Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"I wouldn't go to a physical therapist who couldn't walk."

I have never understood how other people picked their career. I know people have interests and those lead to careers. Others go where the money is, and still others just have talent and intelligence in a specific area (because who could be legitimately interested in organic chemistry or physics? Seriously...). Sometimes I wish I had chosen something else, such as journalism or sports management (I can turn the Arizona Cardinals into Super Bowl champions in 2 years with roster moves alone in Madden), but ultimately I know I am in the right spot.

I think I am very fortunate to have a career choice that meets all three of those criteria: interest, talent, and the dollars. I have a legitimate personal interest in the field, I will be paid more than adequately for my services, and I believe in my heart that no other speech-language pathologist (outside of a person in a similar situation) would be a better candidate for a job than I would. In my situation, that's the level of confidence I need to have: nobody is going to be better qualified than me. I have the empathy necessary to understand the agony that a child can go through, but have enough sense to not let them dwell. They have to know that they will have slumps where your mouth, tongue, and chest feel tense and you can't get anything out no matter how much you practice. These slumps could last a day or a week, the important thing is to not give up because the results will come. Even if you have a rut, you need to keep stretching your comfort zone. I know enough to understand that the clinic environment is so sterile that it can be a trap because during a session, fluent speech comes so easily. I certainly know enough not to say "well, maybe you just aren't practicing enough." Empathy is the most difficult thing for someone to have, because you can never be in their position no matter how much you try. I have heard that in the graduate course on fluency, one of the assignments is to go out and stutter voluntarily in a public place in an effort to gain some understanding of that pain. A fluent person doesn't understand how it feels to be laughed at by a girl you are trying to talk to, or how much it hurts to be be hung up on while trying to make a phone call. I don't say this in an effort to gain sympathy or to make people feel bad for me, but those are situations that people take for granted. I am anxious to see how others respond to that, because believe me, it can be very, very painful.

The most difficult thing I am anticipating is how much of a role model I will have to be. I am in the unique position of having to practice what I preach every time I open my mouth. This is difficult because I am not 100% fluent all of the time, or any of the time. In high school, I practiced every morning with a tape recorder, a mirror, and a newspaper article to read aloud. I definitely reaped the benefits of the practice as my speech improved drastically. In college, I never practiced because of being in the vicinity of roommates and I have never been comfortable with that. That, and being caught up in college life took all of my motivation away. My lack of effort showed a lot because of the amount of trouble I had. I would use so many excuses as to why I wasn't fluent, including "I just haven't practiced lately," "I'm comfortable with my stuttering, that's the important thing," "As soon as I get home for the summer I'll practice," and so on. As my fluency showed, I never did. The typical goal for any type of speech therapy is 90% success, because 100% is not realistic. Lately I think I have been around 80-85%. That means I have to step it up and put more effort to get to that 90%. I practice every morning in the car on the way to work, and as soon as I start mowing fairways, I'll have my headphones and my home-made practice tracks and I can practice more at work. I also have to do things I would never have done in the past, including making more phone calls, taking more initiative with friends, and not avoiding any possible speaking situations. To think back to the point where I used to be, where I would have Ethan order my Wings, have Jaylynn order my coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, or have somebody lean over to talk to the drive-thru at Wendy's are depressing thoughts, and those are only changes I have made in the last year-and-a-half. I still have miles to go in regards to risk taking. I make all (well, almost all) of my own phone calls with little hesitation. I do all my own ordering in person and on the phone (just ask my Dad and he'll show you the credit card bill for Wings.....God, I haven't had Wings in a you think they deliver to Worcester?) I am planning on joining the organization called Toastmasters which is more-or-less a public speaking club, I would like to be an officer for NSSHLA, and I would even like to do readings at church (assuming I start going to church up here).

Of course, these are all plans, and time will tell if I actually follow through with them, but I am trying my best, and I need support. I need to actually DO IT rather than talk about it. I cannot be static in terms of my progress. I have the blueprint in my mind of the kind of person I want and need to be in order to be successful in this field, and I'm lucky to have it figured out so early. I have no more excuses.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I've decided to start writing a blog again....and no, it won't be like last time (don't worry). This is mainly going to be a forum for me to talk about a part of my life that many of my friends know about, but don't fully understand: my stuttering. Most people know that I just graduated UMass with a degree in communication disorders, and that I am attending Worcester State College to get my master's in Speech-Language Pathology. I am often asked about my decision to get into this field. People ask me how I plan to help people who stutter (and other disorders) if I have one myself. As one person said to me, "If I had a broken leg, I wouldn't get physical therapy from a person in a wheelchair." Of course this is a valid question and one I anticipate having to answer often. It's a difficult thing to understand, and it something I struggle with. But I am going to try to answer as many questions about stuttering as I can, to hopefully shed some light on what I and others like me go through every time we open our mouths to speak. Here are some of the basics to get us started:

The cause of stuttering is unknown. There is no concrete theory about the cause of stuttering, despite theories about psychological damage, physical trauma, abusive parenting, or any of that bullshit. Most recent research shows that the brain is not wired correctly, but nothing is proven. However, a recent study in England has shown some evidence that the part of the brain known as the central sulcus is different in people who stutter than people who do not. Hopefully there will be more research into this new theory. There are also genetic factors (for those of you who do not know, my father also stutters, as does my cousin Griffin) that play a role.

Stuttering has no (negative) effect on a person's intelligence. I did an independent study for some credits last year about students' opinions on stuttering. At first I didn't think anything of it, but upon getting the results I was shocked to see how little people really know about it or how to react to someone who stutters. The most unexpected response I recieved concerned stuttering lowering a person's intelligence. The is something that couldn't be farther from the truth, as Charles Darwin, Winston Churhill, King Charles I, Isaac Newton, and I can attest. That is just stupid. Do you have any idea how fast I can do the Collegian crossword puzzle?!

I am not necessarily nervous. While it is very common that my stuttering increases when I am nervous, it is not always the case. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't tell me to "relax" or "take my time". I know you are just trying to be polite, but to me it as if you are saying "don't be nervous, there's nothing to be afraid of," which presupposes that I am actually afraid. This can lead to actual nervousness and a self-esteem hit. I understand that is the stereotype, but this weblog is my first step to changing that. If you speak to me or any other person who stutters, be patient and maintain eye contact. Thanks.

Stuttering cannot be cured, but it can be improved. There are many techniques to improve fluency, several of which I use regularly. There are techniques for diaphragmatic breathing, reducing the rate at which I speak, and lengthing the first syllable of a word can all be useful. Unfortunately there is no magic pill yet. There are several devices on the market which claim to improve fluency, including one I own called a Speech-Easy. The Speech-Easy uses two types of technology called Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) and Frequency Altered Feedback (FAF) in an ear piece that resembles a hearing aid. It works by using a microphone that picks up your voice and replays it a fraction of a second later with either a higher or lower frequency. This works because of the "choral effect" which is the reason why a person who stutters will not have trouble while saying the Pledge of Allegience, for example. The Speech-Easy is useful for many people, but for others it is not as effective. It works better for p-p-p-people w-w-w-who s-s-s-stut-t-t-t-er i-i-i-n a rep-p-p-petit-t-t-t-ive m-m-m-m-anner because it keeps the speech flowing. However, for someone like me who has trouble at the start of a sentence before I can even get a sound out, it is not as effective. Therefore, my Speech-Easy sits unused for the most part (especially since it needs to be repaired). Other bugs include the constant background noise and feedback that can be distracting. Since the microphone picks up all sounds, not just my voice, there is constant noise in my ear. After I first got my device 2 years ago, I was lying in bed with my girlfriend when she sneezed. She had a very high voice, so when she sneezed and the microphone picked it up, my head nearly exploded. Needless to say, the Speech-Easy is a work in progress and I am optomistic.

So, those are some basics about stuttering. I plan on writing frequently in this to talk about more. In the meantime, whether you are a friend of mine or just a random person reading random blogs, I encourage you to comment on this entry and share your thoughts. Also, if somebody out there is clever I need a good title for this. This is not just an excuse to harness my unused writing talent, this is the first step for me really trying to promote awareness about stuttering, and I have many ideas in the works (maybe a podcast in the future?...) I am a future speech-language pathologist and if I am going to be a good one, I need to start doing my job now. Thanks for reading, and tell your friends.