Public Release: 

Intensive Stuttering Program Aims At Coping Not Cure

Penn State

University Park, Pa. -- "Move forward and communicate" might be the slogan for participants in Penn State's Intensive Stuttering program now in its second year.

"Stuttering is a chronic syndrome and tends to be cyclical," says Dr. Gordon W. Blood, professor and head of the department of communication disorders. "I tell clients, they stuttered before, they stutter now, and chances are slim they will be cured of stuttering, but that they can get better."

The stutterers who come to Penn State's University Park campus for four weeks of intensive speech therapy are adults ranging from early twenties to late middle age, and include an accountant, an AIDs researcher, a businessman and college students. All have had prior speech therapy for stuttering.

Last year five people were in the program and this year there are six. When the project's four years are complete, 20 to 25 stutterers, 40 to 45 graduate students and 8 to 12 undergraduates will have benefitted. Undergraduates and master's degree students learn to plan and carry out therapy, and doctoral students learn to supervise.

"Last year one participant stuttered on 15 out of 100 words, while another stuttered on 97 out of 100 words," says Blood, a faculty member in the College of Health and Human Development "Sometimes someone stutters only mildly in the clinic, but on the telephone or at a cash register, their stuttering becomes much worse."

For this reason the program includes mornings of work in the clinic and afternoons in the community, walking around campus, going to the mall or shopping downtown.

"When they go back home, they can refer back to real situations and use the same methods,'" says Blood.

Stuttering is an interruption in the forward flow of speech including repetitions, prolongations or hesitations. Blood advocates that stutterers first develop an awareness of their stuttering.

"Stutterers develop physical tricks like a head jerk or finger snapping to stop a repetition or a block," says Blood. "Soon these techniques don't work and new movements are added. This does not move communications forward, so we want clients to recognize the behaviors and get rid of them."

The second step is to accept that they will stutter, even to advertise the fact.

One of the participants' exercises is to walk around campus, stop someone and tell them that they stutter.

"People come back amazed and say, 'she didn't care', or 'he has a friend or cousin who stutters,' " says Blood. "We also teach them the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive behavior in response to rude comments. Assertive responses are encouraged."

After awareness and acceptance come the skills and behaviors to make speaking easier, if not perfect. The aim is to change how a person stutters so that communication moves forward and is not blocked for seconds or minutes at a time.

The stutter is broken down into before, during and after segments with suggested approaches for each.

"Stutterers can predict when they are going to stutter," says Blood. "They see the signposts -- a specific letter sound or group of words -- and they know they will have trouble."

Using preparatory skills, including rehearsal and prevoicing, they can try to confront the problem. The stutterers are taught to go back and cancel out the stutter to get past the stuck word or phrase and move on.

Other methods used are light contacts and prolongation. With light contacts, the stutterer almost whispers the word so no hard sounds are made. Prolongation stretches out the word and moves past the stuck place giving the stutterer control.

While these methods can be taught in weekly sessions, the intensive four week program makes it easier to reinforce the behaviors.

"Stuttering is different from other speech impediments," says Blood. "It is part genetic, part developmental and there are physiological differences between stutterers and non- stutters."

Therapists typically see a large number of clients with a broad variety of speech problems including letter difficulties, the aftermath of strokes and neck cancers and swallowing disturbances as well as stuttering. With this project, the students get 100 hours of experience in treating stuttering.

Working with Blood are Ingrid M. Blood, associate professor of communication disorders; Maryellen Massaro, instructor of speech communication disorders; and Kelly Webb, coordinator of the speech and hearing clinic.

The project is funded by the Fraser Foundation, part of the Stuttering Foundation of America, the National Stuttering Project -- a self help group, and Penn State's Equal Opportunity Planning Committee.

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EDITORS: Dr. Blood may be reached at (814) 865-3177 or f2x@psu.edu

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