Overcoming Stuttering Enabled Alan Tonelson to Advocate on Behalf of U.S. Business and Industry

Appearing on CNBC or Fox News is part of a typical day’s work for Riverdale Park, Maryland resident Alan Tonelson, research fellow for the United States Business and Industry Council.  As one of the country’s leading globalization policy experts, Tonelson is regularly called upon by national media to offer his insights and debate potential policy solutions with other analysts.

His compelling on-air commentary during newscasts and interviews resonates with conviction. He speaks eloquently in front of crowds and exudes confidence as he advocates for policies that strengthen domestic manufacturing to revitalize America’s long-neglected productive industries.


No one would know that Tonelson has a stuttering condition that he has lived with since grade school. Like many who stutter, he tried different types of speech therapy while growing up. None resulted in lasting improvements.

“I would have good days and bad days. There was no way to predict what was going to happen with my speech,” Tonelson explained. “By the time I was in high school, I had accepted the fact that this is my lot in life and I would just have to deal with my stuttering.”

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.

Although a determined Tonelson decided he wasn’t going to let his stuttering stand in the way, he readily admits that his speech condition guided some significant life choices. As a student at Princeton University, he joined the college newspaper in hopes of a print journalism career because “I mistakenly thought it would enable me to write for living and wouldn’t put a premium on using speech.”  Tonelson quickly learned that reporting requires constant telephone and in-person interviewing.  Although he performed well enough in college journalism and his first reporting job after graduation, he became increasingly concerned that his speech might limit his career possibilities.

Then he heard about a physically based stuttering treatment program, developed by scientists at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) in Roanoke, Virginia. HCRI offered a unique therapy approach that focused on retraining faulty speech muscle movements that cause stuttering to create new muscle activities that enable fluent speech.

“HCRI’s treatment was different than anything else I had tried. It made sense to me because it was based on physiology and not psychology,” Tonelson explained. “I attended the treatment program and saw a dramatic increase in my fluency. The therapy did its job.”

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 researched thousands of stuttering cases since HCRI’s doors opened in 1972. Data has consistently shown that stuttering is a physically based disorder and needs to be treated as such,” said HCRI Founder and President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.

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.

Underscoring the importance of physically based treatment for stuttering, last month the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a groundbreaking study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders that confirmed a genetic link to stuttering. HCRI was a participant in this key research initiative, which dispelled long-standing assumptions that stuttering is caused by stress or psychological issues.

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, Tonelson joined a speech practice group in Washington D.C., comprised of HCRI stuttering therapy clients, and participated actively for nearly 20 years. The group meets weekly to practice specific speech skills learned in therapy and help one another maintain fluency. In addition to organized practice groups, HCRI offers extensive post-therapy support services to all program participants.

“HCRI’s physically based treatment has been a life-changer for me,” Tonelson said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now without it.”

In addition to his regular television appearances, Tonelson uses his fluid, persuasive communication skills on national radio programs to offer perspectives on economic and foreign policy issues. He has given presentations for universities, government agencies and business organizations around the globe. His articles and commentary have appeared in leading publications including Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post, and others. Tonelson is a columnist for The Washington Times and IndustryToday.com, and author of a book on globalization called “The Race to the Bottom.”

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.