How HCRI Responds to the Need for More Knowledge About Stuttering and Effective Fluency Training

HCRI President’s Message

The following message from Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., president of the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) appeared in the non-profit institute’s 2011 spring newsletter, which was distributed to past stuttering therapy clients and HCRI supporters. A national leader in stuttering research and therapy innovation, HCRI has treated nearly 6,000 people who stutter from around the globe.

It is very clear to me that stuttering involves tremendously subjective reactions that are important to the person who stutters. In addition, the disfluencies produced during stuttering are observed subjectively by outside people who witness these behaviors.

One of our goals is to create new technologies that increase the objective measurement of the speech events that occur when a person stutterers. Of course, most of you know that we have developed tools for measuring voice onset characteristics during therapy. These tools are represented within our therapy program, our FluenceyNet home practice system, and our iPhone/iPod Touch apps. There is no question that these tools make the acquisition of targets more reliable and improves their retention.

We are working on exciting new tools for measuring speech in real time. Our newest development is the “speech microscope.” This system allows us to slice speech into hundreds (or thousands) of samples, each one of which can be quantified and examined independently or in relationship to other samples.

One of the first findings during the testing of this new technology was that we could clearly differentiate stuttered speech from fluent speech. There was no question about the clarity and reliability of these results – every stuttered speech sample, no matter how slight the stuttering, was seen to be quantitatively different from the fluent speech samples.

There are two next steps with the HCRI Speech Microscope: the first deals with automating the scoring of disfluencies; the second deals with developing the analysis system so all relevant speech targets in our therapy can be taught with guidance from the system.

There is no question that we can better measure, understand, and use in treatment the objective information generated by our new tool. And, there is a great deal to be learned as we move ahead; however, each step creates a platform of understanding that sets the stage for further advances.

I believe that we need to invent new ways of seeing and understanding stuttering. When we do this, everything gets better for our clients – and that is the ultimate goal for our organization.

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, visit or call HCRI at 540-265-5650.