PART III:

SUCCESS STORIES

Now that you have read and understood the treatment process, let's hear firsthand from just a few of the thousands of people who have succeeded in overcoming stuttering. What is extraordinary bout these first-person accounts is not only the dramatic retelling of how each person overcame his affliction, but that these accounts were spoken before a large audience as after-dinner speeches. 

CHAPTER 17

THE COMPUTER PROFESSIONAL

I remember a childhood friend asking me why I talked funny sometimes. The question surprised me, but it was the beginning of an awareness that I did have difficulty speaking at times. This was at the age of eight. I soon realized that I was having difficulty in school particularly, and was enrolled in speech therapy for the first time in the second grade. I met other children with the same problem at the institute. I attended therapy sessions for over a year, but I'm not sure what effect it had.

By the third grade I had begun to experience real humiliation and frustration in classroom reading situations. Reading and speaking before a group became an experience to be feared. I was aware of laughter as I stuttered my way through repetitious sentences. Words on a page would blur before my eyes and lose their meaning. The harder I tried, the more my fluency disintegrated. The next few years were the worst. I considered pretending to be a mute as a way of avoiding the uncontrollable stuttering which was causing me embarrassment and shame. I had heard someone say that I would outgrow it eventually, and this was the hope I held on to.

I remember a period of several months when speech without stuttering was impossible. I clung to a few short answers which I felt safe in saying: 'Same here', 'I don't know', were a couple.

I began to substitute words and phrases for those I knew would cause me trouble, and gradually built up a fairly successful ability for scanning and switching to improve fluency. Of course, there were still unavoidable situations in which I could not substitute and the blockages were interminable at times. An article I had to read to the class as a freshman in high school is still fresh in my mind. It dealt with abbreviations and acronyms used for agencies and companies. It took me great lengths of time to stutter through the letters which appeared over and over again. I managed to get through part of the first page before the laughter was apparent. I would have laughed myself if I hadn't felt so miserable. I finally looked at the teacher in such a pleading way that he had someone else finish reading for me.

At home, things were little better. I dreaded the use of the phone. It was something I used only under duress. To be home alone and hear the phone ring was traumatic. Each time I faced a decision to just let it ring or force myself to pick up the receiver. Inevitable, when I did answer it, my stuttering was disastrous.

As a teenager, I still felt I would outgrow my affliction. I couldn't imagine being a stuttering adult. As a sophomore in high school I decided to return to the institute for therapy. After several months of group therapy I still didn't understand what we were doing, what we were trying to do, or whether I was improving. I stopped going.

I chose a technical area of study in college, since it was clear to myself and my counselors that I would function best where oral communication would not be a burden. I periodically reviewed the literature on speech therapy for hints and theories relating to my problem. I realized that I was not going to outgrow it after all, and tried to plan accordingly.

As an adult, my pattern was still to avoid people and situations which gave me trouble. I was quite fluent at times. The phone remained an obstacle. Extreme nausea, rapid heartbeat, sweating and shortness of breath were some of my reactions to simple phone calls. Clever substitutions and various distractions (for example, writing words on a chalkboard) got me through many situations. Some friends of mine were unaware that I had a problem. They could never guess the energy and planning I put in to keep my speech 'under control'.

About a year ago, my parents sent me a book on the Air Flow Technique. I was curious enough to read it. I became excited as I saw my frustrations catalogued and explained in those pages. Understanding the problem was almost satisfaction enough; I was hesitant at first to commit myself to the possibility of undergoing therapy. I finally resolved that if I were ever to try to beat stuttering again, this was the opportunity. I arranged for treatment knowing that if it failed, it would not be from lack of effort on my part.

At the end of the first day of treatment and practice I felt that the technique did in fact give me control over my speech for the first time. The first night during treatment was very restless; my subconscious perhaps refusing to admit what I already sensed. From the first day, I ceased to struggle against vocal cord locks. I learned to recognize them and to respond with careful use of technique. I dedicated myself to using the technique correctly and at all times. The prescribed practice became my top priority when I returned home and began the follow-up phase of therapy. With the help of my family at home and an understanding supervisor at work, I was able to follow the program faithfully.

I still encountered occasional blocks in high stress situations, invariably due to sloppy use of the technique. As my command of the technique grew, my confidence increased, and in situation by situation I was successful.

Word substitution was the first crutch I discarded. It took me a while to get used to always saying exactly what I originally intended to say.

By the fourth month of therapy, the phone was no longer an object of fear. I was now pleased to hear it ring, since it would present an opportunity to further practice my technique. The apprehension and former stress symptoms were gone.

By the sixth month, I knew that I could be completely successful if I kept at it. I had already been through some serious high-stress experiences with total fluency. I was having no problems with group situations, interviews or phone calls.

The most difficult part has been to develop a high degree of concentration on the technique, regardless of my surrounding. Diligent practice and effort makes it possible. There were some early instances in which another speaker or questioner would become impatient for a reply. I learned to not react to this, but to still take a second or so to employ the technique. It amazed me that no one ever realized that a flow was being employed unless I specifically demonstrated it for them. Some people did indicate they thought I was speaking a little slower than usual.

I think I can best categorize the therapy as a learning process. I didn't become totally fluent overnight, but each day has increased the range of situations in which fluency is achieved, regardless of stress level.

At the age of 35, I have started a new phase in my life. There are many things I have done during the last year which were quite beyond me before, simple things like ordering over the phone, calling the hospital in an emergency, inquiring about a new position, speaking easily to people - always a problem in the past.

I achieved a goal of teaching in my church, something I had long hoped to be able to do.

I changed jobs during the therapy, taking a position requiring constant interaction with people under situations of considerable stress.

I have been able to eliminate the dependency I had on others to help me through situations, either voluntarily or by manipulation on my part. I feel that others can now count on me, and I can offer the kind of support and leadership I once shied away from. 


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