New Steps in the “Ballet of Speech” Create Life-Changing Possibilities for People Who Stutter

The innovative, 12-day stuttering therapy program at nonprofit Hollins Communications Research Institute is transforming the lives of people who stutter and opening doors of opportunity through fluency that were never before possible.

Alan Tonelson of Riverdale Park, Md. began stuttering as a young child. While most kids outgrow the inhibiting speech condition by the age of eight, Tonelson did not. He is among the three million people in the U.S. who live with stuttering, which can range from mild to severe. Throughout his youth, he participated in a variety of speech therapies, including attending in-school speech sessions and visits with private speech-and-language pathologists. None helped him achieve fluency.

Shannon Armes of Wilsons, VA had a similar experience. She started stuttering in grade school. After trying a range of treatment approaches, fluent speech continued to elude her. As she entered college and into adulthood, Armes’s stuttering eroded her self confidence. Her speech condition served as a constant barrier to educational, career and social opportunities.

Yet, the lives of Tonelson and Armes would soon change when they learned about an advanced, behavioral treatment for stuttering, developed at nonprofit Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI https://www.stuttering.org) in Roanoke, VA.

Created by stuttering expert and HCRI Founder Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI stuttering therapy is an intensive, 12-day treatment program that is grounded in science and continually refined, based on research with thousands of stuttering cases. The centers clinicians utilize detailed behavioral therapy protocols and advanced technology to teach people how to replace abnormal muscle contractions that cause stuttering with specific, new muscle movements that generate fluent speech.

Our early research revealed that stuttering is physical. The repetitions, prolongations and voice blockages that we label as stuttering are caused before a sound is ever spoken, Webster said. To provide effective treatment, at HCRI we focus where the problem occurs, which is at the muscular level.

Research shows that 93% of HCRI therapy participants achieve fluency in 12 days and 70-75% maintain fluent speech when evaluated one and two years post treatment.

According to Webster who is also a clinical psychologist, HCRIs approach to stuttering treatment is a systematic, step-by-step process that is analogous to the precision of a finely choreographed ballet. Each step in the process is critical and must be exact to enable success.

Tonelson noted, I attended HCRI stuttering therapy and saw a dramatic increase in my fluency. The therapy did its job. Yet for treatment to work over time, I continue to practice my speech skills on a regular basis.

While Tonelson began his career as a journalist, his ability to speak fluently opened significant doors of opportunity. Today, he is a well-known and respected expert on economic and globalization policy. He regularly appears on national television and radio programs to offer commentary and debate with other policy analysts.

In addition, he gives presentations to universities, government agencies, and business organizations around the globe. His book, The Race to Bottom, and blog, RealityChek (https://alantonelson.wordpress.com), feature his perspectives on economics, foreign policy, and politics that he has passionately voiced throughout his professional life. Tonelson says HCRI was a game changer for his career.

For Armes, the fluency skills learned at HCRI enabled her to take on key leadership roles within her community, secure a coveted promotion in customer service with her company, and win highly competitive Toastmasters International speaking awards.

With her impressive communication and strong management abilities, Armes is now president of her area’s Motivational Toastmasters Club and serves as an area governor overseeing five other Toastmasters International clubs in the Richmond, Va. area.

Yet, reciting her wedding vows without stuttering was among the greatest gifts she experienced from fluency.

Learning to speak fluently whenever and wherever I choose has changed my life. HCRI’s rigorous fluency training was hard work and it takes daily practice. Though, the therapy made a remarkable difference in what I can do every day, she said.

Tonelson and Armes are among the 6,300 people from 48 countries who have participated in HCRI stuttering therapy. Most program participants tried other stuttering treatments before coming to HCRI for stuttering help.

About HCRI
Hollins Communications Research Institute 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 innovative, scientifically derived therapy approaches.

Clients come from all walks of life and include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, a supreme court nominee, business professionals, police officers, actors, and even royalty.

HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, visit https://www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI by calling toll-free 855-236-7032.

How Mountain Climbing, World Travel and HCRI Stuttering Therapy Helped This Attorney Achieve Fluency

Attorney and mountain climber Leigh P. Bennett of Edmonds, Washington has stuttered since he uttered his first sentence. Yet, he considers himself lucky to have dealt with the challenge of stuttering at such a young age.

During school and into adult life, Leigh regularly faced difficult situations and frustration because of the way he talked. Though, he believes his speech condition served as the impetus to develop a can-do attitude, courage, and emotional strength early in life. These traits have stayed with him through the years, enabling him to thrive professionally and personally.

“My stuttering was ever-present for as long as I can remember. While it got in the way whenever I spoke, I was determined to stay positive and become stronger because of it,” Leigh said.

Stuttering affects three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Stuttering ranges in severity and often hampers educational and career aspirations, inhibits social growth, and serves as a barrier to people reaching their full potential in life.

From Stuttering to Fluency

Leigh’s journey to fluency included a gamut of unsuccessful treatment attempts that included speech therapy in elementary school, unproductive sessions with a psychologist, and visits to a speech clinic once every two weeks during high school. None of these efforts produced results.

Leigh P. Bennett
Leigh P. Bennett

After high school, Leigh went to college and also became an avid mountain climber and windsurfer. His outdoor activities required significant mental focus, training, self-control, and self-reliance. He learned how to manage his fear and maintain a sense of calm, as he scaled summits, traversed rough waters, and achieved each new goal he set for himself.

At the time, he didn’t consider that these carefully honed skills would help him on the path to fluency.

Upon graduation, Leigh traveled the world and grew even more self-assured. He also ran his own mountaineering school. Yet, he knew he needed to bring his stuttering under control to pursue the next chapter in his life.

Then, he learned about the unique behavioral stuttering therapy provided by Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) in Roanoke, Virginia. He was drawn to HCRI’s physically based approach, scientifically derived methodology and intensity of therapy. The treatment strategy made sense to him and he enrolled in the stuttering therapy program.

HCRI Therapy Participation

At HCRI, Leigh worked one-on-one with specially trained clinicians and systematically learned how to replace faulty muscle behaviors that cause stuttering with new speech motor skills that enable fluency. His can-do attitude, strong self-reliance, and ability to adapt – which were skills he cultivated through his outdoor sports and independent travels – served him well in achieving success during therapy.

According to HCRI Founder and President Dr. Ron Webster, “Our physically based therapy takes hard work, focus and total commitment to the process. Clients who give 110 percent leave with the knowledge and techniques they need to take control of their stuttering and remain fluent for life.”

Research shows that 93 percent of HCRI therapy program participants achieve fluency by the end of treatment. Follow-up studies reveal 75 percent retain fluency for the long term. “Our results are in stark contrast to other speech therapy approaches that work in only 25 percent of cases,” Webster noted.

New Opportunities through Fluency

After attending HCRI, Leigh was able to manage his stuttering for the first time in his life. “HCRI treatment provided me with the tools I needed to speak fluently,” Leigh explained. “When I would start stuttering in stressful situations, I knew just what I needed to do to regulate my speech.”

With his newly acquired fluency, Leigh decided to go to law school, become an attorney in Edmonds, and follow in his father’s respected footsteps. Today, Leigh has a busy law practice with his brother, Peter W. Bennett, and is carrying on his father’s legacy at his Bennett and Bennett law firm. He specializes in estate planning, elder law, trusts, Medicaid planning, real estate law, and other related legal services. Leigh is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, board member of the Hubbard Family Foundation, member of the Everett Mountaineers, and a ski instructor.

He believes that success requires an individual to proactively take control of his or her life and “make things happen.” Leigh attributes his ability to overcome stuttering to having the right attitude, learning from his experiences, and getting the right stuttering treatment.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute (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 innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches. HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,500 individuals from across the U.S. and 50 countries. The center is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 855-236-7032 (toll-free) or admin@stuttering.org.

About Bennett and Bennett

The Bennett and Bennett partnership was founded in 1988 by brothers Leigh P. Bennett and Peter W. Bennett in Edmonds, Washington, The goal of the law firm is to guide clients successfully through the often complex processes of estate planning, probate, trusts, elder law, real estate law, and related legal matters – and to make the process educational, practical, and cost effective. Bennett and Bennett is located at 400 Dayton, Suite A, Edmonds, Wash. 98020. For more information, visit www.edmondslaw.com, call 425-776-0139, or send an email to bb@edmondslaw.com.

Defense Attorney Uses Fluency Skills Learned at HCRI to Effectively Serve Clients

Meeting with clients, arguing cases in court, and making scores of phone calls represent a typical day’s work for public defenders. Yet, for attorney Christopher Missiaen of Medford, Oregon, these communication tasks are activities he never takes for granted. Missiaen has a stuttering condition that makes it difficult for him to get his words to flow smoothly and spontaneously.

The successful defense attorney is one of three million people in the U.S. and 66 million globally who stutter. The condition occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and jump out of control during attempts to speak. Stuttering ranges in severity and has the potential to serves as a barrier to people reaching their full potential in life.

However, observing Missiaen’s powerful closing argument in a recent high-profile Oregon murder trial, no one would know he has endured stuttering since his youth.

Unlike many people who stutter, Missiaen’s speech condition didn’t get in the way of his education or social life, as he was growing up. He was highly determined and learned how to “accommodate” his speech by replacing words and avoiding certain speaking situations.

When he graduated from University of Oregon School of Law in 2005, he landed a position as a personal injury attorney. Missiaen’s days were spent talking with clients, making calls, and doing public speaking. The techniques he previously used to mask his stuttering, including word substitution, were no longer working for him.

“With the law, you can’t replace one word with a different one simply because you are having trouble saying it,” Missiaen said. “I found myself unable to say things I needed to say.”

As a result, Missiaen grew increasingly concerned about his stuttering. He felt his speech was being misperceived and undermined his effectiveness in his job. “A lot of my disfluencies are blockages where I can’t get a particular word to come out when I’m trying to speak. It looks to outside observers that I can’t figure out what I want to say,” he explained.

Compounding his concern and frustration, Missiaen also had ambitions to become a public defender, a role requiring eloquent, persuasive speaking abilities in court. He knew it was time to address his speech disorder if he was going to succeed as a courtroom attorney.

Then, he read about Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) in a book written by broadcast journalist John Stossel, who overcame an inhibiting stuttering condition by participating in HCRI’s intensive stuttering therapy program. Missiaen was intrigued and reviewed information on the internet about the Roanoke, Virginia-based program.

He learned that HCRI treats stuttering as a physical disorder. Therapy involves teaching people how to replace faulty speech muscle movements that cause stuttering with new muscle behaviors that generate fluency. After reading through HCRI’s website, www.stuttering.org, Missiaen enrolled in the Institute’s 12-day therapy program.

During treatment, Missiaen learned new ways to use his speech muscles to bring his stuttering under his control. He spent 100 hours in therapy, which also included learning how to transfer his new speaking skills to real-world situations. By the end of his two-week program, he spoke fluently for the first time in his life. In addition, Missiaen acquired tools to maintain his fluency over time.

According to HCRI’s Webster, “Our approach to stuttering therapy is objective, comprehensive, and results driven. No other stuttering treatment replicates the sophistication of HCRI’s treatment program or the individualized approach from which clients benefit.”

Research shows 93 percent of HCRI therapy program participants achieve fluent speech by the end of their 12-day treatment program. Follow-up studies indicate that 70 to 75 percent of people maintain fluency for the long term. HCRI researchers continually refine the Institute’s stuttering therapy, based on research and experience with thousands of cases that range from mild stuttering to severe speech impairments.

“Without HCRI therapy, I could not talk to my clients or be effective in court. There are still times when I stumble on words; but, HCRI’s tools help me get through that,” Missiaen added. To maintain his fluency, the public defender practices regularly and maintains ongoing contact with his clinical team at HCRI.

HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at call 855-236-7032 (toll-free), 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org.

Salvation Army Major Uses his “Gift of Fluency” to Help People in Need

HCRI stuttering therapy enabled Major C. Mark Brown, Salvation Army chief development officer, to effectively advance the organization’s mission.

The Salvation Army’s red kettles and bell ringers have become icons of the holiday season, as the nearly 150-year-old organization seeks donations from retail shoppers to support its social-aid and disaster-relief services that benefit nearly 30 million people across the country.

Behind the seasonal red-kettle program, as well as The Salvation Army’s other key development initiatives, is an administrative organization of officers, employees, and volunteers. These individuals spend each day creating awareness and appealing for donations to support the year-round work of the second largest charity in the U.S.

Asking for support is a responsibility that Major C. Mark Brown is proud to do. He serves as The Salvation Army’s chief development officer for the Atlanta-based Southern Region, which is comprised of 15 states. After more than 30 years with The Salvation Army, Brown has seen first-hand the results of the organization’s charitable work that extends across the U.S. and to 123 other countries.

Yet, even with his tenure and commitment to The Salvation Army, Brown finds it a challenge to make presentations and ask for financial assistance. It’s not because he is shy or hesitant to request money for his worthy cause. It’s because Brown stutters when he talks and has endured this limiting condition for all of his life.

Brown is not alone. According the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 66 million people worldwide suffer from the effects of stuttering, with three million living in the U.S. The condition can impair social growth, hinder educational and career aspirations, and produce emotional scars that may last a lifetime. For someone who is required to do public speaking, meet with donors and the media, and manage a large team, Brown knows all too well stuttering’s pervasive impact.

“Stuttering is always on my mind. At the same time, I’ve always been determined never to allow the way I talk to stop me from doing what I want to do in life,” Brown said. “Most important, I never want the way I speak to reflect negatively on The Salvation Army and the great work we do,” he explained.

Brown’s motivation and commitment to The Salvation Army drove him to seek treatment about 15 years ago at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – https://www.stuttering.org) , a non-profit stuttering research and treatment center. Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI is a pioneer in behavioral stuttering therapy with experience in a wide range of stuttering types and severities. During his intensive treatment, Brown learned how to replace faulty muscle contractions that cause stuttering with new muscle movements that enable fluent speech.

“HCRI really understands what goes wrong with speech when people stutter – and how to fix it. This puts people in control when they talk without resorting to a mechanical or electronic crutch,” Brown explained. “It was the first therapy that worked for me. It was a true gift.”

According to HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., there is no cure for stuttering. “Yet, after researching thousands of stuttering cases, we developed and continually refine a physically based treatment system that helps clients like Mark reconstruct muscle actions that drive movements of the tongue, lip, jaw, and vocal folds to enable fluent speech.”

To help clients maintain long-term fluency, HCRI provides ongoing clinician support, refresher courses, annual reunions, and a range of fluency practice tools, including the center’s web-based software program and a proprietary app that runs on iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. Brown uses these tools and returns to HCRI every 3 to 5 years to keep his stuttering in check.

With HCRI stuttering therapy, Brown performs his Salvation Army responsibilities with greater confidence and effectiveness. He works continually to manage his stuttering. “I now have the tools I need to maintain fluency for the long term. Best of all, I am better able to fulfill the mission of The Salvation Army. The ability to speak fluently is a joy and a gift.”

So during the holiday season, when The Salvation Army red kettle serves as a beacon of hope for rebuilding lives, Brown uses his fluent speech to remind people to give generously to help those in need. According to Brown, gifts come in all forms and sizes – and can make a year-round impact. He knows. He uses his “gift of fluency” every day to make lives better for others.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients come from all walks of life and include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, a supreme court nominee, business professionals, police officers, actors, and even royalty. For more information about HCRI, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 855-236-7032 (toll-free), 540-265-5650, or admin@stuttering.org.

About The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army, an evangelical part of the universal Christian church established in 1865, has been supporting those in need in His name without discrimination for more than 130 years in the United States. Nearly 30 million Americans receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through the broadest array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children. Eighty-two cents of every dollar spent is used to support those services in 5,000 communities nationwide. For more information, go to www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Getting the Words Out

Mark Brown was determined not to let his stutter get the better of him.

This article about Major Mark Brown of The Salvation Army appeared in the organization’s June 2011 issue of “Faith & Friends.” Major Brown received stuttering treatment at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org), based in Roanoke, Va. HCRI scientists pioneered the concept of behavioral stuttering therapy and have continued to develop treatment innovations that help people who stutter acquire the skills to speak fluently and spontaneously.

By Patrick Patey

As a community relations and development secretary, Major Mark Brown is committed to getting the word out about what The Salvation Army does. But for him, getting words out at all can be a challenge.

Mark stutters. Somewhere between his brain, where his thoughts run pure, and his tongue, where they come out like a skip on an old broken record, something prevents him from fluently expressing his thoughts. The handicap frustrates and dismays Mike.

“Someone who has a speech impediment looks relatively normal until he starts to talk,” he says. “Sometimes you block on a word or start having a painful-looking facial expression because you are trying to say something.”

“Every time a person who stutters walks into a store or goes for a job interview or asks somebody for a date, he’s thinking, How am I going to pull this off?” he says. “I never feel adequate to completely express myself.

“Your Best Shot”

Mark came to the United States from London, England in 1993 to direct The Salvation Army’s Office of Media Ministries. For the next nine years, he worked behind a camera or in an editing room where he wasn’t typically required to speak in public.

But in 2001, he was appointed area commander in Alabama and then soon after transferred to Texas. Suddenly, Mark found himself on the other side of a microphone, and center stage at a variety of public venues.

The appointment was the biggest challenge of his career. Expectations were high, and public image was a priority. Mark was forced to daily draw on his courage. “Most people find public speaking daunting, but for me it’s terrifying,” he says. “You take a deep breath and give it your best shot.”

Fateful Speech

Six months into the appointment, Mark stood before a large audience at a Sunday evening worship service in Dallas where The Salvation Army presented a Christmas concert. Although Mark was unaware of it, in the audience that night was another stutterer named Charles Goodson.

Charles still remembers how others, even adults, made fun of him as a child.

“What people thought about me and the way I talk always bothered me,” says Charles. “But when I heard Major Brown talking in spite of his stutter, I said to myself, ‘If Major Brown can do that, I can do that.’”

Now a member of The Salvation Army who has given a personal story of faith in public, Charles believes that God had a plan in bringing the major into his life.

“I’ve come a long way with my stuttering thanks to the major – and God,” Charles says. “God used Major Brown to help me and I’m certain I’m going to help somebody else.

Doing the Most Good

Mark isn’t sure why he stutters but there’s one thing he is sure about.

“I don’t want anyone to think negatively about The Salvation Army because I can’t express myself clearly or adequately,” he says.

That, in part, is what motivates him to see intensive speech therapy to help with his fluency. Every three to five years, he spends a week at a [stuttering] research institute in Virginia [the Hollins Communications Research Institute], where he learns and practices skills to minimize the involuntary repetition of syllables.

“I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for accolades. I do what I do because I am called by God,” Mark says. “It is not something that I take lightly. I do the best I can. I try to do the most good I can every day.”

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 10 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, and others from all walks of life.

For more information about HCRI’s approach to stuttering therapy, visit www.stuttering.org or call HCRI at 540-265-5650.

What People Say about HCRI

More than 6,500 people who stutter from 50 countries have come to the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) in Roanoke, Virginia for fluency-skill training. Founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI is recognized globally for its stuttering therapy innovations and treatment results.

The institute offers stuttering therapy programs throughout the year, each of which lasts 12 days. By the end of HCRI’s intensive treatment, research shows that 93 percent of program participants acquire the skills to speak fluently. Participants also benefit from an extensive array of post-therapy support tools to help them maintain fluent speech for a lifetime. HCRI’s follow-up studies show that 70 to 75 percent of individuals maintain their fluency skills for the long term.

Following are comments program participants have shared about their experience with HCRI stuttering treatment.

Yes, I did participate in a bunch of other therapies. Some of them helped a little for a little while. What I learned at HCRI has stuck with me. I have been out of their program for eight years and I know how to speak fluently.

Now I have real freedom of speech!

I first called HCRI to find out about their program, and I stuttered badly during the call; today I called to thank them, and I spoke fluently.

Now I have real freedom of speech!

I wish I had done this years ago. The clinicians were outstanding!!!

You know, I tried other therapies. Some of the people told me that they “did the same thing as they do at Hollins.” I finally woke up and decided to try Hollins and I found out that those other people didn’t know what they were talking about. What I have learned at Hollins has been a daily blessing in my life.

Ain’t nothin better — you can take it to the bank!

I joined Toastmasters and won a regional speaking event.

I was good at learning languages. However, I stuttered badly, so badly in fact, that I actually broke my teeth during several different bouts of stuttering. I became a corporate trouble shooter after learning how to speak fluently at HCRI.

I got the job I wanted. Now I can talk and express my self easily.

I defended my doctoral dissertation and was fluent even though I WAS NERVOUS.

No more fear of speaking in front of people.

When I got back home I took my parents to dinner–and I ordered for them! What a huge difference!

I had world class experts guide me to fluency. They are my mentors and my friends.

I’m eleven years old. When I was a small child I hated to go to school. I cried almost everyday before I went. The other kids teased me a lot because I stuttered. I went to Hollins and learned how to speak really well. Today I am going to school and I am going to read a story to my class.

After Hollins, I became involved in politics and successfully ran for office as a state legislator. Of course, my fluent speech made it all possible.

More About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,300 people, aged 10 to 73, from across the U.S. and 49 other countries. Clients come from all walks of life and include athletes, broadcasters, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, authors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, a Supreme Court nominee, and others.

For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650.

Man born with stutter defies gravity, expectations

The following article, written by Kathryn Gregory, appeared in “The Charleston Gazette” on March 26, 2011. It is being reprinted with permission to illustrate the impact of Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) stuttering treatment.

Gary Michael McComas grew up poor, like many children in the West Virginia hills. But one very distinct thing — an intense childhood stutter — set him apart.

Growing up on his grandparent’s tobacco farm in Lincoln County, “we didn’t have [an indoor] bathroom until I was 14,” he said.

Some rural Appalachians have low expectations of what their kids can accomplish, McComas said. In his case, with a debilitating stutter that prevented him from speaking in class or ordering in a restaurant, there wasn’t much hope.

“I had almost negative expectations,” he said.

People assumed he would get a minimum-wage job that required little, if any, social interaction, with no real advancement opportunities.

But somewhere along the way, “I decided that something in me wanted more and I knew that I could do more and be more and have more.”

Now, three college degrees, two start-up companies and a pilot’s license later, he can say things didn’t really turn out how people expected.

“Not quite,” he said with a laugh.

Life with a stutter

McComas, 51, said growing up with a stutter was a struggle.

“Trying to ask a girl out on a date when you stutter, that is hilarious,” he said.

When he left the safety of his small town to pursue a degree at Marshall University, McComas had a name changing experience.

“I had a chemistry teacher that had us fill out a form that asked for first name, middle initial,” he said. Up to that point, McComas had gone by his middle name, Michael. Afraid to make a spectacle of himself by pointing out he preferred not to go by his first name, he wrote Gary M.

It stuck. Years later, McComas goes by both names, a direct result of his childhood stammer. “I was painfully shy, and on top of that I stuttered, so I couldn’t, wouldn’t [tell anybody] different.”

Now, the Lewisburg resident is ready to share his story. And it stems from an unlikely place. McComas got the idea after watching “The King’s Speech” win Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards.

“For the first time, it’s kind of cool to have a stutter,” he said with a smile.

The movie, which was written by a man who stutters, shows numerous scenes where King George VI, played by Colin Firth, tries to master his stammer.

McComas was subjected to many of the same therapies, including one where he placed an entire handful of marbles in his mouth in an attempt to correct his stutter.

“Just like everyone else, I almost choked to death on them.”

After attending several therapies in the 1960s that were “very ineffective,” McComas tried something else in his late 20s.

“I tried this other therapy that involved putting a rubber tube in your year and talking and measuring the amount of air that was coming out,” he said. One of the main things common to stutterers is holding their breath while they speak.

It wasn’t until McComas was 36 that he found a therapy that would finally alter his speech.

He spent 21 days at the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Va. The school works to retrain mouth and throat muscles so people can speak without stammering.

“I have went from literally not being able to order food in a restaurant and now, a lot of people say it was a blessing I stuttered, because I never shut up,” he laughed.

McComas learned how to control his breath at HCRI. “Before you begin speaking, you have to speak at the top of a full breath,” he said. “The technique is amazing.”

McComas, who said it took a few years to master his speech after HCRI, has actually given up a little bit of his training.

“Because I like to talk so much and so fast, I have sort of given up a bit of my disfluency so I can talk faster.”

McComas, like most people who stutter, will stammer more if he is very tired, upset or angry. “It’s all based on stress.” After years of practice though, he has learned how to recognize his trigger points, and when he does, he turns his speaking technique up and he slows down.

After his training at HCRI, McComas found confidence in himself. “I’d stand up in front of 50,000 people and give a speech,” he said. “There are some times I am going to stutter a bit. I am going to get tangled up in my words and I’ll have a little disfluency, but you know what? I don’t care.”

Taking flight

When McComas was a little boy, he was obsessed with airplanes and always dreamed of flying. “But I was always like ‘I can’t fly. I’m poor. I stutter. All of these things seem so out of reach.'”

As he got older, McComas learned not to fear his stuttering or be ashamed of it.

“I learned to detach who I am from my stuttering,” he said. That realization helped him on his flight path.

The company where he works (and helped found) — Greenbrier Technical Services, Inc. in Lewisburg — had a company plane, and some of his colleagues encouraged him to get a pilot’s license so he could co-pilot on company trips.

The hardest thing wasn’t learning how to get the plane off the ground, but how to talk on the radio. “In the aviation world, there are specific things you have to say. And one of the favorite techniques of people who stutter is they word substitute,” he said. “You become a walking dictionary.”

Unfortunately, that luxury is not available to McComas when he is in the air. He recalls one time — while training with a flight instructor — that he couldn’t get a specific word out. “I determined that would never happen again.”

And it hasn’t. McComas started flying in 2004 and got his license in 2007. Since then, he has also earned his multi-engine rating, seaplane rating, his tail-wheel endorsement and is working on his glider and instrument ratings.

He even traveled to Alaska last summer and took a bush pilot training course where he learned how to land on glaciers.

McComas has about 250 hours of flight time, with more than 700 landings, usually out of the Greenbrier Valley Airport in his friend’s two-seater Cessna 152.

McComas doesn’t have a plane of his own, but instead flies a Tennessee friend’s plane to keep it in good condition. He and another man keep up with the maintenance and buy fuel for the small plane.

Steering an airplane is like balancing a broom on your hand. Speaking when you stutter is sort of the same thing, McComas said.

“It takes a careful balance of the speech techniques I learned and breathing to speak normally.”

Overcoming his stutter and being a successful pilot was a result of learning a new skill set and learning to think differently to the point that it became second nature.

For now, McComas is happy working in Lewisburg and flying the small two-seater plane. One day, he hopes to head back to school to get a doctorate and teach someplace.

“If I, a poor Appalachian American boy from Lincoln County, West Virginia, can do all that I have done, can fly an airplane in and out of controlled airspace and travel the world — if I can accomplish all that I have … anybody can do it.”

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, and others from all walks of life. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org.

The Lawyers Speech: HCRI Stuttering Therapy Opened Doors for Attorney William R. Denny

Appearing in court to litigate cases related to internet and technology law is part of a day’s work for William R. Denny, partner in the Delaware-based law firm of Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP. Denny’s litigation skill and expertise in electronic commerce and information licensing have earned him national recognition among peers and an impressive client roster.

Observing Denny’s convincing arguments and powerful examinations in cases before federal and state trial and appellate courts, no one would know the Elkton, MD resident has suffered from a severe stuttering condition. As a young child, he was ridiculed by schoolmates and called names because of the way he talked. Denny recalls the angst of dealing with the relentless teasing; and he remembers pounding his chest and stomping the floor out of frustration when he couldn’t get his words out.

Stuttering afflicts three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and jump out of control during attempts to speak. Stuttering ranges in severity and often hampers educational and career aspirations, inhibits social growth, and serves as a barrier to people reaching their full potential in life.

The young Denny was determined to overcome his speech disorder. During his early school years, he participated in different forms of therapy to address his stuttering. Yet, none of the treatment approaches helped him speak fluently. Then, when Denny was nine years old, his mother heard about a new behavioral or physically-based stuttering therapy program, which was developed by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., president of the non-profit Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ).

Webster’s extensive stuttering research demonstrated that speech distortions associated with stuttering are physically derived and driven by faulty contractions within the muscles of the tongue, lips, jaw, and vocal folds.

Further study led to the definition of specific muscle-behavior patterns that can replace the distorted contractions and movements that give rise to stuttering. These new muscle behaviors actively generate fluent speech in individuals who stutter. With this discovery, Webster pioneered the first scientifically grounded behavioral therapy to treat stuttering.

Denny was one of Webster’s earliest and youngest clients. Denny recalls HCRI therapy being hard work. “Therapy was a long and tedious process. Yet, I was committed to doing everything I could to speak fluently,” he said.

By the end of his three-week stuttering treatment program, Denny spoke fluently for the first time in his life. However, to maintain his fluency, he had to practice his fluency training skills each day for months following therapy. Like an athlete persistently trains to excel in a sport, Denny persistently trained his speech muscles until talking fluently became second nature to him.

Since Denny’s stuttering therapy more than 30 years ago, Webster and his team of research scientists have continually enhanced HCRI’s stuttering therapy program, based on the institute’s ongoing research, new findings, and treatment innovations that make fluency learning easier and more precise.

“HCRI’s approach to treatment is objective, comprehensive, and results driven. Our work represents an ongoing process of building on our understanding of the critically important details that create a successful stuttering treatment program,” Webster said.

The fluency skills Denny acquired during HCRI therapy helped him excel at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va., Princeton University, and the University of Virginia School of Law. Yet, he was surprised to discover that he still had a stuttering problem when learning and speaking a foreign language. So Denny used the same speech-muscle training skills he acquired during HCRI therapy to successfully control his stuttering when speaking French, Russian, and Finnish.

“Stuttering is a handicap that can put limits on your career, relationships, and life. Without HCRI stuttering treatment, I would have had a different trajectory in life. I am thankful for the doors that fluency has opened for me.” Denny said.

Today, at Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP, Denny practices in the areas of electronic commerce, information licensing, and commercial litigation. He has represented both public and privately held companies in a wide range of technology and intellectual property-related transactions, including outsourcing of IT services, mergers and acquisitions, technology licensing, software development, sales of Internet domain names, and e-commerce website services.

Denny writes and speaks extensively on technology and business issues and was recognized in Delaware Today magazine, as one of the state’s top attorneys in the area of computer law. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America 2010 in the areas of Information Technology Law and Technology Law and has earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV® Preeminent™ rating, the highest peer-review ranking for professional excellence.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, and others from all walks of life. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org .

About Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP

The law firm of Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP is based in Wilmington, Delaware and provides legal advice to some of the largest national and multinational corporations, as well as to local and state businesses, governmental and non-profit entities, and individuals.

Attorneys at Potter Anderson, Delaware’s oldest law firm, have extensive experience in Delaware corporation and alternative entities law and practice regularly before the Delaware courts. Labor and employment, health care, and insurance recovery are among the other areas of law in which legal services are provided by the firm. For more information, visit www.potteranderson.com or contact Potter Anderson at 302-984-6000 or defirm@potteranderson.com .

‘The King’s Speech’ rings true for a writer who struggles to be understood

Few things are more demoralizing than not being able to say your own name without struggling.

One evening as a young reporter covering the crime beat, I was having a particularly hard time managing my stuttering. I struggled on the phone to identify myself as a reporter to the officer on duty. In those days, my throat would sometimes lock up and I would force out sounds in grunts or repetitions. I’d tap my foot or a finger to create a rhythm for my speech. My hands would turn cold and my heart started racing, for I was worried about when a stuttering episode would erupt and how the listeners would react.

“Stop wasting my time,” the officer told me before he hung up. Just as I was about to call back, I heard him over the police scanner laughingly telling officers across the city that someone had called impersonating a reporter. Then he used the police code describing me as someone with mental problems.

I barely made it through that night at work, and while my editor intervened the next day with the police chief, my confidence in my ability to make it as a reporter was nearly shattered.

Today, at 57, I am at peace with my speech. It had been a difficult journey to make it to my first newspaper job, and many other challenges awaited me.

Like other stutterers, I’ve battled ridicule, misunderstanding and misplaced good intentions.

Cultural images of stuttering on television and in movies and songs for the most part are negative or treated as a joke. There’s Porky Pig, for one, and Aunt Clara, the wacky stuttering grandmother witch on the old television show “Bewitched,” too.

After Hollywood released “The King’s Speech,” which handles the stuttering challenges of the late British King George VI sensitively and honestly, it seemed a good time to share my story. Along with other people who stutter, I am excited that this movie, which has won 12 Oscar nominations, is promoting public awareness of this issue.

After that rough night working the cops beat, I considered returning to graduate school in a different field and agonized for weeks. Ultimately, I decided that I was not going to give up on my longtime dream, despite the obstacles of public perception in an industry where speaking is the calling card. Subsequently, I have worked for more than three decades as a journalist, including nearly a decade at The Charlotte Observer and nearly 20 years at The Washington Post.

Stats on stuttering

An estimated 66 million people stutter, with 3 million in the United States. Aristotle and Charles Darwin stuttered, as did actor James Earl Jones and singer Carly Simon.

Speech disruptions range from mild to severe, and usually involve repeating, prolonging or blocking on sounds, syllables or words. Males are three to four times more likely to stutter than females. Nobody knows why.

Researchers don’t know yet what causes stuttering but have determined that it tends to run in families. In my case, relatives on both my father’s and mother’s side of the family stutter. Most stuttering is developmental and starts when children begin to speak. In a study released last year, a federal researcher found what may be three genes linked to stuttering. More investigation is underway.

Always a stutterer

I can’t remember not stuttering.

My parents – and others who grew up hearing myths that have circulated for generations about stuttering – frequently told me as a child to slow down when speaking, though speed is neither the cause nor a cure. A great aunt insisted that I eat with a small silver spoon she gave me.

Over the years, I’ve learned to control my speech, though that doesn’t mean absolute fluency all the time. But before I learned the strategies, I didn’t stutter all the time, either. I’ve had long periods of relatively fluent speech and times when I didn’t talk unless I had to because speaking was just plain exhausting.

It still requires concentration. I have to think about not only what I’m going to say, but how to say it to minimize my stuttering.

I remember in the early 1990s I was one of a group of journalists who had lunch with Nelson Mandela, shortly after the South African leader was released from prison. The night before the gathering and during the hours leading up to it, I rehearsed silently and in front of a mirror what I would say during introductions.

I didn’t want to stutter when I met one of the world’s greatest leaders. On my notepad, I jotted down reminders of what to do to speak smoothly. I took a few deep, slow breaths before I started speaking. It went well.

Many therapies tried

Over the years, I’ve tried several speech therapies. As a young adult, I was taught to speak to the rhythm of a metronome, but that didn’t work and my speech sounded robotic. I used an electronic aid that was strapped around my throat and attached to my ear to mask the sound of my voice when speaking. I turned to hypnosis, with no success.

In 1979, I found a 12-day residential, intensive speech program at Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Va. There, I discovered that fluency didn’t have to come randomly anymore. For me, that means concentrating on how I breathe, move my mouth, lips and tongue to form sounds and words.

Most days, I work on these skills through reading or speaking aloud, and annually for more than 15 years I have spent a week every fall with a group of six other stutterers fine-tuning my speaking strategies in the Precision Fluency Shaping Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va.

Another test

Years ago, I had to find my way out of the pain and shame of stuttering and its hammering of my self-image. I was thousands of miles away from home, traveling alone through foreign countries when I was finally able to let go of the agony of stuttering.

I found peace with the fact that speaking for me would always be challenging, and decided that I would no longer allow myself to either get annoyed or be insulted by the impatient, sometimes dismissive, reactions stutterers face.

Just a few months ago, I was getting ready to order at a coffee shop with my teenage daughter and a friend. I was distracted and spoke without taking a few moments to get ready.

“I’d like a large d-d-dec-c-caf c-c-coffee,” I said to the woman behind the counter. She paused, looked at me and started chuckling. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. I paused, took a breath, positioned my mouth and tongue to correctly and calmly initiate the words: “This is not a joke.”

She glanced at my daughter and my friend and then back at me, suddenly feeling embarrassed. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, as she put the money in the cash register. “I thought you were just messing around.”

I didn’t get angry. Neither was I ashamed.

Mae Israel is a Charlotte freelance writer and editor, blogger of Juggling Act at www.weareblackwomen.com and founder of Unlock A Voice, a nonprofit that offers support services to youth and adults who stutter or have other speech differences. For more info, e-mail unlockavoice@gmail.com .

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, and others from all walks of life.

For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org.

Impact of HCRI Stuttering Therapy Over Time

The following excerpt from a letter sent to the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) illustrates how HCRI’s behavioral stuttering therapy can impact an individual’s life.

Dear Dr. Webster,

…In 1970, our son, Bill, came to your stuttering therapy program. He was just nine years old and you were hesitant to accept him. After a long interview and careful scrutiny, you decided to take a chance with him. We have never been so grateful.

Bill is now 50 years old, a father of five, grandfather of two, and a trial lawyer in Wilmington, Delaware. He graduated form Princeton University and the University of Virginia Law School.

After studying Russian in Russia, he met and married a Finnish girl so he now speaks fluent Finnish, as do their five chidren.

Bill hardly ever stutters. Every once in a while he may trip at the beginning of a word, but no one notices it because we all do that from time to time. His speech is perfectly fluent and we have you and your therapy program to thank for that.

Very sincerely,

Anne Denny

About HCRI

Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. founded Hollins Communications Research Institute in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days, where participants work with specially trained clinicians and learn how to retrain speech muscles to produce fluent speech for a lifetime.

HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 9 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, paramedics, and other individuals from all walks of life.

For more information, contact HCRI at 540-265-5650 or admin@stuttering.org .