Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 18, 1976 · Page 37
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July 18, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 37

Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, July 18, 1976
Page 37
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IOC -July 18, 1976 Sunday Gaxette-Mail ·· Charleston, Welt Virginia Despite Theories, Treatments, Cause of Stuttering Unknown By John Harbour The Associated Press "There is a terrible pain involved, an excruciating pain," he says, choosing his words carefully. "A stutterer dies when he speaks." The last six words are punctuated with half as many small silences. The man at the other end of the phone takes a breath, and goes on trying, as he has every day of his life, trying for fluency. Stuttering ranges all through time, through every race, religion and culture, through all the phalanes of intelligence-and with little variation in frequency. Although there is more research under way today than 10 years ago. most experts see little hope for long-lasting cures. There are countless theories on why a person stutters. But the theories often argue with each other. In the end, most therapies treat the symptom. The cause or causes remain elusive. ences in their nervous systems, in the linkage of nerve and speech mechanisms, even in the biochemistry of their cells. Some contend that one or more of these things combine to bring the stutterer to a threshold, and stress pushes him over. Some have tried to show that it is the differences in the^peed at which people hear their own voices that causes it. For instance, we hear both by air condition and by sound conveyed through our bones, which is why our voices sound different to us when we hear ourselves over a tape recorder. These researchers contend that the sound of a stutterer's voice reaches his ear several microseconds faster than it does with a nonstutterer. In a sense he hears in a stutter. Another theory is that stutterers suffer a vocal cord lock or spasm. IF ANYTHING, there's a problem of having too many approaches to treatment, says Dr. David Burns, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist who treats stutters. But a number of them have promise, he said, and "this is a particularly good time to be a stutterer in therapy." Moses stuttered, they say. So did Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astare. Jimmy Stewart. Gary Moore, Jack Paar. and even Raymond Massey, whose voice never faltered when he played Abe Lincoln but always did when he played himself. · Demosthenes, the silver-ftngued Greek orator, "cured" his stuttering by practicing his speech with a mouthful of pebbles. That technique today would be called distraction, a way of drawing a person's attention away from the act of speaking. Long ago, doctors designed braces for the teeth which served as a distraction for the speaker. Today there are rhythmical distractions. Stutterers are taught to speak to the beat of a metronome. Some find they can avoid their stuttering by swinging their arms and talking a syllable or two with each swing. Remarkably almost all stut- terers lose their stammer when they sing. One stutterer was told to spar with himself and talk to the movement of his fijts. But, as he laughingly told a friend, he could not see himself asking a policeman which way to the public library while he jabbed with his left and feinted with his right. For all the pain and same associated with their disability, most stutterers have a defensive sense of humor about it. Seven out of every 1,000 people stutter, experts in the field estimate. Some studies show that they are perhaps a bit more intelligent than the average population, but there are stutterers among the severely retarded as well as the exceedingly bright. Says Dr. Richard Curlee of the University of Oregon, a leading authority, "There are people in mental hospitals who are diagnosed as psychotic who stutter. There are people who are neurotic who stutter. In short, it appears that personality, as well, varies independently with the stuttering symptom itself." Most stutterers first encounter difficulties at about, the age of 4 when they are trying to achieve fluency. Researchers have tried to find differ- ONE OF THE MORE popular theories is that of Wendell Johnson who blamed parents for holding up standards of speech that were to high. He said that stuttering is what people did in an attempt to speak fluently. As the child begins to struggle with his fluency, it turns into stuttering, and in a sense he learns his stuttering. By adulthood the disability has become a habit. Not everyone agrees. And Johnson, a University of Iowa therapist, stuttered to his last days. "People who stutter view the stuttering as something that happens to them, almost like an enemy within," says Curlee. "And they embody it with some kind of separate existence." They share almost across the board the common feelings of guilt, remorse, embarrassment the shame. The severity differs. Some people try for five or 10 minutes to say their name and then give up. One of Curlee's patients tried for 50 minutes in each of three or four therapy sessions to get beyond one particular word in a book. She finally found a way around it. "You'll find some who go into a drugs- tore and they find it," Curlee says. "Many stutterers have a great deal of trouble on the phone. Here at the university it's not unusual for a Sftutterer to come by the office to cancel an appointment rather than call on the telephone." One attractive young woman he treated in Los Angeles had lost her job at a bank because, when a customer called up to ask for his balance, she could not read the figures and gave him instead some other numbers she could handle. Looking back over their own lives, stut- terers frequently lock on psychological causes for the stuttering, and there may indeed be a strong psychological link. A pretty blonde New Yorker recalls that at the age of 4, her family moved from Ohio to Virginia, her father came home from the Army almost a stranger, and her younger sister was born. That's when she began to stutter. Stuttering is not hereditary in the genetic sense. Yet when a person develops a stutter, quite often there will be another stutterer somewhere in the living family tree. In this .case, the New York woman had an uncle who stuttered, but she doesn't think it likely that he had an influence on her. ANOTHER STUTTERER, a successful New York writer, has just tried another therapist in a lifetime of therapy. This one bullies his patients. "When I'm through with you," his therapist told him, "you may stutter in front of your family or friends, but you will not stutter in public under stress." He then proceeded to make his patients talk under pressure. "He humiliated us. He attacked us. He applied continual stress." In his particular case, it seems to have worked. But as any stutterer knows, most therapies seem to work at first. The question is how long they will last. Curlee was a stutterer himself, but he hasn't stuttered since the age of 10. In the rash of experiments going on today, there may be some hope. STOTTCfcE* STUTTERE Painful Secret Is Difficult to Keep By Ben Patrusky The Associated Press Like most people, I've got a secret, a example: shameful one. Unfortunately, unlike most, I can't keep mine. I stutter--stammer--whatever the term is for what I do. What I do is block. A word becomes a wall and I'm unable to scale it. I'm suddenly-momentarily--pinned to that wall, caught in a frozen scream. OVER THE YEARS, I've learned how to keep my secret better, how to hide it more effectively. But it is, nevertheless, my constant, grim companion. Always, danger lurks. Somewhere that dread, mocking imp crouches, ever ready to pounce and deliver an exquisitely timed kick to the shins, certain to screw things up, then to disappear. So 1 remain a shade off balance. I can never be sure. Well, almost never. Give me a chance to sing and you'll never hear a stutterer's pause out of me. Don't ask me why. 1 know a lot of tricks to cut down on the I will sometimes tell jokes with visual, rather than verbal, punch-lines--more Marcel Marceau than Henny Youngman. »-f will postpone a phone call until the danger is past, and I feel my secret is safe within me again. l won't accept guest spots on the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin or Today shows. Never mind that they've never asked me to appear. If you met me, you wouldn't necessarily find out I stutter, or whatever it is I do. I've fooled people. I know how to camouflage. A dangerous word coming up? Quick, use another one. Experts say stut- terers have pretty good vocabularies. Surely, the dodging, substituting, is the reason. What's it like to stutter? Think of yourself on the highway. It's dark. You're in a hurry. No traffic. You squeeze on the gas. Suddenly, out of nowhere, directly in chances of my secret getting out. For'. front of yoUi l( J oms tne terrifying back of a huge truck. Horror. · Slam on the brakes. Spin the wheel, swerve, pray. Anything-anything to keep from colliding. The truck is the word that looms ahead of a stutterer. You can't always tell what word it will be. But suddenly you see one that could spell trouble. Is it too late to dodge? The collision doesn't kill. But you die a little. Because it produces the worst go- dawful feelings o f . . . shame. That's the worst of it: the shame. Time stops. You're stranded, breathless, eyes agog, throat muscles taut, mouth contorted--a demonic being fighting strangulation, struggling to rediscover the sound of its voice. All this time you are acutely aware of the eyes of others watching you-and you have no place to hide. And this breeds, in the mind of a stutter- er, the latent terror, the fear that you may blow in a critical moment. Like blocking on "I do." Or losing valuable time reporting a fire or a burglary or a homicide. Or Speech Fluency Hard Earned Miracle ByJim Gintonio A few minutes past two. on the afternoon of May 23, 1974,1 talked for the first time. I wasn't mute ---- although years earlier I had feigned this malady, quite successfully, for a period of 10 days. N'o, on this remarkable day, I stood before a group of peers and was gripped by an uncommon aura of self-confidence. Years of frustration, self-pity and hatred crumbled, d r i f t i n g into some unknown abyss. I took a deep breath and spoke ... and at that moment I was no longerjust another nameless and faceless statistic. Three weeks earlier, I had stuttered uncontrollably. The miracle of speech fluency took place at Hollins College near Roanoke, Va. Along with the 11 others enrolled in the course, I was skeptical. Hadn't I been to a number of speech therapists? What about that hypnotist in Southern California, the one with the menacing eyes and the drowsy stories. I failed: or did he? Why should this time be any different? · » # AT THE COLLEGE'S fluency shaping cenfer, however. Dr. Ronald L. Webster and his small team of therapists were revolutionizing the entire theory -- on a limited budget -- of why people stutter. What had for decades been thought of -and. indeed, been treated -- as an emotional problem, is viewed as a physical handicap at the center. Webster set out to prove this point and the rate of success bears him out. When I checked into the institute in early May, I wasn't prepared for the ordeal of the next 21 days. Neither was a fellow member, Jim Gideon of Knoxville, Tenn., who, after the first day, looked at me, shook his head and said: "I don't believe it. I'm still stuttering." (I said yes and' at that point in my life I considered that limited vocal response an oration). The underlying theme at the center is that people who stutter do so because they make sounds incorrectly; and the only way to correct this is by slowing down the rate of speech. For me, this meant six, seven and sometimes 12 hours a day sitting in a cubicle and repeating and repeating sounds, and stretching each utterance for a duration of two seconds. That practice -- and the resultant improvement in making sounds -- demonstrates the physical aspect of the problem; it's like golf: The more you practice, the better you get. And how did I know I was making the sounds correctly? An ingenious device, in- vented by the staff's resident mechanic- research assistant, George Girard, is the answer. For wont of a better name, the device is called the voice box; each time a sound is made correctly, a red light comes on. My first few days of face-to-face competition against this monster were almost completely futilp; it took me three complete 20-minute sessions before I was able to make the "ah" sound correctly three consecutive times. I did discover, however, that I could curse fluently: then again, I always could. The trick to lighting the voice box is what the cfiter calls "gentle onset," the quality of gently sliding into a sound. This is the basic target in achieving fluency on all sounds, and retaining clear speech. All talking inside the center during the first week was slow-motion. Each syllable had to be stretched for two seconds; later, this was reduced to one second, then to one-half second. I learned that by stretching syllables and achieving the target on sounds that fluent speech is, indeed, a physical process. DRAWN TOGETHER by a common bond, everyone in the class encouraged others. Jokes told in stretched syllables are funnier, and stories of past hardships with speech become humorous. What I foolishly had thought was a problem shared by no one became a common enemy. (I must admit, however, that I was telling this terrific joke with a two-second stretch on each syllable, and got so exhausted that I forgot the punch line). Everyone had stories of past speech difficulties: from being terrified of the telephone to being so tense in public that it was impossible to speak one fluent word. The best story I heard came from Phil Lacy, a huge black man and a 20-year veteran of the Marines: "I was in a church in a strange town. I felt safe. Then the minister asked all the newcomers to stand up and introduce themselves. That horrible feeling came over me again. I slid down in my seat, trying to hide, but someone spotted me and yelled: 'This guy ain't been here before!' "I got up and was really shaking. I knew I couldn't say anything, so I started to sing. They must have thought I got an inspiration from on high because everybody joined in. I got out of there before they even passed the collection plate. For the first time, I had someone to identify with: Another "statistic" had come to life. My hardest adjustment was transferring my new skills outside the institute. Making hundreds of telephone calls and striking up meaningless conversations simplified the transition. I must say, though, that I may have lost a career in the process. Throughout the years, I had become quite adept at disguising my voice; once so well that a waitress remarked that her parents, too, had been born in Yugoslavia, and what did I think of Tito? . . Somehow, someway, it worked. Every- thing fell into place and perspective. I acquired patience, something I always had thought was for other people, for the first time in 28 years. I knew I had achieved my goal when I heard and saw a replay of my final interview. Contrasted against my initital interview, the change was something I still can't fully comprehend. I still have problems, but nothing which practice cannot overcome. Fluency, now, is something I have, but something which has to be proved --mainly to myself -- everytime I speak. But now I have confidence I can do it because I've learned to talk. Ben Patrusky Grim Companion choking on the call you may have to make when your wife's in labor or your child is feverishly ill or when someone is having a heart attack. Or freezing on words like "duck" or watch out." * * * ALWAYS THAT SHAME. Amazing how it persists. It's branded into your soul, as humiliating as stumbling over your own name. Ancient incidents forever nag at your memory. You feel a vivid blush, as if they had just happened. I remember the time in high school more than 20 years ago, when, as president of the honor society, I had to address a schoolwide assembly. I could have backed out. I could have, a midst sympathetic clucks, given the job to nonimpedi- mented co-officer. I was tempted, oh how tempted. But which shame was worse? That of a craven bowing to fear? Or that of humiliation on a public platform? I decided. Could I fool the imp? I went into the empty auditorium and practiced. No trouble at all playing to the unoccupied seats. Then the "live" performance before living people. I approached the lectern, took a deep breath and began. The first sentences went smoothly enough. Then came the truck, driven by spitful imp. A mad, spittle-drenched collision before 500 awed witnesses. I flew from the aduditorium catapulated by shame. I had practiced before empty seats and lamposts on the street. But I was no match for those upturned faces. Later I wrote an article on stuttering for the school magazine. And people came up to say they understood. They were kind. But they really couldn't understand. Things are much, much better now. One I could barely talk. Not so today. I lead a very verbal life, reasonably trouble free. I seem to have my imp under reasonable control. 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