Thursday, August 25, 2005

Introduction

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.

16 comments:

molly said...

you know, i don't reckon i ever told you this, but earlier this year we had to give persuasive speeches in english class based around a quote, and after numerous fruitless attempts, i chose to take what father mccarthy had said the day before in church: "dear friends: some people don't know when to shut up," and gave a speech about stuttering awareness. i started by talking about our tenth grade bumbling, stuttering teacher mr. hall, and everyone started laughing at the memory of making fun of him. then i talked about you and dad and griffin, and described what it's like in a restaurant, or what it was like hearing you talk into the tape recorder in your room, and what it does to someone when you tell him to "just breathe" when he knows that already, and i got so worked up that by the end one girl was crying and sobbed through her whole speech.

though i only got an a- on it (i was apparently slumped through the whole thing), it felt good to get it all out. even though it's not my bane, it still irks me when someone sniggers at a stutterer or asks what has happened on the phone if you or dad picks up and there is a pause. if it was beneficial for me to finally say something about it, i can only imagine what this will do for you. it's really important for people to know what it is you've got and how to deal with it maturely. and more importantly, it'll be therapeutic for you.

keepin writing, packy.

yours,
molly s. griffin

Ben Livingston said...

Pat, I do have one question that hopefully you can answer or possibly look into researching. Thought the topic be a little touchy, ill try it anyway. From knowing you for close to 5 years now, I have noticed that your stutter often dies down, if not completely disappear, when you have been drinking. More of an observation/question. Might you possibly know why?

I appreciate the fact that you have suggested ways for the general public to interact comfortably with some who might stutter. The blog is informative and helpful, and I can tell that you have a true interest in educating the general public. Good luck and stay In-Charge.

Patrick said...

Ben, good question. People have asked me that a lot. I remember the first time I ever drank was at Jess Mullen's after Senior Dinner Dance. I had 2 Mike's Hard Lemonades and was drunk. I also realized I did not stutter at all. I thought I had found a cure, and my plan was to drink 2 beers every morning to get started on the right track. Of course I didn't follow through with that (because that would cause a boatload of new problems), and since then I have realized that being drunk is not completely stutter-free. The reason I don't stutter as much when I'm drinking is because I am more relaxed. The same thing happens when I am sleepy. Fluency is mostly a matter of being relaxed: the more calm and relaxed you are the more fluent you will be. In fact, most stuttering therapy always begins with breathing exercises and meditation. If you look at my iPod I have tons of relaxation recordings with nature sounds all that weird new-age shit. Though I stress that I'm NOT a weird new-age guy, it is relaxing and helpful. So, to sum up, alcohol relaxes you and relieves anxiety. Thanks for the question, and nothing is too touchy that I wouldn't want to answer, so fire away.

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