Learning from Nature and Science to Address Stuttered Speech

Creating effective stuttering therapy involves understanding specific events in nature that give rise to stuttering – and then developing a solution through science to address the problem.

HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.
HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.

The one-of-a-kind stuttering therapy at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) is grounded in science and successful with thousands of stuttering cases at all levels of severity.

The therapy was invented by HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. and his research team who demonstrated that characteristics of stuttering are produced by misbehaving contractions within the muscles of the tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal folds. The result is that the speech organs during stuttering incorrectly move into positions that are not correct for the intended sounds.

This discovery dispelled long-standing assumptions that stuttered speech is derived from emotional or mental issues. Dr. Webster’s findings changed the way stuttering is viewed and needs to be treated. His research led to defining specific behavioral patterns that occur naturally in fluent speakers. Correct use of these patterns replaces the distorted contractions and movements that produce stuttered speech.

These muscle-movement patterns are called “targets.” Targets include clearly specified speech behaviors and feature permissible ranges of variation. Science shows that targets can be readily learned and retained with the right type of therapy. HCRI’s experience treating more than 6,500 individuals who stutter demonstrates that proper training and use of targets yields fluency in 93 percent of cases.

During a recent presentation at HCRI’s annual retreat, Dr. Webster explained the foundation of the institute’s comprehensive stuttering therapy system, which delivers among the highest documented fluency outcomes of any speech therapy. He shared that it is the job of science to:

  • Create methods that help us understand nature
  • Describe essential features of events in nature
  • Define causal relations between and among events in nature

“The good thing about science is that it is true, whether or not you believe in it,” Dr. Webster explained. “When considering the problem of stuttering, the events that happen are also true, whether or not you believe in it.”

Targets learned in HCRI’s 12-day stuttering therapy program are based on what nature has taught us. They are real and they work if done correctly and consistently when speaking, according to Dr. Webster.

HCRI’s comprehensive therapy system involves detailed instruction, practice and support on the use of targets to help individuals who stutter become fluent speakers. The nonprofit center’s therapy program includes:

  • One-on-one guidance by specially trained HCRI clinicians who teach participants how to produce targets when they speak
  • Use of computers in therapy to measure target production and help participants lock in fluency skills
  • Fluency training in the clinical setting and in real-world environments
  • Extensive post-therapy support that includes HCRI’s FluencyNet practice software, a mobile app, program materials, access to fluency practice groups, and HCRI events
  • Clinician follow up after therapy through phone contact and emails

Dr. Webster shares that we all are creatures of nature and our bodies obey natural laws. “Individuals stutter because a physical mechanism within their body forces speech muscles to contract in usual ways. The vocal tract is forced into positions that are not right for sounds that need to be produced,“ he said.

At the same time, Dr. Webster emphasizes that, because of the laws of nature, speech-muscle activities can be reconstructed and retained. Vocal tract shapes and shape changes can be normalized. When therapy participants apply precise standards of performance to targets when they speak, reliable production of fluent speech can be achieved.  Then, a world of new possibilities becomes a reality through fluency.

To learn more about HCRI’s approach to overcoming stuttered speechs using the laws nature and principles of science, click here: HCRI Stuttering Therapy.

About HCRI

HCRI was founded by Ronald L Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of scientifically derived therapy approaches.

More than 6,500 people from across the U.S. and 50 countries have come to HCRI for stuttering treatment. Clients come from all walks of life and include teachers, business professionals, athletes, broadcasters, engineers, musicians, students, doctors, military personnel, police officers, actors, a Supreme Court nominee, and even royalty.

HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 855-236-7032.