Home > Stuttering.Microblog > Forget the genetic research, acting classes can cure stuttering

Forget the genetic research, acting classes can cure stuttering

Not too much of interest recently on the stuttering front, but Tom posted a pretty nifty article abstract (which I can’t seem to find yet) regarding the ‘dopamine transporter gene’ and the ‘dopamine D(2) receptor gene’ relative to stuttering.  In essence, mutations to the ‘dopamine receptor gene’ seems to be associated with an increased risk for stuttering.  What I think they’ll end up finding is that there are any number of genetic paths toward stuttered speech; and since there is no 1 clear path–it’s confusing our researchers.  We’ve yet to figure out that there are any number of genetic conditions that will result in the symptoms of stuttering.  So get back to me in 15 years–feel free to taunt me if I’m wrong…

And there’s been quite a lot of online chatter about actress Emily Blunt and her stuttering experience.  To summarize, she stuttered as a child, and still does (although to a smaller extent) today.  (I’m pretty confident that there are at least 2 well controlled sub-perceptual moments of stuttering in the interview.) She credits her (incomplete) recovery from stuttering to a teacher that suggested she speak in a novel accent, and then later with acting classes.  (If you stutter or are an SLP, you’re likely giggling over the novel accent suggestion; almost as good as my uncle telling me to substitute words when I was a kid.)  Now don’t  get me wrong–it is not my intention (at all) to somehow denigrate her experience or her perspective.   But I do have the following comments:  (1) How sad is it for the field of SLP that totally unrelated disciplines may have equal power over the pathology? When we hear accounts such as this, I honestly wonder just how far we are from the witch-doctors.  Let’s go kill some chickens; maybe that’ll work this time.  (2) She talks about how she “changed the way her mind worked” (or something to that extent) and implied that this is a tool that she used to largely overcome the pathology.  Between you, me and the rest of the internet, I bet she’s onto something.  (Although I’m confident that mainstream SLP would rather not acknowledge as such.)  The tough thing is–I can’t define it either.  I think I’ve experienced (or felt) something that might be similar–and equally difficult to express.  For limited time periods (and w/ effort), I can force my mind to ‘feel’ different, and that seems to result in a significant decrease in overt stuttering.  Almost like a sense of being invulnterable to a stuttering moment.  Wondering if anyone out there has experienced the same sensation.  Discuss.  I know the Salmelin et al ’98 article (if I recall correctly) suggests that when a stuttered-neuro-activation pattern moves toward a fluent-activation-pattern, we tend to stutter *more*…so I’m just befuddled…  (3) Plenty of stuttering is caused by anxiety inferences abound, per Emily…but whatever, it’s par for the course.

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  1. Bethany Laranjo
    March 26th, 2009 at 14:45 | #1

    Hey,
    I was going to bring this up on twitter today, about Emily Blunt. I was angry when I watched it. She said she doesn’t kow why she stuttered because her parents were so nice and she wasn’t an intense child. So many things wrong there, unawareness.

    Thanks, Bethany

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    I forgot–you’re my Ellan Fan! Well, I can definitely see what you mean. It was perpetuation of the myth, wasn’t it? It stood out to me too…good parents, I wasn’t “tense”, yada yada yada.

    But again–for me, it’s almost to be expected. It’s par for the course. By nature, people will misconstrue the condition–and I explain this phenomenon by the fundamental attribution error.

    So rather than getting ticked off when I see this, I’ve trained myself to feel happy/surprised when I don’t.

    [Reply]

  2. March 26th, 2009 at 15:10 | #2

    I’ve experienced something like this. In the Fall of 1970 (as a GTA at Cincinnati), I taught two undergraduate English classes playing Elliot Gould in “Getting Straight.” It was great. I thought I was curing myself. No teaching in the Spring. Then: Fall 1971 I was me again and the wheels fell off. The key was Gould’s low voice, which I imitated impeccably. In those days there were no videotapes, so I lost the voice. I think I was changing the feedback. The low voice and droopy jaw required to create it changed a bunch of stuttering cues and the authoritative voice seemed to give me confidence. There is really nothing new about this. I’ve had relatives of clients tell me that they stuttered as children and then just “started thinking differently” at some point and worked their way out of it. Makes it difficult for them to understand why others can’t just do the same. I think they were just mild stutterers. Van Riper and many others mention some relayed experiences like this. These experiences and the situationality of stuttering undermine my trust in the strength of etiology associated solely with white matter anisotrophy and other plausible physical factors. – Darrell

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Hey–that’s a great story! I’m quite confident that we’d find a deviated neural activation pattern when speaking in a novel accent–which would employ the use of the lateral premotor system. But as the novelty wears off, so would the use of the lateral premotor system–thus stuttering returns. (Perhaps why fluency shaping has such a poor relapse rate; almost like clockwork.)

    And your idea of your clients just being ‘mild’ stutterers has been my experience as well. Once, I spoke w/ a guy (who had any number of stuttering-like dysfluencies) who told me he “used to stutter.”

    My honest thought is that we’ve mostly deluded ourselves into thinking we understand stuttering, but that our fundamental perspective is flawed (and thus everything else). So I’m not sure that I’m prepared to toss out the whole ‘stuttering is a neuro-medical pathology’ argument, because our understanding of what stuttering is…is likely wrong. Further, it’s my position that there’s likely any number of genetic roads toward the symptom of stuttered speech (much like deafness).

    Thanks for your comments; they always make me think…

    [Reply]

  3. Daniele Rossi
    March 26th, 2009 at 16:13 | #3

    Could “thinking differently” be a form of acceptance? Well, mostly avoidance.

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Yeah–that’s just it. What is it? A form of acceptance? Maybe, in some people. A form of (covert) avoidance? Also quite possible. And I still hold out that there may be a 3rd option that we do not fully understand.

    [Reply]

  4. Cricket
    March 30th, 2009 at 13:35 | #4

    Physiotherapy patients for pinched nerves (Dad observed, then therapist confirmed) often report more pain as the therapy progresses. As the nerves “wake up”, they start sending signals again. The therapist looks for the pattern of reawakening. To the patient, it seems like a relapse.

    As a storyteller, my brain works differently, depending on the type of story and language (word-for-word vs tell what happens in my own words) and how well I know it. It varies between auto-pilot and hyper-aware of the words / notes / body language / audience. Sometimes in the middle I don’t remember getting there, but the audience clearly does. Then there’s reading out loud doing voices (which involves reading a few lines ahead thinking while talking) vs monotone (eyes to voice, bypassing any thought process).

    Is that similar? Or only similar enough to be confusing?

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Well–if you ask 3 different stuttering researchers, you may get 3 different answers. It all depends on how you view the stuttering pathology. What you’ve cited is a fluency enhancing phenomenon. And it’s probably better that we live in with the discomfort of not knowing. Instead, people try to use their deductive beliefs as to why it works how it does.

    …but yeah, probably similar 🙂 And my deductive prejudice would be a change in how speech is processed in the brain.

    [Reply]

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