Friday, April 26, 1996

Rewiring neurological pathways

Marty Jezer stated: "We must learn to neutralize the stressors that incite our disfluencies and, also, in that learning process, rewire the neurological circuitry that creates, not an addiction, but the predisposition to stutter"

Marty, I think this is a very good analogy. By the way, I haven't had time to participate lately (and I shouldn't even now) but I find you have been doing a great job representing just about exactly what I consider to be my position (assuming anybody cares). The "rewiring" business reminded me of a recent experience I've been meaning to share.

I was lucky to be able to participate in an experiment conducted my Mark Lytle for his thesis (I've had permission to talk about it). This consisted in reading materials while attempting voluntary stuttering. He asked a range of people from severe stutterers to people like myself who claim that stuttering is no longer a "problem". I won't go into what he was trying to show (we were being monitored for physiological responses). My only point is that I was first asked to read a passage with my "normal" speech, which in this case was completely fluent, then with voluntary stuttering.

I've always thought that voluntary stuttering is a great therapeutic tool, and I still do, but what I found interesting in my case, is that my voluntary stuttering had a definite tendency to become involuntary! I could feel "faked" blocks suddenly become "real", while my body was tensing up and it all started seeming too much like bad old times...

I've often asked myself if the process of overcoming stuttering involved "re-tuning" our appropriate neural pathways or essentially creating new ones. This experience, subjectively, made me feel like the old pathways were definetly still there... ready for me jump right back into them.

I'm not making and scientific claim here... just a very subjective observation that might stimulate some thoughts.

5 comments: said...


By the way you say "I could feel 'faked' blocks suddenly become 'real', while my body was tensing up and it all started seeming too much like bad old times", it appears that you had a somewhat severe stutter, right? Or at least intensely uncomfortable physical responses to the blocks.

So I was wondering, how did you manage to go from that to "completely fluent", where "stuttering is no longer a 'problem'".

I am aware that each case is different, but, as a 26 years-old lifelong stutterer, I am always curious about how people manage to overcome stuttering, be it by achieving "fluency" or coming to terms with it, and I'm nowhere near either.

(ps: Please excuse my english, I'm not a native speaker.)

Silvano Colombano said...

Thank you for your comments. No I don't consider myself to have had a severe stutter in the sense that I always had reasonably long periods of fluency (at least several minutes), but I did have severe blocks that I couldn't "get out of" and absolute terror of the telephone...

Keep reading past and future posts and you will get some idea of how I think I managed to overcome the problem (you will see all the "caveats" I put around that notion) .
My real first revelation in terms of blocks was to back away and accept that I couldn't say the word, rather than trying to blast through it. Then I would take a deep breath to calm myself down and "slide" into the word as slowly and calmly as I could. This seemed to work most of the times and it actually took less time than my "normal blasting through" struggle.
In time this technique became more natural and more sub-conscious. I am sure that this approach would be recommended by many therapists.

This is still a far cry from "curing" stuttering! Keep reading and commenting... said...

Interesting, thanks for your reply.

I find that while I'm talking to myself or reading, even in front of other people, I can use techniques like the one you described.

But in real conversations I simply can't get past most blocks by taking my time, relaxing and trying to "flow into the word", and past the block.

I figure I get very anxious that I'm making people wait, and wondering if they don't think that a person just suddenly stopping cold midway through a sentence, or word, is stranger than stuttering.

I guess it's one of those things that you can only really overcome by becoming desensitized to, with practice. But it's terribly difficult for me to get past the initial shock. said...

And by the way, yes, I'm already a reader :) Subscribed to your RSS last week.

Silvano Colombano said...

I can relate very well to what you are saying. The point is that people react much more to what they perceive to be our own attitude than the actual "timing" of any pause. Once we are in a block there are only two ways to get out of it, one is with panic on our face and a major effort to blast through it, the other one is a face that has calmly accepted the pause, and appears to be in no panic and no hurry. Ironically this usually actually ends up taking less time (and, over a long period, even less). Sometimes I would even say something like "I'm sorry, but I need to pause... I'm getting too excited about this". That way I would let my whole tension go down, and I could ease into the word with no problem. The effect would actually last for a while (and subsequent blocks).

I hope this helps.