Therapy Puts the Brakes on Speech Barriers

Through better understanding of how the mouth and body work to produce non-stuttered speech, patients are able to improve their speaking abilities over time.

Through better understanding of how the mouth and body work to produce non-stuttered speech, patients are able to improve their speaking abilities over time.

Evans Middle School teacher and tennis coach Jody Bolin knows all too well that stuttering can be a constant struggle. The 39-year-old has stuttered off and on all his life, but was able to handle his speech problems for years by avoiding certain words or phrases.

“When [my speech] started getting bad, mostly in stressful situations related to certain job pressures, I would think about it more and start to predict difficult words and then struggle with them a self-fulfilling prophecy, or curse,” Bolin said.

In 2000, Bolin decided to seek therapy.

“It worked for a while but then the stuttering came back worse,” Bolin said. “I went to a clinic for a two-week intense course to help control the stuttering and it did for a couple of weeks, but after returning to work it gradually got worse again.”

Overcoming Obstacles

Stuttering or stammering is a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this), or abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables, according to the Stuttering Foundation of America.

Although speech therapy might not be the answer for everyone who stutters, a recent study by the nonprofit Hollins Communications Research Institute has shown that stuttering therapy can help many of the 3 million American adults who stutter overcome job performance and income constraints that result from the condition.

The study found that employers and the general public often stereotype people who stutter as nervous, disorganized or mentally deficient. In addition, established industry studies show stuttering limits career and earnings opportunities for the majority of people with the speech disorder.

Yet, 79 percent of people who stutter and participated in stuttering therapy improved their employment situation, which respondents attributed to fluency skills learned during treatment, according to the study.

“An adult stutterer is pretty much a stutterer for life,” said James Dembowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology. “Although we do not think we can ‘cure’ an adult who stutters, we can certainly help that person achieve better control over his speech, and that can make a positive difference in a person’s professional and social interactions.”

Stuttering therapy for teens and adults usually means changing long-standing speech behaviors, emotions and attitudes about talking and communication in general, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

Stepping Toward Success

Dembowski said stuttering is a physical disorder not psychological therefore, adults can be treated by helping them understand how their lips, tongue, larynx and lungs and work together to produce non-stuttered speech.

“We progressively teach the person to control those structures in a conscious way, usually through drills that require slow, careful speech,” Dembowski said. “We also teach people that speech is only one part of overall communication, and that even with a stuttering problem, there are ways a person can be an effective communicator.”

Even after his unsuccessful attempts at speech therapy, Bolin was determined to improve the way he expressed himself vocally. While browsing on the TTUHSC website, he came across a phone number for Judy Keller, M.S., assistant professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences with specialty recognition in fluency disorders from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Bolin called Keller, who has since retired, and began seeing one of her department’s speech therapists twice a week.

“It was not an overnight thing, but it helped more in the long term than any other therapy I had ever been a part of,” Bolin said. “My self confidence came back up, I enjoyed going out in public again, did not dread or avoid public speaking situations, teaching my classes, coaching or meeting new people.”

Bolin said although his stuttering still comes and goes mostly when he’s tired or stressed, he is able to use the methods his therapist taught him until his speech improves.

“With the techniques I learned at TTUHSC I can now ‘self-heal’ to get through the rough patches,” Bolin said. “I would definitely recommend [speech therapy] to others. Maybe they will find help through the first person they see, or the third one like I did, but don't give up, [speech therapy] improved my quality of life and view on life drastically.”

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