Wednesday, March 15, 1995

Clarification on my stuttering competence

I have been sent private e-mail asking my opinion on various issues and
how they might differ from John Harrison's. With John, I have been very active
on the list lately, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so, but
I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding on my level of "authority"
just because my opinions appear frequently...

I am NOT a SLP. I am a scientist, trained in Physics (MA), Biophysics (Ph.D)
and Computer Science. I have been working at NASA for the past 15 years and
I am now doing research in the area of Neuroengineering. I am also a stutterer,
although on a good day you might never guess it. I have had only brief
encounters with therapy and I consider myself mostly "self-taught" in how I
deal with my stutter.

Now to John, me and dealing with blocks. John and I are friends and see
each other occasionally at NSP functions. I have NEVER heard him block or
repeat in any way that would make me think that he had ever stuttered, so
he MUST have done something right. I think my stutter is more easily
revealed but I am also quite satisfied with my own progress. The reason
I am posting this is that many might find it interesting to note that both of us seem to have overcome blocks by coming from different directions. This
certainly accounts, at least in part, for our "philosophical" differences in
this area.

John (I am sure he'll jump in if I misrepresent him) seems to have "studied"
each block as it happened, wondered what was about that particular word
that might have made him want to avoid it, etc. This increased level of
awareness slowly seemed to "melt away" the blocks (correct John?).

I, on the contrary, approached blocking by completely ignoring and quickly
forgetting any word I might block on. I felt (and still do) that blocking,
in its basic essence, was an "accident" that could happen on any word, for
no particular reason, and that, in fact, if I lingered on the word,
wondered why etc., I might add an element of fear to that word, which would
make it more likely that I would block on it again (yes, I recognized a
"psychological" component). I directed my awareness instead to my speech
apparatus as a whole, to decrease any tension in my body and promote
a general sense of well being and joy of speaking no matter what. What I
mean is that I would NOT think something like "oh my God, I've got to
speak... I'd better RELAAAAAX", rather, I would try to make my body
awareness INDEPENDENT of any speaking situation, something I could
cultivate through dance training (I took Ballet, Modern and Jazz training
for 7 years) and classical singing (I know we don't stutter when we sing,
but that wasn't the point). All of these disciplines deal with eliminating
even very subtle tension from your body to free it for the production
of beautiful movement or sound, and to make the whole process as automatic
and subconscious as possible so your mind and body are free to create "art".

I think I slowly learned to tap into that same state "on demand" and use it
to support my speech (and, when needed, the various techniques and "tricks" you learn in therapy). I am not suggesting that everyone should spend ten
years learning dance and classical singing (although it WAS GREAT FUN, and I
met my wife, a beautiful dancer, along the way), but simply that this path is
SLOW, so we might as well try to make it fun, in whatever way suits us best.
Having seen how difficult it is to achieve the subtle control it takes to
become a good dancer or a good singer I have a hard time even conceiving
how anyone can expect that even a few weeks of therapy will "cure" stuttering.
Yes, you can learn tools and tricks that can come quite handy, and can
get you started on your way. But from that point to feeling a true joy
in speaking is a long way... but I really don't mean to sound discouraging,
it can be a FUN way too.

One last thing (apologies for the length of this). I should just mention
that this is precisely the context in which I proposed a "Stuttering
University": a place where stuttering can be "forgotten" and worked on
at the same time... all while having fun... learning... and living.

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