Thursday, March 29, 2007

Defining Stuttering Terms For Clarity's Sake

Recently, another blogger and I have had a really enjoyable "debate" or discussion about stuttering. To see Jerome's full responses, click on the "Shame on the Stuttering Foundation" entry and read the remarks. But, to address one point that I thought was worth a separate blog entry:

Jerome said: "I guess that's a matter of definition. If somebody continuously uses a technique, or even mental state, that allows him not to stutter then I'd say that he has more or less reached the goal."

Yes, I agree...and I highly praise those individuals. I suppose we needed to define our terms because I was more talking about an authentic "cure"...some kind of treatment that would remove any more necessity to even be aware of ones speech as stutterers must constantly be.

For myself, I am mostly fluent, because I have learned since childhood to use techniques to hide my stutter. I have been called a "closet" stutterer...or a "covert" stutterer. For example, if I am meeting someone for the first time, I employ a method of forcing all of the air out of my lungs and pressing my diaphragm upward on every sentence in order to force words out, making me fluent...though the listener cannot tell how taxing this is on me. Often, I go away from these conversations very worn out, mentally & emotionally...with my stomach in knots.

Another method...I feign introspection when I'm at a word I cannot say. Instead of audibly blocking...I internally block until I can get past or I can find an alternative word. The listener is none the wiser...unless they know me and know of my method. For example, I try this trick with my son and he knows what I'm doing. When I act like I'm thinking about my response, he'll often say, "Just spell it if you can't say it." This actually gets annoying if I'm actually thinking and not using the trick. :)

To most people, they would relate to others that I am fluent...that I've probably overcome my stutter...and that I'm a success. I do acknowledge that I am a success at communicating...but I do not feel good about my speech because I get frustrated that I can't say what I want to say when I want to say it...and I can't say it STRESS FREE.

This is the sort of success I'm looking for. I don't want a prosthetic leg so that I appear to walk like everybody else. I want the REAL LEG. Understand, I'm not really expecting this kind of goal...I'm simply defining my terms....I'm defining what I mean by an authentic "cure".

And this is why I don't think that traditional speech therapy will provide one. Traditional therapy will help the adherent find ways to get around a stutter...find ways to feel better about a the adherent COPE with the stutter and the emotional baggage that comes with it...but at the end of the day, it will not make the stutterer like everyone else.

Perhaps what I'm looking for is unrealistic. Perhaps it's akin to "re-growing" that missing leg. Maybe it will never happen. can certainly hope.

The delayed audio feedback device makes me almost 100% fluent and when I use a similar device on my computer, I do not have to think about talking. Somehow, this device tricks my brain into being fluent. I believe that it's somehow bypassing some chemical imbalance or physical abnormality in my hearing/brain/whatever. It accomplishes what over 10 years of traditional speech therapy could not...and it does it immediately.

I don't pretend to be an expert on stuttering...I'm on a learning journey as are most stutterers. These are all just my opinions based upon my own subjective experiences. And I welcome the perspectives of those who disagree.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stop Blaming The Stutterer

I found a stuttering link today, advertising a workshop and some articles about stuttering:

From the website, under the "What we believe" link, I found this information:

1. Blocking and stuttering are learned behaviors.

2. Learned behaviors can be unlearned.

3. If you can speak fluently in even one context, you can speak fluently in any context.

I wanted to address these because the website claims that stuttering is a learned habit, thus, "As you can probably already tell, we believe it is one’s thinking that creates the blocking and stuttering. We do not believe that if a person is fluent consistently in certain situations and blocks in others that the problem is physical and certainly not genetic. It is a very well learned behavior come from childhood hurts and reinforced through years of practice."

I disagree with most of this, simply because peer-reviewed research shows these conclusions above to simply not be entirely accurate. It's much too simplistic an approach.

While I believe that there is a "learned" component to our blocks and stutters, I believe most of those components are simply emotional reactions TO our stutter...not the other way around. The first time I blocked, it wasn't because of a wasn't because I was wasn't because I was put in a difficult situation. Nobody knows why one first stutters.

My reaction to my first block, however, caused me to become stressed, anxious, upset, etc. And because I blocked, I began to attempt to push past the block, physically...and eventually I found could speak. I taught myself my first lesson that day:

1. You will block. 2. Physical, exerted effort is the way out.

This lesson was repeated over and over and over throughout my childhood until I eventually carried it over into adulthood, where it was pretty much solidified and a natural part of my thinking, harmful as it may be.

Where is the habit? What is the learned aspect of this? The learned portion is my REACTION TO my blocks and stutter. That is the habit. And this also began to bleed over into my reaction towards stuttering situations where I might potentially stutter. This created a cycle, a pattern of having a certain emotional reaction to speaking situations.

However, there are times when I have zero stress. I feel totally at ease. I'm completely comfortable. Yet, I block and stutter. For seemingly no reason at all.

Further, I can go months and months with no problem saying words that begin with the letter F...and then suddenly, I begin having problems with just that letter. Or maybe two letters.

I believe that if that site were correct...there would be consistency in one's stutter. In fact, we would see consistency in most people's stuttering. But, that is hardly the case. People sometimes stutter when they are completely at ease and then they might all of sudden find they are fluent in the exact same situation...with no discernible change in how they felt or how they approached the situation.

Placing the blame onto the saying "you stutter because of the way you think"...unduly burdens the stutterer with guilt he/she should not be carrying. And you certainly wouldn't want to blame a young child in that manner.

Most of us went through years of wrongheaded thinking in our childhood because of some adult influence who continually told you that you wouldn't stutter if you'd only: slow down...think before you talk...calm down...etc.

For my childhood experience, I spent most of my formative years thinking that I was a jittery, shaky, nervous, hyperactive, stuttering moron...because of scoldings like that from wrong-headed, but well-meaning adults.

I believe, based upon my current research, that stuttering is partly genetic and partly chemical. In the brain. I believe that the brain of a stutterer functions differently, based upon scientific findings that show that stutterers often access the right side of the brain when approaching speech...rather than the left, which is what non-stutterers do. I think it's related to dopamine levels...and I believe that if there ever is a cure, it will be through medicine.

Meanwhile, I'll keep reading and researching.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different!

Guess how many times I stuttered during this video?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Don't Let Stuttering Discourage Your Dreams

Recently, I've received a number of emails from readers who are either thinking of going into a particular field of work or who are already in school or are working in particular fields and they ask about my law endeavors, if it's been a hindrance.

I'll be honest: yes, it's been somewhat of a hindrance. On a number of levels. First, in seeking an internship, it was a hindrance, first, because I didn't look as hard as other law students might, simply because I lacked the same confidence. Instead of being aggressive in my search, I looked for easier means of landing a position. Second, I'm certain that my stutter may have deterred one or two of the firms from taking me on. At the end of the day, however, one firm wanted me despite my stutter and went to great lengths to get me, even emailing and calling over and over even when I had settled on another. (It got rather annoying actually, to the point where I felt they were stalking me!)

I do not have any fear, however, that I will not be a decent, if not a better-than-average attorney. While good verbal skills are probably a great asset for a lawyer, being 100% fluent...or even 80% fluent is not required. I had a lawyer once who I thought was a complete idiot and, though he did not stutter, I felt his communication skills were on par with Billy Bob Thornton from the film "Sling Blade." He was uncomfortable in front of clients, in front of the court, and he made no special effort to win anyone's confidence and was rather an anti-social individual. Yet, despite this, he was a very successful attorney.

I, on the other hand, am a big-mouthed, opinionated person who loves to talk even though in some situations, I stutter pretty badly. I believe that people pick up on my confidence and they quickly ignore the hesitations, stammerings, and other aspects of my speech that display my stutter. If I am at a particularly difficult block...MOST PEOPLE simply wait with me and act as if nothing happened. And that's because, mostly, in professional settings, once I can get it out, I act as if nothing happened...and I think that lets them off the hook, as well. If I act all apologetic and uncomfortable...chances are, they might want to avoid future communication, so as to avoid that situation in the future. People will respond to your discomfort if you show being uncomfortable themselves. If you act like it's no big deal, chances are, they will feel like it's no big deal.

Listen, people with all sorts of debilitating disabiities and afflictions overcome enormous obstacles to go on to do things that even fully functional people aren't able to do. Helen Keller, born blind, deaf, and dumb (mute) went on to be one of the most brilliant scholars in history and travelled the world, sharing her experiences. For crying out loud, she couldn't SEE, HEAR, or SPEAK. But, she did not let this stand in her way. Stuttering cannot even come close to being compared to what she overcame in her personal life.

The truth is: you can accomplish almost anything you set your mind to do. I am agnostic, but there is a Bible verse that I enjoy that says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." There is much truth to that. Mostly, people are the way they are because they really just want to be that way. When you want to will. But you won't change until you are determined to.

Stuttering can't hold you back from being a success in life...unless you allow it to. Understand, there are certain things that will be completely out of your control. Chances are, I'll never be an award-winning newscaster (ss if I wanted to be). So, knowing your limitations is important. However, don't borrow limitations. Don't assume you will be limited in this way or in that way...or in one situation or another. It's better to have some determination, make a noble attempt to accomplish the thing you want to accomplish...and then see what happens. At worst, if you fail, you can live with the knowledge that you damn well tried. And that is no failure, by anyone's standard.

I can't imagine that someone with even a chronic, severe stutter cannot go on to be a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, a writer, a scientist...almost anything you can imagine. So, it. I think you may surprise even yourself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shame on The Stuttering Foundation

It seems the non-profit organization is riding on the coattails of celebrity by latching onto Tiger Wood's comments about his brief stint with stuttering as a youngster.

Jane Fraser, President of The Stuttering Foundation had this to say about Tiger Woods overcoming stuttering:

"The parallels between speech performance and sports performance are striking. Tiger Woods is the latest example of how the many hours of practice and hard work to win in sports are no different from those long hours spent in therapy for stuttering"

This is pure, un-adulterated crapoloa meant to pander to our society's fascination and veneration of celebrities. In my research, I've seen no correlation between the type of hard work it takes to win an Olympic Medal or win a golf tournament and the type of hard work that goes into speech therapy. It's misleading, at that, it will lead the impressionable and the young to the conclusion that if they work like an olympic champion, they will be as successful with their fluency, as Tiger Woods is.

I had intensive speech therapy as a child from the ages of four to ten years of age and the hard work I put into it...grueling, degrading hard work...had no discernible effect on my stuttering. Over the years, I've met many stutterers who express the same experience. Which is why many give up on traditional speech therapy. The manifestation of success is marginal, at best.

Shame on Jane for this. First of all, we don't know how severe Tiger's stutter was or is. How fluent was he? How old was he when he stuttered? By his own admission, his stutter was "brief". Does this indicate that it wasn't truly a stutter at all, as most persistent, chronic stutterers understand stuttering to be? Or was it just a phase that he went one that my own son went through for a month or so when he was around four years of age?

Without this critical information, it's irresponsible to use the words that Jane Fraser used because it will lead the ordinary young child stutterer to the conclusion that they can accomplish what Tiger has...when it's likely they won't. Even The Stuttering Foundation's own website says this! Have a look:

"If you have stuttered all your life, it is unlikely that the stuttering will ever go away completely."

Wow, really? Let me ask: is this news to any adult stutterer? Answer: NO. However, this is probably going to be very big news to a child stutterer who relies upon Jane Fraser's words that strongly imply that you can be as successful as Tiger Woods if you practice as hard and as long as he does.

While I don't impugn the Foundation's over-all goal of assisting stutterers in getting the latest information about stuttering and the Foundation's goal of providing a lot of resources on their website...this latest public statement is something that bothers me greatly. In fact, their entire list of famous people who stutter...bothers me.

But, that's for a different entry.

Monday, March 19, 2007

New DAF Device?

I found a link from another website to an offer for a device that functions, by all accounts, very similar to the SpeechEasy device. Have a look at it here:

This new device appears to partly mimic the very expensive SpeechEasy...but does so at a fraction of the cost. (SpeechEasy is upwards of $3-4,000...whereas the Stutterfree-tool is only $595.) I also note that it doesn't appear to offer DELAYED audio feedback...rather, they advertise that it offers DIGITALLY MODIFIED audio feedback. The device picks up the vibration your voice produces in the body...and feeds it into your ear through the earpiece. I haven't heard of that method before...or whether it even works.

I am intrigued...for a few reasons. First, I know that a delayed audio feedback device will work for me. I use a MacBook at home and have Garageband software (music editing). One of the features of GarageBand allows you to do Podcasts and I discovered that I can hear myself while recording my voice, wearing headphones. When wearing the headphones and speaking (before actually recording)...I can hear myself through the ear pieces. If I apply a certain chipmunk voice effect, I then hear both a delayed audio feedback and a frequency modulated feedback.

When both are applied (or just the DAF is applied), I am nearly 100% fluent. Thus, I am pretty confident that a mobile DAF device will work for me.

But, I am also hesitant of this new device for a few reasons...and any good product that is charging people hundreds or thousands of dollars should be able to stand up to scrutiny. If a company becomes defensive because of genuine concerns and critical advice would be to run away from them as fast as you can.

One reason, the website looks very homegrown...unorganized, cheaply done and not very appealing on any level. I would be hesitant to buy a DAF device from someone behind a lemonade stand on the side of the road...just as I would be hesitant to purchase anything from this website. They ought to invest some money into their image.

Another reason, there are no photos of this device on the website. Years ago, I read of a scam where someone advertised a guaranteed roach-killing device in the classified section of a newspaper. If you mailed in $ would be sent this guaranteed device. Apparently, it got a pretty big response and the guy made some money.

What the consumer was mailed in return was two small blocks of wood...and simple instructions: Place roach between blocks and press firmly. Thank you very much. You have your roach killer...and it is, in fact, guaranteed to kill roaches.

Why no photos of this device? I would never expect anyone to send me over $500 for a device that I won't even display.

What they do have is a very strange, badly drawn diagram of how the device is worn. It looks like the drawing of a third grader. Not very confidence inspiring!

Lastly, there appears to be no documentation (besides testimonials, which, if we are honest, can be entirely faked) on the effectiveness of the device or the method. And there is no information on the site about the manufacturer. Who are these people? Where are they? Are they working with experts, speech pathologists, etc? Or is this device manufactured in somebody's garage?

I would encourage all of you to have a look at this new device and give me some feedback here...and maybe even contact the manufacturer. I intend to email the company and invite them here to respond to this entry.

Job Search Anxiety Issue

I got an email from a very nice person who stumbled upon my blog...and he brought up an issue that piqued my interest. He related that he doesn't like it when he is doing a job search and the advertisement for the job solicits someone with good communication skills or excellent verbal skills. He said that he'd rather have the employer assess these sorts of skills on a one-to-one basis, rather than posting it in the advertisement, making it stressful for the stutterer...or even deterring them altogether.

While I agree with the sentiment of the question...I am not sure he is seeing the big picture.

I think that even if the job advertisement solicits those with "good verbal skills"...that requirement is arbitrary in definition, meaning that the definition of what that means will vary from employer to employer and from one job applicant to another. People who speak fluently don't necessarily have good verbal or communications skills...and we who stutter do not necessarily have weak communication/verbal skills.

Advertising that requirement is probably meant to deter those who know they are shy or know they don't like to talk...unsociable people. It's saying, "I hope you like to talk. I hope you like to communicate. This job requires it." It's not necessarily meant to deter people who stutter, but who otherwise ENJOY talking or ENJOY communication. Does that make sense?

If you are sociable, outgoing and love to talk to people...but have a stutter that you are determined to NOT let stand in your employer will probably hold that bold ambition in high regard...and might want to give you a chance simply for having the determination to NOT be limited by your won handicap. If they aren't such a person...perhaps working for him or her is not in your best interest, anyway.

As an aside, I think one part of our accepting our affliction requires us to know our limitations. A man born with no legs simply must face the fact that he can't get a job as a stage dancer. A man born deaf simply must face the fact that he'll never be a music producer. Likewise, I, as a stutterer, must simply face the fact that I will likely never land a job as a radio announcer.

There is nothing wrong with limitations when you recognize them. In fact, that is an asset to possess. Expecting the world around us to make unreasonable exceptions FOR the limitation, a bit pathetic, in certain circumstances. In my view, it's akin to what's wrong with our educational system in the United States. They are taking away many of the competitive aspects of public as not to "offend" low achievers. Instead they want to remove competition and have all kids be "special".

But the obvious result is...when you make everyone special...then nobody is.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Response From Mark Vladmir Clay

Seems Mr. Clay has responded to our inquiries of his multiple websites. (Read recent entries to learn more of this issue) Keep in mind, Mr. Clay claims to have had OCD, Anxiety Disorder & was a stutterer. And has since recovered from all three using his mysterious homeopathic, alternative-medicine remedies...though his website gives no clue what exactly he used...shows no statistics to show the effectiveness of his "programs"...and there is not one shred of scientific or medical research that he can point to in order to give any potential victims...oops, I mean "customers"...confidence that what he's peddling might actually work.

Instead, you have to roll the dice at a cost of $93.

He writes to me (freely visible in the remarks section of my last post):

"The programs have been created as a result of going to various alternative medicine practitioners for years and trying their stuff for both conditions- stuttering and compulsive behaviors."

Me: Care to offer some research or statistics to show the alleged effectiveness of your program or these alternative medicines you are talking about? They DID have a class in EVIDENCE at Cooley, did they not? You DO realize the importance of substantiating your claims, yes?

He writes further:
"The information that is used for anxiety disorders comes from the original programs. It only excludes the speech component and the compulsive component of conditions. There is a lot of detail about these alternative medicine therapies and what these programs include online."

Since you are charging people money for your "program", I suggest you offer some links to some empirical studies done on this "information" you are offering. Don't you think you would appear more ethical if you were to do so? Have you ever spent $100 without knowing exactly what you were getting...or without having any information about the effectiveness of the product you are investing in? Free clue: your one letter from "Jen" on your site is not evidence.

He writes more:
"Natural Therapy for Stuttering teaches one how to use homeopathic remedies, energy medicine techniques, hypnosis, flower essences and visualization techniques in combination for optimum results, and it is targeted towards stuttering. It consists of experimentation notes that have been modified subsequently."

Me: You are typing a lot of words, but you aren't really saying anything. Is there ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL that your therapies work? If so...PLEASE provide it for public scrutiny. After all, you are expecting people to OPEN THEIR WALLETS to you. Shouldn't you spend some effort building some confidence in your clients?

"The word "cure" stirs much debate here. The goal of all alternative medicine therapies is to cure a person. All natural remedies have curative powers. Particularly, the need for them diminishes with time."

Unless you are peddling an FDA approved medication, you cannot use the word "cure" or "treat" with regard to your product in conjuction with any authentic medical disease or disorder...or any word that would lead the general public to the conclusion that your products/therapies do anything for those conditions.

Simply ask any of the hundreds of alternative medicine companies that have been either heavily fined or closed down altogether. Once you say your product treats or cures an authentic disease or medical are claiming it is a "drug" according to the FTC and the FDA.

You don't even have to take my word for it...simply do some research on the FDA or FTC site. Any reputable practitioner would be more than happy to do this BEFORE peddling a "curative" product to an unwitting public.

And further:
"For instance, taking a homeopathic remedy called Sulphur in 1M or 10M potency will reduce not only symptoms of stuttering, but many anxiety symptoms as well in many people who have these problems."

Please substantiate this claim with any sort of research, documentation or proof.

Then he opines:
"To be a lawyer, you need to be able to think analytically."

And behave ethically, yes? And do adaquate research on legal business practices, yes? And know Federal guidelines about advertising alternative medicines, yes?

You simply do not have this ability.

Based upon what? My criticism of your three websites which offer to cure authentic, debilitating disorders using homeopathic alternative "medicines" with not one shred of scientific or medical research behind them, while you charge the unwitting public close to $100...while not even telling them what they are getting?

Is that how you concluded that I do not have analytical thinking abilities to the extent required by professional legal minds?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Galina Tchekan - FRAUD ALERT

Again, riding on the coattails of Tom Weidig of The Stuttering Brain Blog…I’m posting about some fraudulent activity he stumbled upon.

Take note of the three sites below. This guy is running three websites, one for homeopathic therapies for stuttering…one for OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and one for Anxiety Disorder. All three sites, on the “About Me” page, give lengthy personal testimonials about how the author was afflicted with the “disorder” that each page is about. Huh? He had ALL THREE “disorders”…and is now cured and has developed a product and training in “curing” others? You’ll notice there are no links, connecting these sites together.

Galina Tchekan
1002 Montrose Ave. # 183
Chicago, IL 60613

The sites are heavy in text, but very lacking in actual content. You’ll notice he never says what his “program” entails or what exactly you’ll be taking. Yet, he wants you to cough up $93USD.

I have reported this guy to both the Federal Trade Commission and to the Food & Drug Administration…and I urge you to, as well, to get as many “alerts” in about this guy as possible. He offers no credentials for his therapy or supplements, no research about any effectiveness, and even his information about each of the “disorders” is factually incorrect and very misleading in places. The “testimonial” letter on the OCD site has the feel of having been written by the same person who runs the site…replete with the same awkward English.

He is selling his snake oil, preying on people like us who are desperate for a “cure”. If you have the time, visit these two pages to submit your complaint to the FDA and the FTC.$solcq.actionview

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Call To Customer Service Nightmare

I got an email message today from my cell phone company, giving me my current balance, etc, etc...and long story short, somehow the idiot who sold me my new Razr over the Christmas holidays...added a new line to my account, making my total balance much higher than usual.

Needless to say, I was angry...not only because of the hassle of such a predicament, but because now I was forced to call customer service to remedy the problem.

The first thing (after 10 minutes of needless menu choices..."Press one if you're feeling happy today." Just kidding) the customer service rep wants me to do is to verify my account information...asking me for my last 4 SSN and my cell phone number. Both numbers, unfortunately for me, begin with the number 7, which is one of my problem numbers since it begins with an "S".

For the phone number, I began with the numbers after the area code...hoping I'd be able to toss in the area code as an afterthought after saying the rest of the numbers. Sometimes I can trick myself into being fluent that way.

Didn't work.

She asked me three times for the area code. When I finally got it out...she said I had to give her the number all over again. I was so frustrated, all I could do was laugh...and then I started over.

Verifying my last four of my SSN was also a problem, so instead of giving the last four, I gave her the entire number. She seemed annoyed at my inability to follow directions.

I think I also alarmed her with my hesitations, because she had me verify some other information before allowing me to address why I had called or giving me any information about my account. by this time, I was annoyed enough that I could speak pretty fluently for the rest of the conversation, even though, over all, I was less fluent than I normally am.

Damn, I wish these company's would invest in having 9-5pm LIVE CHAT services on their site. It's much easier and less intrusive on your day than a phone call. AND it caters to people with speed impediments.