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6 Jul 2009, 9:56am
Stuttering.Microblog
15 comments

When the ti-ger’s on the run…

I’ve been offline a bit over the summer, and haven’t been able to read up and reply to others as much as I’d like.  Recently, I got a comment by Pam, discussing the personal evolution of stuttering.  In essence (and I hope I’m getting this right), she feels as if her stuttering behaviors have changed, and that she is showing more stoppages (blocking / postural fixations) then ever before.  So what to make of it?

Well–I’ll state my safety disclaimer and say, “we’ve got no idea.”  But with that said, I think I may have an idea…

First off–our stuttering behaviors are only symptomatic of the pathology.  Our behaviors are not the pathology, but rather how the body tries to deal with the pathology (that is occuring at the neural level).  Stated differently, stuttering behaviors are symptoms; they are how the body is trying to behaviorally overcome neurological processing errors (which is the core pathology).  It’s my belief that the act of stuttering is the body trying to “jump-start” or “kick-start” the (stuck) system.  There’s a stop at the neurological level, and the body’s trying to force through it by priming itself with (motor) initiation behaviors.

That means that stuttering isn’t the pathology, but the body’s answer to the pathology.  And since it’s the body’s answer to the pathology, and it’s not a very efficient answer, these behaviors will evolve over time.  Older stuttering behaviors stop serving as effective primes out of the (neurological) stuttering moment, and the body hunts for newer/better behaviors.  As a result, the way we stuttered 5 years ago isn’t the way we stutter now, and it won’t be the way that we stutter in 5 years.

In any event, we’ve discussed (a theory on) why stuttering behaviors evolve.  But what do we do when our overt stuttered speaking behaviors evolve?  Well–we have to adapt.

Counter-intuitively, it could very well be that this sudden evolution in stuttering behaviors is a net positive.  First, the fact that we can tell there has been a change in stuttering behaviors indicates that we’re sensitive to it.  (In other words, we have desensitized ourselves to stuttering to some degree.)  Second, we may have our ti-ger on the run.  (Please read the ti-ger analogy if you haven’t already done so.)  Regarding our old stuttering behaviors, we’re either not doing them anymore or they have ceased to be effective.  At this point, the ti-ger is forced to show us a new trick; it’s behaving differently–and this can freak us out just a bit at first, because it feels like an adidtional loss of control  So what to do?  In essence, we’ve got to retrain the ti-ger.  He’s a wilily one, and isn’t easily domesticated.  Right now, the ti-ger is walking wherever he wants to go, and that’s not an acceptable way to live with it.  When we lose control, the ti-ger takes a swipe at us.  So pull out the choke chain and get to work.  There are any number of ways to try and tame this ti-ger, but my preferred method at this point is via volitional stuttering.  When we volitionally stutter, we’re tugging on the choke chain and directing the beast where to go, how to go, and when to go.  And we train this ti-ger to do what we want, when we want, how we want.  We’re not trying to make him go away, because I’m not sure that’s even possible.  We’re just domesticating the beast.  It will take both courage and practice, but the continued use of volitional stuttering gives us the ability to shape how the ti-ger behaves.

There are any number of online and print materials that provide step-by-step methods regarding how to employ the use of volitional stuttering to tame the tiger; this is just one.

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Yeah, the tigress is loose and leading me by the collar, instead of the other way around. Thank you for such a lengthy and thoughtful reply.

I am having a very hard time with this shift because I thought I was done with this acceptance part, that I could go merrily on my way, free, and encourage others to be accepting. This has taken me by surprise because of the difference and tension. Obvious tension!

I agree with VS, but I am not sure I can replicate the stoppages in order to do them purposely. I sound different and feel different, BUT, I also think that is a first step in dealing with this, acknowledging that I am indeed feeling something about what is happening, instead of denying like I did for sooooo many years.

I have acutally re-read this and printed it out. Thank you again for the effort. Maybe we can chat one day soon, and you can hear for yourself. People are tellimg me it sounds like I am holding my breath. Maybe an involuntary way to block the block?

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Pam, acceptance of stuttering isn’t a binary event–it’s a process. We all reach new plateaus, only to be bumped on our butt every now and then. Never as low as our original (or lowest) level, but being knocked down on our knees every now and then is par for the course.

Secondly, it sounds like you might benefit from negative practice, in addition to volitional stuttering. Negative practice is volitional stuttering dialed up to 11. It helps us identify the tension, and learn to turn it on/off like a switch. It’s all detailed in that book I linked to in the post. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth your time.

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6 Jul 2009, 4:38pm
by Bethany


Hi Greg,

I’ve been seeking a decent way to contact you for a while but most of the options you’ve made available either require that you be present in real time or have limitations on the number of characters! Perhaps this will work best.

I need to thank you for both your blog and the audio you provide of your lectures. I hadn’t given much thought to stuttering openly until a couple of years ago; I’ve been working as a tutor for about as long and I just made the decision to fund grad school by working as a teaching assistant, which is more public speaking than I had imagined signing myself up for at my age. I usually operate as a covert stutterer while tutoring though it’s impossible for me to hide completely, and I suppose teaching has been the area in which I’ve procrastinated the longest with regards to allowing stuttering to permeate it. As much as I’m happy to stutter with friends and family or even strangers on the street, I’d maintained a sense of obligation to efficiency when teaching that I have been misinterpreting as a need to never stutter ever. Your lectures were startling and wonderful and encouraging to hear. I’ve only noticed the online stuttering community very recently and I had never heard anyone own their stuttering while teaching before, though it seems like an obvious solution now. :)

Thanks for existing and being a reminder that I do not need to achieve an imaginary non-stuttering state of vocal purity to be able to teach effectively! I appreciate your work very much and will hopefully manage to show a few others that typical verbal fluency isn’t necessary for clear communication.

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Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Hey Bethany! Thanks so much! Let me DM you my email over Twitter at some point :)

You know–maybe I should podcast one of my “Introduction to Stuttering” lectures that I do once a semester. It’s really pretty funny, because I muster up the concentration to ask the students if they have ever had a stuttering professor before, and if they think such a thing could exist. I then disclose that I stutter, and feel the negative air pressure from the gaping jaw-drops :)

And then, at the end of the lecture, I ask the students if they have ever had fluent professors that can’t seem to get a point across at all. All the students nod, with a visceral frustration that only experience can bring. I then contrast that with my stuttered lecture, and it’s really neat to see them “get it”. Effective communication and stuttering/fluency are on two entirely different spectrum. :)

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Bethany Reply:

Indeed! In high school I overcame some of this by giving my senior year oral presentation on the question: “Is verbal fluency necessary for effective communication?” I stuttered and talked about stuttering, then got their opinion at the end of how well I had communicated. The reviews were convincing.

What has bugged me most is that I won’t be teaching about stuttering – I’ll be teaching about mathematics. It’s going to be interesting and difficult. I would love to hear an intro to stuttering lecture. No better pep talk could exist. :)

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

When I was in school, I was taking some graduate/PhD level classes in Biostatistics. One of my profs (a woman, actually) stuttered. She was very covert, and hid it very well. It took well into the 3rd semester w/ her before my classmates (other SLP PhD students) were finally convinced that she was a covert stutterer. Anyway, we can smell our own, and I knew in the first class session.

Anyway–I just wish she would have been overt about it. At that level, there was just not circumlocuting, so her covertness came at the expense of her perceived competency as an instructor. Definitely not a ‘win’ in my book.

In many ways, we have the interesting luxury of choosing how stuttering impacts us. Public shame vs. private shame. The public option takes quite a bit of getting used to, but the private option eats at one’s soul. True to form, stuttering is utterly antithetical yet again!

Greg, I get what you’re saying about the stuttering behaviors only being the visible part of the pathology.

But my initial response would be, “Then if the behaviors change, that means the underlying invisible pathology has changed, and the visible behaviors have shifted to compensate.” Not that the previous behaviors have outlived their usefulness, but that now the pathology has changed.

Just to put it into a perspective I “get” (heh) in one of my five pregnancies, I had an unbelievable number of braxton-hicks contractions. There were just far too many of them, to the point that they scared me. BH contractions are normal, of course, but I was having far more of them than I was used to.

Now, by your explanation (in pregnancy terms) it would just be that the normal symptoms of pregnancy weren’t providing enough protection for the developing baby. But what was actually going on was that I was calcium-deficient, and taking more calcium made the BH contractions stop, almost immediately.

So what I would ask is how the stuttering pathology changes over time, and whether there are shifts in the underlying brain structure or the chemical pathways or the what-not (because I’m not a neurologist and I don’t know these things) that are making the stuttering symptoms crop up in different areas. Not that this might be a bad thing (I would assume it actually isn’t) but that since the human brain does change somewhat as we age, perhaps the change in stuttering pattern is simply a reflection of underlying changes.

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

No doubt about it–stuttering is tough. It’s confused everyone for over a millennium. We’ve tried applying simple “common sense” to it, and have failed every time.

There was a lot to today’s post that didn’t get off the cutting room floor. Suffice it to say that I’m not sure your pregnancy allusion works here.

Stated differently, a change in symptoms (in neurological diseases) does not indicate a change in core neurological pathology. I can give you countless examples, if needed…

I’m betting that there are two parts to developmental stuttering. The first is a neuro processing failure. The second is how the body tries to cope with the neuro-processing failures (i.e., stuttering behaviors).

Now, the stuttering phenomenon seems to reveal itself in expressive communication. And the core unit of expression is the ‘gesture’. It’s more than motor; it’s motor+meaning. Motor+meaning = lingustic gestures.

What stuttering behaviors do is modify the linguistic gesture. In essence, stuttering secondaries are novel motor additions to the linguistic gesture. Ipso facto, they cease being linguistic gestures, and we stutter less. The body has found itself a new trick. But the more we use any given secondary (i.e., novel motor additions), the more it becomes integrated into the linguistic gesture. So it loses its effectiveness. And since it’s a part of the linguistic gesture, it stays there. But the secondary ceases to work, the body is on the hunt for another secondary to get the job done.

So the pathology likely doesn’t change. Instead, the secondaries run their course of effectiveness…but continue to remain in the stutterers speech because they’re now integrated into the linguistic/speech gesture. (I call this the stuttering parfait.)

[Reply]

So much neat stuff generated. Last night, I finally was upfront (to one person) at support group, and she said she notices tension in my neck and sholders where its never been before.
She also said that my breathing appears to be “off”, ie, too much air causing vocal folds to get stuck?
So they know I hugely resist the dreaded targets, becasue in my mind they make me covert. It was suggested I try some overall relaxation techniques, and some voice tasks (laryngeal massage – don’t know what that it is).
Anyway, I don’t think Iam going to “work” on anything while at NSA conference, except just being me and having some fun. If I choke while stuttering, then so be it!

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Hey Pam–Yeah, I agree; take the weekend off and just have fun at NSA; stuttering can wait. :)

Again–what’s happening is that your body is coming up with new secondaries that are running amuck. Don’t try and read into them too much–it won’t help and it won’t be accurate. (No, air flow and stuck vocal folds aren’t correlated!)

I doubt you’ll have tons of success with relaxation techniques or laryngeal massage, because those aren’t dealing with the problem. Again, I’d really suggest you read up on negative practice…which will help you isolate the secondary (superfluous) motor activations, and empower you to turn them on/off like a switch. Further, large amounts of volitional stuttering can re-train speech patterns as well.

Have fun at the conference :)

[Reply]

Pam Reply:

Then why in the world would a SLP suggest I try these things? I had my doubts when she (and student clinician)suggested relaxing my vocal folds, massaging something and getting too much air. Ahhh, I am going to just trust my gut (and you) and just fuggetabout it for a few days.
I am going to read the book/link you sent me on the negative practice, and not be caught out there doing shoulder curls.
I am planning on fun, and learning, and lots of talking. I am NOT bringing my computer. Hope I can get through the initial withdrawal.

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Always follow your gut, Pam. I hate to sound crass, but was this SLP a fluent? If so, then you know more than her–and act accordingly. If your BS meter rang a 4-alarm-fire w/ the idea of “just relaxing” or “massaging your larynx”… then believe yourself!

Let’s make time to talk/skype when you get back :)

yes, she was a fluent! Let’s defintitely make time to talk/skype when I get back and before I jet off again to Friends.
I am the expert on Me – I have to keep remembering that, although it is a natural inclination to reach out and ask for help when something weird is happening.
She asked me to give an honest effort to try this stuff – like she knew in her gut that I wouldn’t. :)
Not crass -just realistic and honest like I have come to count on you to do!
Thanks!

[Reply]

I find it pretty fascinating how the symptoms of stuttering change and adapt over time. E.g. I did a fluency-shaping therapy this summer and even when it’s not really working my stuttering symptoms are very, very different from the way they were pre-therapy – and actually, some things characteristic of attempting to use the therapy have become part of my stuttering symptoms. The most extreme example I can think of is when I was making a very specific mistake in practicing and promptly developed a stuttering behaviour based on that! It’s really fascinating stuff, it’s just a pity I usually have other things on my mind when I stutter so can’t pay proper attention. *g*

Explaining this has actually been one of the things I’ve had the most problems making clear to fluent people. Even friends who seem to have a reasonably good grasp on what stuttering means for me don’t seem to get that just because I’m at a specific fluency level now that doesn’t mean that’s usually the case or will be so two months from now, and (especially) that if something works to reduce my stuttering now that does not mean it will keep doing so!

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Well–I can talk more about this if you want. It’s my theory that fluency shaping is really nothing more than a series of purposefully implemented secondary behaviors. In other words, fluency shaping targets *are* secondary stuttering behaviors that are intended to masquerade overt stuttering behaviors.

Now–the opposite opinion would state that overt stuttering is caused by errors in the sequence of speech muscles (etc) and that fluency shaping rectifies this error…but I’m not buyin’ it. It’s too limited a view on the stuttering phenomenon.

And as far as your other point–you’re 100% right. People *so* fall into the fallacy of “if you can do it some of the time, you can do it all of the time”… *sigh* But we know better, so we have to believe in ourselves rather than believing stuttering prejudice.

[Reply]

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