HCRI Stuttering Therapy Changes Lives

The researchers and clinicians at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) have dedicated their careers to helping people who stutter open doors of opportunity through fluency. “We believe that the highest purpose in our work with stuttering is to develop and to free human potential,” says HCRI President Dr. Ronald Webster.

HCRI has treated nearly 6,000 people from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. People have come from all walks of life to participate in HCRI’s behavioral stuttering therapy, a scientifically based treatment approach that the institute pioneered nearly 40 years ago. Through the years, HCRI has maintained ongoing contact with clients through phone calls, emails, letters and visits. Following is an excerpt/synopsis of a letter Dr. Webster received from a former stuttering therapy participant.

Letter Excerpt/Synopsis:
Written by a former HCRI client living in Croatia

Dear Dr. Webster,

…I want to share with you something that happened with my daughter, Oona. Two weeks before her third birthday, she manifested all the signs of being a stutterer – an extremely severe stutterer just like me. Oona became increasingly angry and frustrated by her inability to get her words out. In a short period of time, her tears and anger escalated into an unrelenting emotional trauma. Compounding the problem, my husband was stationed out of town for eight months. I knew a drastic intervention on my part was necessary to help her.

As you can imagine, my heart was breaking as I was certain I was watching myself 30 years earlier. I pitied my parents for not knowing what to do to help me at that time. Had I not come to HCRI, I would not have been able to help Oona. I imagined all the roads I had taken before HCRI. I also understood the critical development that was going on with my daughter and the potential that her speech patterns could become ingrained to the point of seemingly permanent behavior.

I stayed by Oona’s side day and night. I was determined to help her learn the skills I was taught at HCRI, which enabled me to retrain my speech muscles to speak fluently. I began by explaining to her over and over about how to breathe to help her talk. I taught her about the speech targets that I learned at HCRI. When I spoke, I used the exaggerated speaking manner required to develop and practice fluency skills.

I also showed my five-year-old fluent son how to use targets. He was a great help. No matter what was going one, we would both speak in the exaggerated style to show Oona that she had all the time in the world she needed to get her words out – and to illustrate what she needed to do technically to speak fluently.

Being so young, Oona would meltdown from anger. She cried herself to sleep in frustration for the physical hindrance her stuttering had placed on her. I comforted her as best I could. She was my singular focus. We were inseparable – with each word, each breath, together initiated. I found many ways to illustrate how to exhale and inhale. Impromptu physical theatre was necessary to distract, entertain, and remind her of what she needed to do. Gentle onsets. First sound. You name it. I had a song and dance, a smiling face, for any target.

Oona’s third birthday came and went. She understood the mechanics of what we wanted her to do. Yet, her stuttering got worse, as did her crying and anger. I could feel her vocal folds shut tight. Facial twitching initiated and then she stopped talking altogether out of frustration. It was heartbreaking to see someone so little grappling with such loss of muscle control – and the maddening responses and emotional reactions.

Yet, I kept working with her and working with her. By Oona’s fourth birthday, we had a breakthrough. She started to talk more. I could see her touching her face to make sure things were working when she spoke. I could hear her practicing her breathing on her own. I saw her practice speaking in a near whisper, while alone with her dolls. And there was no more facial twitching. The progress continued. By Oona’s fifth birthday, she was speaking fluently. Gone completely were the out-of-control utterances, blocking in her throat, and phobia to speak.

From the beginning, my pain came from knowing deeply how much a life can be swallowed up and manipulated by a severe stutter. I did not want this impediment to be a factor in Oona’s life. Above all, I did not want to be the one passing this down, with all its roar, into a sweet new and wide-eyed life. Today, speech is not an issue for my daughter.

Dr. Webster, I am writing to share what I felt I was able to accomplish thanks to you and your work. I want to thank you, once again, for all HCRI has given to me. Even more important, I want to thank you for helping me give my daughter the best gift of all – complete fluency.

HCRI Contact Information: Phone: 540-265-5650  Email: admin@stuttering.org  Address: 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, VA 24019  Web: www.stuttering.org

Stuttering Therapy Enabled Monroe, Ohio Detective to Secure Confessions and Testify in Rape Case

When a middle school resource officer alerted authorities that a 12-year-old said she was repeatedly raped by three adults in her neighborhood, Monroe, Ohio Police Detective Ken Parson used his expert interrogation skills to secure a confession from each suspect. Parson was the only person to testify last week in the Middletown, Ohio sexual abuse case, which has now been bound over to a grand jury.

Testifying in court and interviewing suspects are integral to Parson’s job in law enforcement, which he has had for ten years. Yet, three years ago, a life-long stuttering problem that had minimally interfered with his speaking ability unexpectedly began to worsen.

“My stuttering didn’t affect my performance on the job until one day in 2007 when I went to court to testify. All of a sudden I wasn’t able to talk and couldn’t force a single sound out of my mouth. I couldn’t articulate my case. It was terrible,” Parson said.

Parson is among the three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide who stutter. 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 serves as a barrier to people reaching their full potential in life.

Though Parson decided from an early age that he wasn’t going to let stuttering stand in the way of what he wanted to do, his experience of not being able to utter a word in court was dramatic and pivotal. He knew he had to address the problem and get serious treatment for his speech condition.

Like many who stutter, Parson tried different types of speech therapy while growing up. None produced lasting results. He began researching different types of therapy and learned about a physically based treatment approach, developed by scientists at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) in Roanoke, Virginia. HCRI’s stuttering treatment focuses on retraining faulty speech muscle movements that cause stuttering to create new muscle activities that produce fluent speech.

“HCRI’s treatment made sense to me because the people there treat stuttering like a medical condition rather than something that’s in your head,” Parson said. “I went through the therapy and it worked. The people at HCRI teach you skills that bring your stuttering under control. And that’s just what I needed.”

HCRI’s program involves 12 days of intensive stuttering treatment where participants work one-on-one with specially trained clinicians to learn new speech motor skills. Through detailed steps, individuals learn how to reconstruct distorted speech muscle behaviors to generate fluent speech. Then once fluency is achieved in the clinic, participants learn how to transfer their new-found speaking abilities into everyday life.

“We have worked with thousands of stuttering cases since HCRI’s doors opened in 1972. Data has consistently shown that stuttering is a physically based condition. It is not caused by emotional or psychological issues,” said HCRI Founder and President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.

Webster’s approach is consistent with the findings of a groundbreaking research study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine that confirmed a genetic link to stuttering and the physical nature of the disorder. HCRI was asked to be a partner in this National Institutes of Health research project and an HCRI staff member was a co-author of the article.

HCRI pioneered the concept of physically based treatment for stuttering more than 30 years ago and has continued to enhance the therapy program over the years. Advanced electronics and computers have been incorporated into the treatment regime to enhance the ease of learning and retaining fluent speech. Ninety-three percent of HCRI clients achieve fluency by the end of treatment. Follow-up studies show 70 to 75% retain fluency for the long term.

According to Webster, “Physically based therapy takes hard work and commitment. Clients leave our center with all the tools they need to control their stuttering and remain fluent for a lifetime. Yet for treatment to work over time, they must continue to practice their new speech skills on a regular basis when they return home.”

To maintain his fluency, Parson participates in weekly speech practice calls with other past HCRI therapy participants. Before going to court to testify, he uses one of HCRI’s post therapy practice tools and listens to an audio track that focuses on practicing specific sound classes to produce fluent sentences.

“I have a lot of people who depend on me and count on my ability to effectively communicate. HCRI stuttering therapy has given me the skills to remain fluent and in control of my speech,” Parson added.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute, founded in 1972 by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., has grown into a world-leading center for the investigation and treatment of stuttering. The 501 (c) (3) nonprofit institute is unique from other stuttering organizations in that work focuses on developing scientifically based treatment methods, as well as administering stuttering therapy.

HCRI offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually and has treated more than 5,700 people from across the U.S. and 23 other countries. Clients include John Stossel of Fox News; Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons; and Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn. HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Virginia, 24019. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org. Contact HCRI at admin@stuttering.org or 540-265-5650.

What’s the Best Holiday Gift to Receive? For Some, It is the Gift of Fluency.

As shoppers spend their last days before the holidays rushing through retail stores looking for the “perfect gift” for loved ones and friends, the gift-of-a-lifetime became a reality for eight people at the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) in Roanoke, Virginia. These individuals acquired the ability to speak fluently after living with a debilitating speech condition, stuttering, that had robbed them of reaching their full potential.

As participants in an HCRI stuttering treatment program, they chose to spend two weeks leading up to Christmas in intensive therapy working eight to ten hours a day-rather than partaking in holiday festivities and shopping trips. For these individuals, experiencing the joy of speaking smoothly and spontaneously is the best possible gift to receive for the holidays.

According to therapy participant and college student Kevin McAlpine of Arlington Heights, Illinois, HCRI’s stuttering treatment was “hard work but extremely worth it.” The December timing of therapy was ideal for McAlpine. He scheduled an interview immediately following his treatment program with an admissions representative of a prestigious college where he would like to transfer. He needed to complete the interview before the school closed for the holidays.

“I had a severe case of stuttering before coming to HCRI. The condition is degrading and extremely challenging. My stuttering affected me socially and I was afraid to talk to people. Now, I can speak fluently for the first time in my life,” McAlpine said.

The physical capability to speak fluently is something that most people take for granted. Yet, three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide live each day with a stuttering condition that serves as a barrier to education, social and career opportunities. Stuttering occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and “jump out of control” with too much force and abruptness during attempts to speak. Markers of stuttering include repetitions of sounds, syllables and words; prolongations of first sounds in syllables; and voice blockage when trying to talk.

There is no cure for stuttering; though, therapy can help. To treat the disorder, there are a wide range of approaches with the most common based on counseling to modify speech disfluencies. “Unfortunately, this non-systematic approach is only effective among 25 percent of those treated,” said nationally recognized stuttering expert Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI founder. “Additionally, the stuttering devices that have garnered recent media attention typically work in just 20 to 25 percent of cases.”

In contrast, research shows 93 percent of HCRI clients attain fluent speech by the end of their 12-day treatment program. Follow-up studies indicate 70-75% retain fluency for the long term.

McAlpine, who is an aspiring writer and interested in politics, had six years of speech therapy in his home town while growing up. “For all those years, I went to speech therapy one day a week and it helped me a little bit. But the intensive regime at HCRI and the therapy tools they use are what it took to retrain my speech muscles to speak fluently,” he explained.

“At HCRI, we address and treat the physical aspects of stuttering because research has shown us that stuttering is a physically based condition,” said Webster. “We teach people skills that put them in full control of the speech. That’s why our therapy participants achieve long-lasting fluency outcomes.”

During treatment, HCRI clinicians teach clients how to replace distorted muscle contractions that occur with stuttering with new behaviors called “targets” that generator fluent speech. By reconstructing muscle actions that drive movements of the tongue, lip, jaw, soft palette, and breathing mechanisms, individuals who stutter learn how to speak fluently. Similar to other muscle-building and skill-training activities, through intensive practice muscle memory occurs, enabling clients to maintain fluent speech for a lifetime.

In addition, HCRI researchers have created new ways to use technology in therapy to make fluency skills easier to learn and therapy more interesting for clients. Specialized electronics developed at HCRI, including a Voice Monitor application for Apple’s iPhone, provide accurate feedback to clients during the learning of fluency targets.

“The technology used during HCRI therapy made a huge difference. The computer tools provided clear, precise feedback about my speech and signaled whenever I needed to make adjustments,” McAlpine added.

The non-profit Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually and has treated nearly 5,800 people from across the U.S. and 23 other countries. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650.

I’ve Often Thought What Life Would Be Like Without Receiving Treatment for My Stuttering

Thanks to excellent parents, I went through the HCRI program when I was ten and was the institute’s youngest participant. I’ve often thought what life would be like without receiving treatment for my stuttering.

Growing up with stuttering is devastating. I know others who have stuttered into adulthood and it makes their lives extraordinarily complicated. Whether we like it or not, people judge us by how we look and how we speak. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how things are.

Without stuttering therapy, it would be far more difficult to perform my job. I have daily interaction with co-workers and upper management. I can verbally communicate with anyone on any matter – with confidence.

With fluent speech, I am able to be highly productive and gain respect from people with whom I work. I would advise anyone with a stuttering condition to research all available options and get help. HCRI’s treatment program has made a remarkable difference.

Life is much better without stuttering.

Justin Thomas
Program Manager
US Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security

I Chose HCRI Because the Institute Specializes in the Treatment of Stuttering

My stuttering didn’t bother me when I was a child. Though, my parents arranged for me to participate in speech therapy while I was in school. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I became more self-conscious and concerned about the impact stuttering was having on my life.

I continually worried about my ability to communicate and would go to great lengths to avoid situations where I would have to speak to others. When I began interviewing for jobs as college graduation approached, my stuttering became even more pronounced. As a result, I went for some therapy at a nearby university and found it to be a turning point.

Going through the treatment process enabled me to be open and honest about my stuttering problem instead of pretending like it didn’t exist. My speech improved and I landed a job that I liked.

Yet, the results of my earlier treatment didn’t last. A few years later, my stuttering became more prominent and I decided to go through the HCRI program. I chose Hollins because the institute specializes in the treatment of stuttering — and not other types of speech issues. I found HCRI’s approach more advanced and sophisticated. It has made real difference in my life.

Patrick Donahay
Mechanical Engineer
US Air Force

People Thought It Was Strange That I Was Going Into a Communications Field as a Stutterer

I’ve struggled with stuttering since I was young. Over the years, I tried a variety of approaches to overcome my speech impediment, including a home-treatment course designed to promote fluency. While nothing helped my stuttering, I focused on my education and career aspirations to become a writer.

When I decided to go to graduate school and study journalism, people thought it was strange that I was going into a communications field as a stutterer. Even though I had difficulty conducting phone interviews, I successfully completed graduate school and landed a position as a reporter for a daily newspaper.

On the job, I noticed my stuttering was getting worse – especially when I was doing face-to-face interviews. It was obvious I was making people uncomfortable when I interviewed them. That’s when I realized I needed to take serious action to address my speech.

I researched different therapy programs and read about broadcast journalist John Stossel’s successful experience with HCRI. That’s what ultimately led me to attend the Hollins program.

After two-weeks of intensive therapy, I spoke beautifully. A few months later, I realized I needed to keep practicing the techniques I learned to maintain fluency. I started a practice group for stutterers that still meets regularly.

My work as a journalist continued to progress. On a daily basis, I comfortably interview people I’ve never met, have overcome my need for verbal cues, and speak fluently. I’m now working towards becoming an editor and extending my communication skills to supervise others.

Sean Adkins
York Daily Reporter

I was Shy and Unsure of Myself Because of My Stuttering >>

As long as I can remember, I was shy and unsure of myself because of my stuttering. While academically successful in school, kids used to make fun of me because of my stuttering.

Sometimes my classmates were nasty and even brutal. My parents tried to help by taking me to psychologists and speech therapists. Yet, those professionals didn’t know how to treat stuttering and the therapy didn’t work.

When I was older, I got a job that required some interaction with people. I was so fearful of using the telephone that I would take the time to drive and meet with people in person rather than call them. Throughout my life, when I made phone calls, people would hang up on me because I couldn’t get my words out when they answered. It was so demeaning.

On the personal front, my dating life was terrible. Women weren’t interested in seeing me after the first date. I was convinced that I was going to be a life-long bachelor.

Then I heard about HCRI and went through the program. It changed my life. Finally I was able to talk fluently, have conversations on the phone, express myself, and look people in the eye during discussions. I gained self-confidence and felt good about myself.

With the stuttering therapy and ongoing practice, my life dramatically improved – professionally and personally. The job I have now and the positions I have held couldn’t have been possible without Hollins. Soon after attending the institute, I met my wife and we just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.

Larry Paul
Moog, Inc.

A College Professor Told Me That I Stuttered Because I had been Struck by Lightening

I grew up as a severe stutterer and always avoided situations where I would have to talk, including never wanting to use the phone. I was always aware of what other people thought and the many misconceptions that exist about stutterers.

Some people assumed I stuttered because of nerves. Others thought my speech issues were related to a mental condition or lack of intelligence. At one point, a college professor told me that he thought I stuttered because I had been struck by lightening.

While I saw a number of speech therapists, HCRI was the first therapy program that enabled me to get control of my speech. Finally, I could talk fluently. I was a freshman in college at the time and believe HCRI helped me open doors and go places in my life that I never thought possible.

Having fluent speech enabled me to more actively participate in my education, assume leadership roles, volunteer as a basketball coach, and help achieve my career aspirations.

What you learn at HCRI doesn’t last just a few weeks — it lasts forever.

Russell Weiser

Stuttering was a Major Handicap for Me Until the Age of 42 >>

Stuttering was a major handicap for me until the age of 42. It colored everything I did and stopped me from being able to do the things I wanted to do.

I didn’t go to college because I didn’t want to be in a classroom situation and speak around people whom I didn’t know. I didn’t seek out the type of jobs I wanted. Instead, I worked in the back-room of a bank where I didn’t have to talk with people.

I tried a number of treatment programs over the years that were recommended to me, including speech therapy, hypnosis, and psychiatric therapy. A doctor even cut the membrane under my tongue in hopes of stopping my stuttering. Nothing worked.

Then, I found out about HCRI. I went for treatment and, for the first time, was taught ways to make my speech more fluent. That’s when my life began to change.

As my speech improved, so did my confidence. I sought new jobs in different fields that enabled me to interface with the public. At one point, I even worked for a member of the New York Assembly, where I wrote and gave speeches on governmental and activist-related issues.

Now that I’m retired, I’ve written a play and am involved with a theatre group. I also volunteer my time to work at a hospital information desk. The HCRI therapy program changed my life and opened up new worlds to me.

William Schneider
Writer and Community Volunteer

I Had to do Something About My Stuttering. I Contacted HCRI >>

The tipping point that led me to HCRI occurred on Christmas Eve 1992 when my ambulance crew was dispatched to a residence for a gentleman in cardiac arrest.

We arrived on scene and immediately began advanced resuscitative measures. Since our location was perfectly situated between three hospitals, I asked the distraught spouse to which hospital she would like her husband transported. She looked at me in disbelief, having not processed the gravity of the situation, and asked why her husband must go to a hospital.

Behind me the team was simultaneously shocking the patient and preparing to intubate him. There was equipment everywhere, flashing lights shining in the window, a stretcher being clumsily dropped to floor level, and syringe wrappers scattered about.

I attempted to explain that her husband needed continued treatment in an emergency room setting, but when I tried to talk no words came out.

In this moment of extreme crisis I couldn’t speak. So I did the only thing I could think of in that situation. I stepped to the side and made a “ta-daaa…” motion with my hands at the scene behind me. (I pray this woman has forgiven me.)

Right then and there I knew I could not wait any longer. I had to do something about my stuttering. I contacted HCRI and went through the stuttering therapy program. I can now communicate effectively and speak fluently. I am so grateful to the people at HCRI.

Jim Jenkins
Nursing Student
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing