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.
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.