Stuttering: The real story behind the person
Bobby L. Childers II
Given to a Graduate Speech Fluency Class at
New Mexico State University
26 April 2000
(comments in red are for explanation of statements)

I’m sure that all of you here know the technical terminology for stuttering, but I’ll bet that you don’t know the real world terminology for it; extreme frustration, shame, embarrassment, anger, isolation, misfit, and degenerate.   I personally have felt all of these many times during my lifetime. 

I had my speech evaluation in January 2000 with Dr. Leeper and Nancy Dawson.  This was the first “real” evaluation I ever had relating to my speech.  According to my evaluation sheet, I present part-word repetitions, single-syllable repetitions, phrase repetitions, and prolongations.  In the way of secondary behaviors, I have: eye blinks, head nods, interjections, changing the word, and excessive arm movement.  I also tend to say; “whatever it is” when I get really stuck on a word, which I guess is changing the word, huh? 

Let me tell you a little about myself so you can understand where I am coming from and where I am going.  I began stuttering the summer I turned 5 years old, and I’m now 43, so I’ve been doing this for quite some time.  I didn’t really know about my stuttering until I started grade school in September 1963.    I found out I was “different” when the kids in school began making fun of the way I talked or attempted to talk.  That was the beginning of the demise of my self-esteem and attitude. 

Right before I started the 3rd grade, we moved to a different school district where I was going to have to start all over again with meeting new kids, and dealing with the jokes, and funny faces that were made at my speech.  During the middle of 3rd grade, I was sent to a school speech therapist whose main interest was to drill into my head that I was a bad person for stuttering and stuttering made me look even worse. 

The further I went in school the further I delved into myself to avoid social interaction with people.  I began using avoidance techniques to prevent having to talk with people or to say the least amount possible.  My teachers usually assisted me in this process during school, because after I would get called on once in class, it usually never happened again.  I was racing motorcycles on motocross tracks all over the southwest, but I usually let my coach do the talking for me.  When you are racing a bike, you don’t usually talk much until you crash and then you only say a select few four-letter words that come out really smooth.
(semi explain...favorite word starts with an "S". Not too much graphic detail)

When I was about 16, my family doctor sent me at my request to a speech clinic in Denver for 6 weeks.  There I was told that if I would drag out my natural Texas drawl, that I wouldn’t stutter, I would stop…when I told the doctors that I wasn’t the one with the accent, they didn’t seem to appreciate it much…  Well it would work only for a short time because it requires enormous amounts of concentration, and when I talked slow enough that I wouldn’t stutter, everyone around me would fall asleep waiting for me to finish talking.  After that didn’t work, they told me to put rocks or marbles in my mouth, as that would slow down my speech patterns.  Once I had beaned the 3rd doctor with a marble on the head, they decided that wouldn’t work either, and I was told that I was a “hopeless” case and sent back home.
(explain how I went through numerous weeks of therapy and was frustrated, then when the marbles showed up and I had a mouthful, I began spitting them at the doctors…right between the eyes)

Dating was not really much in the picture for me because of my “lack of speech”.  When I would try to talk with a girl, I would lock up on my name every time, I still cannot tell someone my name without extreme difficulty.  Once in a while I would “hit and run” as my wife calls it, I would walk by her in the 9th grade, tell her a joke that should have taken 2 minutes in about 10 minutes and then leave before she had a chance to fully understand what I had said.  When I married my wife 14 years ago, she insisted that I ask her to marry me, and it only took me 4 days to get out “will you marry me?”  It only took her a nanosecond to say yes.
(explain that it actually took 4 days to ask her, I could get about one word a day…for four days)

 I selected my jobs very carefully so I could avoid a lot of vocal interaction with people until I decided to become an Emergency Medical Technician.  Being an EMT, you have to talk to people in their worst state of mind, and sometimes in extreme pain.  I soon discovered that when I was talking to patients, I had very little trouble talking, but as soon as I switched to talk with my partner or police, fire, etc.  I would start stuttering immediately.  When I talked on the radio, which wasn’t a whole lot, I would try and talk very slowly so everything would come out smoothly.  Most of the time it didn’t, but I tried anyway.  The problem with being a stuttering volunteer EMT is that when a full-time job came open, I wasn’t hired because I couldn’t meet the “communications” requirement, but I was kept on as a volunteer.

When I hit the magical age of 30, I began to change my attitude towards my “lack of speech” somewhat.  I decided that no matter what happened I was going to stutter for the rest of my life.  So I began to develop an “I don’t care” attitude in the hope that it would lessen the amount of stuttering I did, but it didn’t work either.  I read books from various places on how to stop my stuttering, tried all of their techniques with no success, just extreme amounts of frustration.

I have tried using relaxation techniques that I was taught by a psychologist, and it would work for a short time and then leave when I felt I needed it most.  I now feel that it didn’t work because I had to think about what I was doing while I was talking and I am a typical sub-species male in that I can only think of one thing at a time.
(explain how Koni and I are really close friends, she is 6’2 and I’m 6’1, we are both skinny and that our spouses would tell us that we must be siblings because of the way we fight all the time…but would do anything for the other and that she is the one who started the sub-species remark.  She said that men aren’t quite human so they must be a sub-species, and I jumped on the remark and now I’m proud to be a sub-species….it’s a great excuse for doing dumb “male” things)

When I hit the obscene age of 39, I was really beginning to believe that my career would be limited because of my “lack of speech”.  When I applied for jobs, I would be interviewed politely and then never called back and I know it was because I had a difficult time talking during the interview.  In 1996 I was hired by NMSU-Carlsbad branch to work on their computer system.  I had been a work-study student, so the school knew about my “lack of speech” and didn’t seem to mind.  After about 2 months, I was dragged out of my office to start working on faculty and staff computers in their offices, which meant that I had to talk to them.

 By the time I left there in July 1999 to come here and finish my bachelor’s degree in Business Computer Systems, I was supervising 8 employees, setting all of the specifications for the computer systems and software.  I had to deal with vendors on the phone occasionally, but I usually had one of my technicians handle that unless they had problems with the vendor, then I would get on the phone and talk fairly easily because I was mad.

Dr. Leeper (who by the way hates the “lack of speech” comment), set me up with Meena as my therapist.  In the short time that I have been seeing Meena…twice a week…my family have told me that my speech has improved 100%, and that my attitude towards my disfluency…said it that time, Dr. Leeper…was a major change.  Meena got me on the Stutt-L listserv that opened up a whole new world for me.  I didn’t know that many people in the world stuttered.  I always felt like I was the only misfit on earth, even though I knew I wasn’t.
(explain that I had read a lot of different books from different organizations on stuttering, but it didn’t hit home that I wasn’t the only one that stuttered until I got on the ListServ) 

Meena has been teaching me ways to reduce the amount of disfluency I have, such as vowel prolongation where I slightly slow my speech and prolong the vowels, easy onset where I start the words with a relaxed breath, light articulation which will reduce the amount of tension in the tongue, jaw and lips, and finally cancellation where I restate a word that I had trouble with to lay down a “memory track” in my feeble brain that I can say that word after all.  I have been practicing them around town, but I’m trying, and now I order my own stuff on the squawk boxes at Sonic and Taco Bell.  I still have trouble, but now I don’t feel as bad about my speech as I did before.

Right now I have to think about using the fluency techniques, and sometimes I forget.  But Meena has said that with time and practice, I will be able to use at least some of them without thinking about it.  Old habits die hard, but I’m trying to replace the bad ones with the new techniques, and build a whole new pattern of easier speech. 

The easiest technique that I have found to use at this point is cancellation.  I have my family helping me with not so subtle reminders that I need to prolong the words slightly, or use the easy onset when I’m having a bad time.  Personally I think they are enjoying the fact that I’m finally coming to grips with my “lack of speech” or disfluency as Dr. Leeper and Meena prefer to call it.  My attitude towards my speech is slowly improving as I am now making jokes about how long it takes me to tell a really bad joke, or talk on the phone. 
(explain that I personally feel my family is sadistic and enjoying it)
 

One of the benefits of speech therapy that I have discovered is that my attitude is changing ever so slowly.  I realize that I will never have perfect fluency, I don’t want to have perfect fluency now, because that wouldn’t be the real me, per se.  But now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I understand that with time and lots of practice, I will improve my speech fluency.

The main reason for my attitude adjustment is the therapist that I currently have.  I had to give an oral presentation in a class a couple of weeks ago.  Meena volunteered to come to the presentation and be my moral support.  I started my presentation, and for a couple of seconds at the beginning; I felt like I might pull this off and then the stuttering began with a vengeance.  I was trying all of the tricks Meena has taught me to do, and then I got stuck on a word, I tried at least 50 zillion times to get the word out when I finally changed the word and after that I felt like I went totally downhill at breakneck speed.  After I finished the presentation I was asked some really intelligent questions by the class, so I kinda thought, well maybe I didn’t do so badly after all.  But then I went home and began to fret about it, all weekend.  I even sent an email to Stutt-L telling them I did the presentation and was still alive.  I told them that Meena was there for my moral support and she told me that I did extremely well considering that speaking in public is my 2nd most feared situation…phone is 1st…but I thought that she was only being nice to me.
(panic mode was still in high speed)  

When I got to therapy the next week, Meena promptly informed me (in a properly professional teed off manner) that she was not being nice, she really felt that I had done extremely well.  Even though I felt like I didn’t do as well as I thought I should have, I still felt rather good because I had climbed a mountain and hit the crest.  I was able to stand up in front of a class and give an oral presentation because of the speech therapy and the caring feelings I get from Meena.
(even so, I got a very professional butt chewing, which my wife said I deserved)

I know that this has gone on for days and days but when I wrote it, I figured it should be about 10 minutes long, but then again, it might have been if I didn’t stutter my way through it.  What I have been trying to tell all of you is that in your quest to become SLP’s, keep in mind that not all that ails the stutterer is speech disfluency.  Attitude disfluency is just as disabling, lasts a very long time and can cause the stuttering to get worse.
(my attitude has been the pits for many, many years now, but its improving)

If I had Meena years ago, when I first started speech therapy, I probably wouldn’t have such a bad time now.  But if all of you here today, can become as professional and caring as she is towards her clients, then you will be a credit to your profession and will be able to help people like me learn to become more fluent with their speech and their attitude.

Thank you

(This is my personal feelings and situations that have occurred to me over the years.  If you would like to comment--good or bad--on this "speech", please send me email at: bobby@nettak.com.  I promise I won't take anything personal)

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