Dr. Ron Webster’s Pioneering Work in Stuttering

A Career Dedicated to Helping People Who Stutter Achieve Fluency

Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.

Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., Founder and President of Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) observed stuttering for the first time when he was a graduate student at Louisiana State University. One of his professors stuttered. Webster was moved by this impressive man’s courage to face students and lecture each day, despite having a speech disorder.

After graduate school, Webster began a multi-dimensional career as a research scientist, psychology professor and clinical psychologist. At the same time, he pursued his keen interest in the study of speech. Webster conducted research on speech development and collaborated with speech experts from across the country.

This work led him to a passionate concern about stuttering and the realization that no effective treatment existed to help people with the disorder. Webster set out to change that. The year was 1966. He began a life-long mission to investigate stuttering using empirical science and learn everything he could about the difficult-to-treat and misunderstood condition.

His intensive research revealed remarkable findings, which countered broadly accepted assumptions that stuttering was grounded in emotional or mental issues. Instead, Webster’s work demonstrated that stuttering is physically derived, with specific, distorted speech-muscle activities and patterns that give rise to stuttering.

WSLS News Segment - Dr. Ron Webster
WSLS-TV reporter interviews Dr. Ron Webster about his pioneering work in stuttering and the science-based stuttering therapy program at his nonprofit Hollins Communications Research Institute.

Once he quantitatively defined speech-muscle “events” that cause stuttering, Webster’s research efforts turned to identifying ways to alter these events to enable fluent speech.

Webster’s work was groundbreaking. The outcomes led to his developing the first systematic, behavioral stuttering therapy program. He founded nonprofit Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) in 1972 to continue his research and administer effective, science-based stuttering therapy.

HCRI’s 12-day stuttering treatment program teaches individuals how to replace faulty speech muscle movements that cause stuttering with new muscle events that generate fluent speech. Research shows 93% of program participants achieve fluency by the end of treatment. Follow-up studies reveal 70% to 75% retain fluent speech when evaluated one and two years post therapy. ​These outcomes stand in contrast to traditional speech therapies and devices that may only produce fluency results in approximately 25% of cases.

Webster and his HCRI team continually enhance the Institute’s quality-controlled therapy program, based on the latest research findings and technology. To make fluency acquisition easier and long lasting for clients, they have:

  • Increased the specificity of treatment protocols
  • Invented electronic speech measurement systems for use in therapy
  • Integrated the use of computers into the therapy process
  • Developed a 500-hour HCRI clinician certification program
  • Incorporated quality controls into treatment
  • Created a sophisticated “therapist in your pocket” app

These ongoing advancements raise the bar on stuttering treatment excellence. U.S. patents have been awarded to Webster for some of these stuttering therapy innovations. 

Since HCRI opened its doors, more than 6,500 people from across the U.S. and 50 countries have come to the Virginia-based treatment center.​ 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, a Supreme Court nominee and even royalty.

Dr. Webster and the HCRI team continue to push forward with their commitment to transforming lives through fluency. This includes testing the feasibility of online therapy delivery to increase accessibility, as well as partnering with the National Institutes of Health on a pioneering study that confirmed a genetic link to stuttering.

For more information about HCRI stuttering therapy, please visit www.stuttering.org. Contact HCRI at 855-236-7032 or info@stuttering.org.

 

Producer and Filmmaker Elan Dassani Overcomes Stuttering, Makes his Mark in an Industry Where Talk is Everything

 

Elan Dassani in MoscowAs a sought-after television series producer and filmmaker, Elan Dassani’s ability to effectually communicate with directors, actors, visual-effects artists, and staffers is paramount to his success.

On any given day, he may speak with up to a hundred people at a time. When he is not working on television shows, he scouts locations or pitches decision makers on using the many production and special-effects services of his company, Master Key.

Along with industry expertise, Dassani’s ability to speak persuasively is his most important asset. Yet, it is also among his greatest challenges because Dassani is a stutterer. Since he was a young child, his ability to speak fluidly and spontaneously was hindered by stuttering, which made it difficult even to say his name.

His condition produced involuntary interruptions in his flow of speech. Dassani experienced intermittent blocks, repetitions and prolongations of sounds and syllables, which made it difficult to carry on conversations. To fix his stutter, he tried different treatments that ranged from wearing an auditory feedback device to meeting with speech therapists. None produced lasting fluency.

While in college, he learned about the unique behavioral therapy offered at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI), the same center that helped television broadcaster John Stossel overcome stuttering and catapult his career. Dassani decided to enroll and try HCRI’s stuttering therapy program.

Elan Dassani in Paris“The program was challenging and markedly different than any other stuttering treatment I experienced,” Dassani said. “The techniques and skills I learned at HCRI helped me proactively manage my stuttering and speak fluently in everyday situations.”

According to HCRI Founder and President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI stuttering therapy takes hard work, commitment and ongoing practice for optimal, life-long results. Developed by Webster and his research team – and tested with thousands who stutter, the therapy program is systematic and quality-controlled. HCRI participants work intensively with specially trained clinicians to learn new speech behaviors that replace distorted contractions and muscle movements that cause stuttered speech. The new behaviors enable people to generate fluent speech at will.

For Dassani, the ability to speak fluently makes life and what he wants to accomplish “easier and better.” He experienced firsthand the transforming impact fluency can have on someone’s life – professionally and personally.

He also acknowledges the importance of practicing HCRI fluency techniques on a regular basis. Practicing the behaviors taught during therapy helps sustain fluent speech for the long-term. When Dassani attended HCRI’s program, he was young and had a lot of ambitions that took time away from practice. Fifteen years after therapy, he noticed his speech was starting to degrade. So to get his fluency on track, he attended HCRI therapy a second time.

Now, his fluency has returned to the high levels he desires. He is committed to ongoing practice and follow-up with HCRI clinicians. He is using apps to serve as practice reminders and queues to focus on his fluency.

“There is no cure for stuttering. Yet, research demonstrates that HCRI therapy can help the majority of people who stutter acquire the ability to speak fluently.” Webster explained. “Elan Dassani is an excellent example of how fluency can open up doors of opportunity and enable people to reach their full potential in life.”

Dassani added, “I want people to know that stuttering is not insurmountable. There were times when I was frustrated and down in the dumps about my stuttering. Yet, you can get past it with the right treatment and focus,” he concluded.

HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,400 people, between the ages of 11 and 73, from across the U.S. and 50 countries. For more information about Virginia-based HCRI, visit www.stuttering.org.

Perspectives about HCRI Stuttering Therapy Participation

Stuttering therapy participant Bill R. attended the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) 12-day intensive treatment program nearly one year ago. During a recent phone call, he answered the following questions and shared his perspectives about HCRI stuttering therapy and his experience with program participation.

Why did you choose HCRI stuttering therapy?

During my life, I tried about every type of stuttering therapy available, including using an auditory feedback device.

Yet, nothing worked for me. I continued to seek treatment options in hopes of finally finding a solution to my stuttering problem. Then, I heard about HCRI. I went to the center’s website (www.stuttering.org) to learn about HCRI’s behavioral therapy approach.

I saw the statistics about HCRI’s fluency success rates [93% achieve fluency in 12 days and 70-75% sustain fluent speech over time]. To be honest, I was skeptical of those numbers since my previous therapies didn’t produce results. HCRI’s fluency outcomes seemed too good to be true.

Yet, while I didn’t have a lot of hope that HCRI would help me, it was the one approach I hadn’t tried. I took a leap of faith and enrolled in the 12-day program.

What were your impressions on the first day of HCRI stuttering therapy?

I was nervous when I first arrived at HCRI. I was worried that the therapy wouldn’t work. Though, I saw HCRI as my last resort for getting my stuttering under control.

Describe your experience during the first half of your HCRI therapy program.

In the first week, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The way the therapy is designed to systematically progress, you don’t see fluency results until the last few days. Initially, it was hard for me to link what the clinicians were teaching ­– and the speech exercises I practiced – to the ultimate outcome of fluent speech.

Yet, I remained committed to the therapy process. I worked hard each day and followed the guidance of HCRI’s clinicians. In the evenings, I continued to practice the speech techniques I learned so I wouldn’t slip back into my old way of speaking.

What were your impressions during the second week of therapy?

Everything came together during the second half of my HCRI program and particularly in the last two days. What I was learning and doing all made sense. Week 2 is where you reap the rewards of your hard work. Each day, my speech got better and better. It was impressive.

What are your thoughts about HCRI now that nearly a year has passed since your therapy program?

I am a fluent speaker now. The fluency statistics on HCRI’s website hold true. Yet, they directly correlate with an individual’s work ethic each day of treatment. If someone stays dedicated to the therapy process and works hard every day, fluency will happen. There’s no limit to the success and fluency you can achieve.

In addition to the actual therapy, the support system you have with HCRI makes such a difference. HCRI clinicians are always there for you – during therapy and once you return home. I check in with them every few weeks to keep my speech on track. Mentally and through speech, that support system promotes such confidence. If I run into an issue with stuttering, HCRI clinicians take the time to work with me over the phone to address it.

Also, you become close with other therapy participants and help one another during the program and afterwards. I’ve stayed in contact with a number of people from my program. We regularly talk on the phone and practice the skills we learned to maintain fluency.

What advice to you have for others considering HCRI stuttering therapy?

Most other stuttering therapies treat the symptoms, which is why results don’t last. At HCRI, you focus on the source of your stuttering and relearn how to speak to generate fluency. Before coming to HCRI, I didn’t grasp the success that could be achieved.

Now that I have fluent speech, I’ve excelled in my career. I just accepted a new position that requires me to speak in front of groups on a regular basis. I wish more people who stutter knew about HCRI and the difference it can make in your life.

So my advice is… If you are committed to fluent speech, HCRI is the place to go.