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Wrap Your Head Around Stuttering

If you watch Megan Washington’s TED Talk, she is stuttering on the outside.  On the inside, she is “living in mortal dread of public speaking.”  Those of you who are afraid of public speaking, imagine giving one with a stutter.  That feeling of stress would intensify every time you opened your mouth.  Even though her stuttering is noticeable, her rapid blinking or closing of the eyes when she stutters is minimal, you may not even see it.  She is great at stuttering, and undoubtedly years of therapy have given her the tools to speak more fluently.  When she has a stutter, she doesn’t have obvious: 

• facial twitch, an ineffective tool that develops after people condition themselves to use a particular

• movement to attempt to avoid stuttering

• moments of longer pauses and more repeated sounds and words

• tension in her face

She relaxes after stuttering.  Extraordinary amounts of practice and strategies implemented intentionally during her speech made this possible.  We have all stuttered, it happens and we have no control over it; we are nervous, we stumble, we get embarrassed, and it passes.  With people who stutter, it doesn’t pass, in fact, they can anticipate when it will happen, which further exacerbates the problem.  A few examples of what people who stutter learn in speech therapy are:

• Easy onset: slowly and softly easing into a word

• Pullout: ease out of a stutter, and repeat the word again slowly and controlled

• Phrasing: breaking a sentence into segments

• Iambic pentameter: speaking in a rhythmic way, the same as Shakespearian actors

• Desensitization: practicing intentional, assertive speech

• Light contact: lightly touching the mouth to make sounds like “t” and “b”

• Sing-song: talking in a sing-song voice

Marylin Monroe, a person who stuttered, used whispered, melodic voicing for fluency.  Can you spot any of the above strategies that Marylin or Megan may have used?  If you saw the King’s Speech, you know what people who stutter go through to be fluent speakers.  Another technique that is also a phenomenon is singing, which produces fluency every time.  Some theories as to why are:

• It reduces the cognitive load, other cortical areas (for music) take over (for our language center)

• It provides structure, with continuous sound, reliable beats, and natural flow

• Increased auditory feedback loop

• Some studies show the left hemisphere, where most of our language centers are located, has decreased

activity during a stuttering moment; a specific area in the left hemisphere controls temporal coherence,

meter, and polyrhythmic context, which music can provide 

Watch Megan’s TED talk, linked below, and when you do, pay attention to how you react.  Do you get uncomfortable?  Do you strain at all, waiting for her word to come out or thinking it was awkward?  These reactions by listeners make stuttering worse.  Waiting patiently with a calm demeanor takes awareness when speaking with someone who stutters, but it is respectful, helpful, and appreciated.  


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