internal’ and ‘external’ stuttering

The best-known struggle behaviours in stuttering are sound repetitions and prolongations, as well as the ‘sticking’ of the tongue to the palate, jamming the lips tightly together, etc. But these behaviours do not occur in all stutterers. Some people stutter without any externally visible indication. The vocal cords may contract without external struggling. Alan, who features in the chapter ‘Alan’s Story’, is such a stutterer.

Internal stuttering is more common among adults – as time passes some stutterers, realising that the external struggle behaviour is socially inappropriate, learn to eliminate it. However they cannot control their vocal cords and remain unable to speak in stressful situations.

These people go from the frying pan into the fire. Believing that they could get the better of their facial contortions, they end up in a worse predicament. During the block they simply lapse into silence – and the listener has to guess what’s going on. With an ‘external’ stutterer the listener will at least realise that the speaker has a speech defect.

Traditional speech therapy usually aims at reversing this situation, and attempts to once again 'externalise' the internal stutterer by teaching him to stutter lightly and artificially, eg. by stuttering three times on each word. Some stutterers have been helped by this approach, as the frying pan is preferable to the fire. Many others, however, have not benefited, and the reason is not difficult to see. It is of limited use to try and change the final phase of a well-established conditioned reflex. Far better to prevent the reflex altogether by working at the vocal cord level of the disorder.

Some therapists subdivide external struggle behaviour into clonic stuttering (sound repetition as in p-p-porridge) and tonic stuttering (sound prolongation as in mmmmouse). Schwartz considers these behaviours as mere differences in the ways in which people react to vocal cord contraction.

He tells of an experience he once had when travelling by train. One of the outside doors of his coach was tight and could only be opened with difficulty in spite of the ‘Push’ sign. From his seat he watched as the other passengers struggled to enter the coach. Some repeatedly banged against the door until it opened. Other pushed against it with a single movement until it opened. Clonic and tonic blocks can be explained in the same way.

Schwartz consequently believes that all struggle behaviour results from laryngospasm. It is on this issue that his views differ from those of more traditional speech therapists who accept that vocal cords can lock, but not necessarily with all stuttering. They consequently believe that clonic and tonic struggle behaviour may occur independently from the locking of the vocal cords.


Feared words and scanning

Before continuing, we have to consider issues such as ‘feared words/sounds’ and ‘scanning’. When a stutterer speaks or reads, he may be intensely aware of the words he intends to say. He scans ahead for words still to be pronounced. Unfortunately his subconscious mind (or else his conscious memory) informs him that in the past he experienced problems with some of these words, and they now become feared or difficult words or sounds. They increase the tension on his vocal cords and make stuttering when saying those words a near certainty.

The scanner is yet another device on which the stutterer has to rely in order to cope. By developing a scanner the stutterer can avoid difficult words and choose ‘safe’ words. Unfortunately this process can become counterproductive. It focuses excessively on feared words (thereby increasing tension and reinforcing word fear) and encourages avoidances (we have seen how the act of avoiding a word or situation tends to increase the fear of that word or situation).

Scanners show individual differences. The scanners of some people are extraordinarily active and sensitive, while others tackle each word as they say it, with no concern for the next word or sentence.

Feared words and sounds may change in the course of a stutterer’s life. I once had great difficulty with the sound ‘b’. Afterwards b-sounds became easier to say, only to be replaced by ‘d’.

The existence of a feared word or sound depends to a large extent on previous experiences with that word/sound. If you successfully pronounce a feared word a number of times, you may lose some of the fear and tension accompanying that word. The opposite also applies. If tension causes you to stutter badly on a previously easy word, that word will in all possibility become a new feared word.


Starters

Stutterers rely on several strategies in an attempt to overcome the laryngospasm. Some are socially acceptable. One example is the starter, ie a sound or word usually pronounced to initiate vibration in the vocal cords before saying the difficult word. It is a characteristic of the vocal cords that when they have started to vibrate, there is less of a chance that they will lock. Common starters are ‘mmmmm’ and ‘eee’. Since many normal speakers also use starters, they do not interfere with the flow of a conversation. For example, a normal speaker may say: ‘Mmm, I still think that this, ah, matter is going to cause problems.’

Not all starters are intended to vibrate the vocal cords, however. Some are merely words that are not feared and so maintain a low tension level. Alternatively they may serve as distractions.

As with other anti-stuttering tricks, starters tend to become habit-forming. Also with overuse they lose their effectiveness, so that only repeated starters will work – but these then sound unnatural. For example: ‘Well, well, well, well, well I still feel we should discuss the matter.’ Note that the stutterer does not find it difficult to say ‘well’. The actual difficult or feared word is the one after the ‘well’.

Sometimes the person will also repeat the second and third word to prevent stuttering. ‘Well, well, well, well, well, I, I, I, still, still, feel we must discuss the matter now.’ Yet another problem is that in very tense situations starters may fail altogether, with the result that stuttering begins on the first sound.

Some people possess an incredible series of starters – sounds that once helped, but eventually lost their power. Instead of rejecting these starters, the stutterer retains them while he tries out new ones, as in: ‘Well, mm, yes, uh, right, nn, uh, the, mm, well, yes, man hit the mm nn yes dog.’ In cases such as these the starters have become part of the whole problem through conditioning.


Developmental phases in the disorder

Most stuttering begins during childhood. The first phase is known as the primary phase and is usually characterised by easy repetition of sounds, words or syllables and sound prolongations, with no signs of stress, discomfort or avoidance. In this stage the child has not yet become aware of the problem.

Figure 5: The vicious circle of stuttering

In the secondary phase - the chronic phase - the child has become aware that something is wrong with his speech. This realisation results in increasingly serious struggle behaviour as he tries to say the words. He may experience facial distortions and is obviously tense and worried about his speech. He develops avoidance and distraction behaviour as well as feelings of fear and shame. The vicious circle of tension > stuttering > tension begins.

Typically most stutterers progress from a primary to a secondary phase. Nevertheless the different stages may overlap.

In the course of development the disability may gradually ‘poison’ the person’s entire vocabulary. One could almost call it ‘language cancer’, as consecutive words, sounds, people or situations are gradually associated with the tension and fear of past blocks. For example: the word bite may be a child’s first feared word. He may have stuttered when saying the word during a stressful experience. The next time he wants to use the word, he associates it with fear and tension. Gradually he become scared of all words starting with ‘b’. Now he fears words such as ‘bus’ and ‘bee’. Later this fear extends to all sounds beginning with a sudden expiration of air, such as ‘c’ and ‘t’. It may also spread to other sounds which, like the ‘b’, are shaped with the lips, for example ‘p’. Word fear spreads extremely rapidly, like a linguistic wildfire.

Eventually the individual’s subconscious mind is riddled with conditioned stuttering responses. A specific sound, person or situation may activate the whole chain of associated tension, the ensuing vocal cord contraction and stuttering.

However one should bear in mind that not all tension is learned. Like all of us, the stutterer may be exposed to NEW sources of tension which may result in stuttering.


Four types of stuttering

Schwartz has identified four types of adult stuttering:

* Type 1 ‘Normal’ stuttering, with tension resulting in laryngospasm which in turn results in speech accompanied by struggle behaviour. This is the most common type of stuttering.

* Type 2 Yet again tension results in laryngospasm and the ensuing struggling. However the struggling is not part of speech; it precedes speech. Consequently this type of stuttering allows for fluent speech, though the speech is preceded by struggle behaviour.

* Type 3 Also a type of stuttering where tension results in laryngospasm. However the stutterer does not struggle to utter the words; he keeps quiet and waits until the laryngospasm stops. The spasm can stop in several ways: the person may use some or other strategy to distract his attention from the source of tension, or he may wait until the tension subsides, or he may cough or inhale to free his vocal cords.

* Type 4 No laryngospasm occurs in this type of stuttering. The person’s scanner warns him of an approaching problem. He avoids the problem or uses a diversion to distract his attention. This type as well as Type 3 is socially acceptable and not always recognised as stuttering. Such stutterers rarely consult a therapist, even though these versions of the disorder may also make life very difficult.

Stuttering often consists of different combinations of these four types as opposed to a ‘pure’ type.


People who stutter even when alone

Most stutterers are fluent when alone and reading aloud or talking to themselves, or talking to a baby or a pet. This is of course due to the fact that they are relaxed. There is after all no pressure on them to speak - no communicative stress.

However some stutterers stutter even when alone. They suffer from severe word stress. As has already been said, word stress is learned in the course of years.


The difficulty of saying our name

Many stutterers, if not most, find it very difficult to say their name. Some people mistakenly believe that this is due to deep-seated psychological problems and / or feelings of inferiority. The real problem is that when the stutterer has to say his name, he cannot use word substitution. There are no alternative words with which he can avoid saying his name, and this lack of choice increases his tension. Gradually these blocks become habit.

Some stutterers have changed their name to one which they found easier to say. In the course of time, however, they also began to stutter on their new name because of the lack of choice.

An absence of choice has been found to be a general and major source of tension even for normal speakers. When one is forced to say or do something, one’s tension level tends to rise.


The severe stutterer

Identifying ‘severe stuttering’ can be more difficult than expected and depends on the criteria used to evaluate the stutter. For example, if an external criterion is used, only the nature and number of external blocks will be taken into account. On the other hand, if a psychological criterion is used, the internal experiences of the stutterer – the intensity of his speech fears, his avoidances, etc – should be considered.

An uninformed observer may conclude, for example, that Mr A is not a severe stutterer since he does not experience many blocks in the observer’s presence. In fact Mr A may be avoiding numerous words and situations to prevent himself from stuttering. People generally tend to underestimate the disorder due to the fact that many of its manifestations are invisible to the casual observer.

Schwartz uses different criteria to identify people with a severe stutter. He does not only consider the severity of the external struggle behaviour. According to him the severity of the stutter is largely determined by the following factors:

* The stutterer's general TENSION LEVELS and the nature of HIS RESPONSE TO BLOCKS. A person with very high tension levels who also overreacts or panics in the face of a block (or fear of a block) often lacks the presence of mind to use a fluency technique. Clearly these people should work on their stress management as well as on changing their attitude towards their speech and their listeners.

* The frequency (number) and especially the intensity of the internal laryngospasm rather than the severity of the external block.

I believe that other criteria should also be considered when identifying people with a severe stutter, for example the distribution of the disability in the stutterer’s speech. Some people only stutter on a few words, or perhaps their name, and are otherwise fluent. At the other extreme some people stutter severely in almost any situation and on most words. An additional criterion is the extent to which the struggle behaviour has been established and reinforced; ie the strength of the conditioned reflexes.


Hypersensitivity of the vocal cords

Stuttering can only be fully understood if one considers how incredibly sensitive the vocal cords are to tension and stress. The slightest change in tension can result in unexpected blocks.

One must always keep in mind that many stutterers live close to or on their threshold, ie the tension in their vocal cords is close to the level at which the vocal cords will contract. Only a small amount of additional tension will bridge the gap to that level.

The theory of the laryngospasm can explain a large number of phenomena and views of the past, for example that stuttering is caused by growing up in a bilingual or trilingual home environment. According to the laryngospasm approach such an environment may, due to the additional speech-related tension generated, affect the speech of a child with an inherited tendency to focus tension in his vocal cords. The theory also accounts for the much outdated view that a left-handed child forced to write with his right hand may develop a stutter: circumstances such as these will obviously create stress which may affect the speech of some children.

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10 comments:

Kien Nham said...

Is there anyway that I can talk to you through Skype or Yahoo or whatever you want? I want to talk to you about some problems that I'm experiencing and I want your advices! We may have some problems talking to each other because I'm a ESL student, sometimes I don't understand the words. You can e-mail me anytime for the time that you're free and you can have a talk with me! Here is my e-mail: thesnow_love@yahoo.com. It's a weird email address! ^^

Peter Louw said...

Hi Kien Nham

I will try, actually I have never used Skype before. Maybe it will be quicker if you just leave a question here and I will try to respond here.

Kien Nham said...

Sorry for late reply!

I want to know what type of stutterer I am. Here's history of how I developed stuttering:
I remember I first stuttered when I was in kindergarten, only for a short period of time. Then in primary school and in my 6th-8th grade, those were only short period of time when I was in Vietnam, in which I spoke Vietnamese for 14 years. I moved to the USA in my 15 and since then I stuttered more often and my stuttering got more severe. Now, I stutter in Vietnamese as much as in English, which really got me.
Thank you for your time, Mr.Peter. You help will be greatly appreciated!

Kien Nham said...

I forgot this:
None of my family members and relatives stutter.

I'm working on your book to have a better understanding on stuttering but I'll soon finish it. Are there any books that you recommemed ?

Peter Louw said...

Dear Kien Nham

1) Type of stutterer: well, there are so many classifications, it all depends on the classification used. Unfortunately I don't know enough about you to classify you in any category! But the classification which I like is whether you are a SITUATIONAL (only stutters in certain situations) stutterer or a WORD STRESS stutterer (stuttering does not depend on the particular situation). You will have to ask yourself that question.

2) Recommended books: Dr Martin Schwartz's book 'Stutter No More' is on his website, so you don't have to pay for it, you can read it at www.stuttering.com or google the National Center for Stuttering. But it's not a miracle cure and demands much work. Also visit my blog at http://stuttersense.blogspot.com where I recommend his other books and where you can watch my video. Best of luck, Peter

Kien Nham said...

Mr. Peter,
how long did it take you to master the technique (your best fluency)?
it found it pretty hard for me to keep calm and to remember to use the technique in real life. i usually rush to talk and forget to use the technique and so i block.
did you have the same problem ? if so, what did you do to it ?

Kien Nham said...

I find it pretty hard for me to keep calm and to use the technique when talking to people. When i talk, i always rush to talk even though that i tell myself to keep calm and to talk slowly, but i just rush to talk no matter how hard i try.
i dont know what to do now!
did you have the same problem? if so, what did you do about it ? how did you improve ?
Thank Mr. Peter

Peter Louw said...

Hi Kien Nham

That's a good question. These days I don't use the technique all the time, only when I need it, and I don't need it so often these days.

My learning of the technique occurred very gradually over months and even years. I did daily exercises for months after I attended the airflow workshop; thereafter I did less work, but I remained aware of the need to use it.

It is difficult to change habits such as fast speech - it can take years. Note that you don't have to use the full technique all the time. The airflow technique consists of 1) slowing the first syllables 2) passive airflow 3) thinking rest. But in many cases you don't have to do 2 and 3, only 1 (slowing syllables) is sufficient to reduce vocal cord tension. So first focus on slowing down, before using 2 and 3.

The basic rule is, don't try to walk when you can't yet crawl! Don't try to use the technique in real life when you're still learning to apply it in private. You first have to do lots of practising alone, applying the technique while doing the Reading Exercise, then doing the Description Exercise. Only when you are fluent in doing these, you should start trying to apply the technique in real life, and only in small measures and gradually. For instance, you should select a 'Target Person' each day and decide to use the technique with that person, even if it is only a single short sentence or a single word. Check out my chapters on 'Learning the Technique' and 'Applying the Technique in Real Life'. This gradual approach worked well for me, but it takes time. Best of luck!

Kien Nham said...

i thought i should practice with people in order to improve. i use the slowing down syllables and the air flow. sometimes, the air flow doesn't work, i might not have mastered it. Slowing down syllables is hard for me, really hard. When i'm tense, i talk faster!
Thanks for your advices Mr. Peter. You've been such a big help for me.

Peter Louw said...

Yes, it is very difficult to work alone, you need other people to work with. You just have to force yourself to speak slower, but I know it's very hard. But don't lose hope, just keep on and work at it as much as possible. One day you'll be glad you did. The technique doesn't always work - it won't work if the tension on your vocal cords is too high. Also there's the issue of relapses due to subconscious psychological reactions - please read my chapter on 'Maintenance'. I will shortly be posting my chapter on how I improved, that's in the 'Breaking the Chain' chapter still to be populated. I'm glad I could be of service. Best of luck and NEVER GIVE UP!