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.

http://www.stutteringhelp.org/Default.aspx?tabid=499

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 best...in 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 through...like 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:

http://www.stutteringhelp.org/Default.aspx?tabid=148

"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.

23 comments:

Bud said...

Well, I can't say anything about the effort involved with therapy nor its correlation to sports, but I can say that The Foundation was where my uncles and cousins found help. One uncle was referred to his speech therapist through them, and all of them worked through the book "Self Therapy for the Stutterer." None of them had anything but good things to say about the Foundation and were glad they found a source of help. They didn't have access to speech therapy in school back then. All of them became very fluent and felt as if they overcame their stuttering even though it was always a part of their life. In my family, we all accept ourselves the way we are and are never ones to "shame" nor blame anyone else - especially those who have spent their life caring and helping make the world a better place for those who stutter. One uncle begged me on his deathbed to keep up his work of spreading the word that the Foundation was the best source of help for teaching parents so young children would have a better chance of getting help so their stuttering would not be a lifelong problem. As for this old man, I will continue to sing praises for The Stuttering Foundation and give thanks for all that they do.

Adrian said...

Bud, I share your admiration for the Stuttering Foundation. They are a respected organization and a good source of information on stuttering. But, as president of the foundation, Jane Fraser should have known better. These comments have instant credibility coming from her. I am not suggesting Fraser be vilified for one stupid comment, but this article should be removed from the foundation site and she should publish an apology. I will be writing the foundation to let them know my displeasure and I encourage others to do the same.

Jerome said...

I have to disagree. I'm convinced that the continuous correct practice helps lessen the stuttering. Maybe it could even completely disappear one day.

Law Student said...

Bud, thanks for your insight and your praise of The Foundation...I do agree that it provides invaluable resources and helps to the stutterer...it's only this latest article that bugs me. I am simply not convinced, based upon personal evidence and anecdotal from other stutterers, that working with therapy in the same way that one works on being a trained athlete...does as much good as Jane is suggesting. The obvious result is that, if a child does not achieve those same results, they will inevitably blame themselves. After all, if Tiger Woods does not win a golf tournament...he can only conclude that he didn't work hard enough to win. This is simply the wrong message to send to a child or anyone who stutters.

Law Student said...

Jerome, I'd love to share in your belief...it's just that I've seen no evidence that this is possible, through traditional hard work in speech therapy. At best, I've seen people simply learn to accept their stutter...and learn to overcome blocks more easily. The words in that article give the impression that through hard work in traditional therapy, training like an athlete...that one day, if you persist, you can "cross the finish line" or "win the gold medal" with stuttering.

There simply is no ribbon to break or gold medal to be won.

Adrian said...
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Adrian said...
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Law Student said...

Adrian, I could google it myself, but do you have links to this latest research? I realize I'm asking to be spoon-fed the information...but I can't help myself. :)

Adrian said...

Law stutent, not only does personal experience and anecdotal evidence suggest that working hard with therapy will not guarantee success, so does the latest research. Research by Yairi, Ambrose, Cox, and others has shown genetic differences in the children who recover and those who do not. Their research does not indicate it makes any difference whether the children have speech therapy or not, recovery is simply genetically predetermined. If this research holds true, we are setting these children, who have been genetic preselected to stutter into adulthood, up for significant psychological problems to go along with the stutter.

Adrian said...
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Adrian said...

I believe the Stuttering Foundation has an article on it, I will try to find it. Sorry for my tech problems, my posts were showing up in threes(???)

Adrian said...

Here is an article that mentions the research in the last paragraph. I guess Jane Fraser does not read her own articles. lol

http://www.stutteringhelp.org/Default.aspx?tabid=169

I believe there have been two such studies, at least one is available in the American Journal of Human Genetics, but I don't have the specific volume.

PS I hope this post only shows up once. lol

Jerome said...

Lawstudent:

"Jerome, I'd love to share in your belief...it's just that I've seen no evidence that this is possible, through traditional hard work in speech therapy."

The point here is 'traditional hard work in speech therapy'. As you remember perhaps I'm convinced that most, if not all of the problem, is in our heads. For some reason, or maybe even small genetic defect, we developped a bad habit and it become so a part of us that we've totally integrated it into our self-image. And now we (me included at times) have trouble to even imagine ourselves to speak freely. But we HAVE to if we want to get rid of this annoying 'habit'. We have to realize that we can change it. In the past I've stuttered VERY badly and although I've still got my problems from time to time, or in certain situations, I've improved big time. Curiously I made the biggest move when I started working and HAD to communicate with other people and do stuff that I usually tended to avoid. Over time my fear of certain situations lessened or even disappeared. And if I had been more motivated, or less lazy, I would have confronted myself with even more daring situations. But this has to be done in little steps. I would die if I had to make a speech in front of a certain number of people! But mainly not because I couldn't do it but because for, some reason, I don't believe I could do it ... I'm convinced that if I was SURE I could do it, I could. And why not? I don't stutter in certain situations, so technically I can do it. But something is holding me back mentally. And I'm trying to understand what this could be or why it does. I, or my subconscious, seem to be convinced that it's better to stutter in such situations than not ...

"At best, I've seen people simply learn to accept their stutter...and learn to overcome blocks more easily."

In the past I always refused to accept my stutter because I saw it as a defeat. My opinion today has changed in a sense that I accept my handicap (or bad habit) but that I refuse to accept is as definitive and immovable. I see the progress that I've made and I don't see why I couldn't go on.

"The words in that article give the impression that through hard work in traditional therapy, training like an athlete...that one day, if you persist, you can 'cross the finish line' or 'win the gold medal' with stuttering."

I'm convinced that THE RIGHT hard work and training will, and does, pay-off. The secret is small steps, so you can build confidence and practice the new habit of not stuttering in situation X. And from there go to situation Y, etc. The hard thing though is to believe in yourself and to stay calm (this was very hard for me in school). And to try to see the situation as a challenge that you can master (why shouldn't you be able to do what the others do?). And even if it doesn't totally work as you intended it, try to realize why it didn't work and try to change this the next time.

"There simply is no ribbon to break or gold medal to be won."

True. But if you can stutter less wouldn't that be a nice price? ;)

Law Student said...

Hi Jerome! Thanks for the detailed response. I used to be of the opinion that my stutter was "habitual"...but evidence has surfaced over the years that seems to fly in the face of that. While I accept that their exists a certain habitual response to my stutter...the presence of it in circumstances that ordinarily should be stutter-free leads me to believe that it goes well beyond habit...and into some other realm, perhaps chemical/genetic, etc.

I do endorse hard work in approaching therapy...I'm just not convinced, based upon personal experience and anecdotal evidence, that progress will be significant. In my case, it was frustrating...not encouraging.

I do not endorse leading stutterers to think that if they work hard, they will "overcome". Nothing seems to indicate that this is the case. I think working hard can help you to become okay with your stutter...but stuttering it too varied an affliction (even in ONE stutterers life) to effectively approach it with successful therapy. I stutter differently from one month to the next. So, where is the common denominator? How do you treat that?

I'm leaning more toward looking for a therapy that will treat what might be a chemical difference in our brains. A chemical imbalance, if you will.

While I agree that there are those who make progress in stuttering therapy...I submit that most of that progress is psychological/emotional and not physical. I am open to evidence to the contrary, however.

Jerome said...

Hi Lawstudent,

But what about people who have indeed overcome their stuttering (or who, at least, control it in a way that they don't stutter anymore)?

I'd say that it's a result of hard work and 'self-enhancing' psychology, meaning that you notice that you're speaking better (because of your training), you get more comfortable and relaxed so you speak better the next time etc ... an upward spiral so to speak.

Law Student said...

Jerome said: "But what about people who have indeed overcome their stuttering"

Great question! Honestly, I do not know of any. I do know people who have overcome using modified speaking techniques. Tom and I spoke of this method when he was in San Diego. Is this what you're talking about? Other than that...maybe we should try to contact some who have overcome using therapy who are now cured...but use no technique that they have to apply every day.

See, modified speaking techniques, IMHO, are no different than using a device such as SpeechEasy. You aren't really fluent in the way that most understand it. Instead, you are using a method to BE fluent. It's faux fluency, though I'm not impugning it.

If this is what you mean...I'm not against such things, please understand that...it's just that I'm more interested in finding a treatment that will make such devices and methods...unnecessary. Know what I mean? I don't want a prosthetic leg so that I appear to walk like everyone else...I want a real leg, so that I AM walking like everyone else! :)

Is this irresponsible or unrealistic? Honest question. :)

Jerome said...

"Other than that...maybe we should try to contact some who have overcome using therapy who are now cured...but use no technique that they have to apply every day."

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. And if he keeps this up then it'll become more or less automatic over time, respectively it's not needed anymore because he has become so comfortable speaking that his stuttering won't show up anymore.

As I've said before: There were situations in the past where I would have died that don't annoy me anymore today. In these situations I would have completely blocked in the past but I'm fluent now.

Are there still situations where I stutter or where I'm not really fluent? You bet! But that's (imho) only because I'm still anxious in those situations. And that's where I have to work to. To realize that if I can speak in situation A there's no rational, or real, argument why I couldn't in situation B. This applies to normal-speaking people too though. Most people fear speaking publicly like death even though they can speak normally everywhere else. It's only psychological. The bad thing is that this anxiousness translates into severe stuttering in our case.

As for stutterers who have overcome their stutter there are these lists out there but of course I can't verify them personally. Bruce Willis is supposed to have stuttered as a child. But is there a video of him at the time? No. Nor could I ask him myself. Hence I don't know for sure ...

On the other hand there is Fran├žois Bayrou, a french presidential candidate, who overcome it (or can manage it). You can listen to him here: http://www.latelelibre.fr/?p=31

Of course he speaks slower like most politicians but people seem to like it actually. It makes them feel at ease.

Agreed, I don't know how bad he stuttered but stuttering is stuttering, right?

Law Student said...

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 my 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, 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.

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.

I'm going to blog my response. :)

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