Wednesday, July 26, 1995

Are stutterers responsible for their own stuttering?

In response to a post by Michael Sylvester where he essentially states that the stutterer "causes himself/herself to stutter"

It's taken me a while to sort out my feelings about your statements. They
have run the gamut from anger to complete puzzlement to, interestingly, some
foundation of agreement.

First of all "your" idea is far from radical. My mother, with an elementary
school education, would say to me EXACTLY the words you used to start you
on the path to recovery: CUT THAT OUT! She would say that in Italian and
would often accompany her admonition with a hefty slap on my face.

What has been completely puzzling to me is that a Ph.D. psychologist AND
former stutterer would subscribe to the same principles. Maybe the pendulum had swung too far in the direction of "helplessness" and it's time to rethink the
role of personal responsibility. Point noted.

Again, this point is hardly controversial. Many of the discussions that have
gone on on this list have been centered on the "actions" we as stutterers
have taken to gain "control over" or "recover from" stuttering. I had a long
argument with John Harrison, for example, on the "nature" of blocking and
on the appraches that seemed to have worked for us (I consider myself
practically "recovered", and John certainly is). We certainly agreed on the
notion that there was SOMETHING we could do to get better and better at
avoiding blocks and we certainly had the WILL to start the process. We also
agreed that the process took time, and for some it might never quite "end".

These areas of agreement, it seems to me, extend to parts of what you are
expressing, but they are a far cry from implying that the process of recovery
consists of undoing - mainly by willpower - something that we somehow
"chose to do".

You seem to be making two separate independent assumptions:

1. We "choose" to start stuttering just as we would start smoking.

Could you elaborate on what "returns" this choice would provide a 3 to 10
year old?

2. Anything we chose to "do" we can "undo" with equal ease.

EVEN IF, for some misterious reason and warped reward, we actually CHOSE
to start stuttering, why would stopping be any easier than, say, quitting

Whether or not you decide there is an "IT" to be blamed or fought out there,
the very fact that, at some point, you had to say to yourself "CUT IT OUT"
IS the problem. Fluent speakers don't have to do that. With a little bit
of attention, in Toastmasters they learn to avoid saying "Ahs" , no
traumas, intensive therapy, no relapses. Now, THAT, is just a bad habit
that can be simply willed away.

Unfortunately it is often very difficult to separate fact from perspective.
Did I will my stuttering away or did I build a good strong mechanism to
compensate for it? I do respect the fact that your perspective enabled you
to overcome your problem. Now, can you help us figure out some way to test
whether we really DO "choose" to stutter?

Do you have the same perspective on other "alleged" mental ailments? Depression
in its various forms and Tourette syndrome come to mind. Can they be willed
away as well? If not, what makes you think that neurological problems could
affect mood but not speech?

A final doubt always haunts me whenever I use my own experience to generalize
to all stuttering. I have brought it up a few times in some feeble attempts
to find out if there really is ONE stuttering problem. Granted.. highly
individualized etc., but fundamentally the same problem. Maybe "mild"
and "severe" stuttering have completely different causes, but just sound
like they only differ in severity. Doesn't pneumonia sound like a very
bad cold?

No comments: