Achieving Fluency through Persistence

The following is an excerpt of an article by Dorothy Carlson, a graduate of the stuttering therapy program at Hollins Communications Research Institue (HCRI) in Roanoke, Virginia. It is a candid account of her journey to fluency.

The word persistence reminds me of a conversation I had with a children’s author a few years ago. At dinner before speaking at my library, she revealed the key to success for a writer — persistence. Many would-be authors don’t get published, she told me, because they give up too easily. The pink slips discourage them from pursuing their dreams.

I already knew a little about persistence. At the age of 13, while helping in my junior high school library, I had decided to become a children’s librarian. The counselor at Drexel University warned me that I would never be given an opportunity. Why? Because I stuttered. Yet, I persevered and fulfilled my goal of becoming a librarian.

A few years into my position at Radnor Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania, I decided to get help for my stuttering and enrolled in the HCRI stuttering treatment program. I found the first three weeks difficult, yet hopeful. I learned new skills that were very hard, seemingly impossible to maintain with an 84% disfluency rate. Prone to depression, I wondered why I couldn’t speak fluently using the new target behaviors I had been taught.

Yet encouraged by the fluent reunion speeches of many HCRI stuttering program graduates, I kept working at it and even went back to Hollins for innumerable refresher courses. Each time I returned to the Insitute, my fluency improved. I have never regressed back to the initial disfluency rate.

The improvement in my speech has given me the confidence to accept several county children’s division positions, culminating in the chairmanship of the organization. In April 1996, I accepted the first Delaware County Outstanding Library Employee award. My acceptance speech, given before 150 people, was not perfect, but better than I could have ever imagined.

Maintenance of the fluency targets remains illusive. In 1984, I was diagnosed with cervical osteoarthritis and TOS (thoracic outlet syndrome). Both conditions create stiffness and nerve compressions in the vocal chord area. As a result, the ability to feel my speech targets continues to regress with age, making it even more difficult to monitor correct muscle movement patterns.

Though, I continue to work on my fluency targets and attend HCRI refresher courses, which always bring new insights. A few years ago, I learned that target precision resulted in fluency. Within a limited range, without unusually strong vibrations, I could do the required muscle movements that produced fluent speech. What a revelation!

Like so many would-be authors deluged by pink slips, I’ve faced the dilemma of giving up or going on, doing the best I can. My client file grows thicker with each new attempt. But my persistence may give people who stutter hope, whether they have a special medical problem or not. Fluency is worth the effort. It is attainable if you don’t give up trying. I know I never will.

For more information about HCRI and the Institute’s research-based treatment program, click here or call the Institute at 540-265-5650