Chapter 1 Excerpt – From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief

Book written by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D.

bookcover1aStuttering is one of the most misunderstood and mistreated of human disorders. In his book, From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief, stuttering expert and psychologist Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. dispels the myths that surround the disorder and takes readers on a compelling journey into stuttering from a scientific perspective.

Dr. Webster explains the origin of stuttering, possible causes, and how his nonprofit center, Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) uses cutting-edge science to successfully treat stuttering. The following is the first in a series of chapter excerpts from his in-depth book.

CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT

A Unique Problem in a Most Special Species

Stuttering is a most special problem. It rides within the flow of language—specifically, spoken language. My work has involved examining stuttering as a set of phenomena in nature. I have searched for patterns of lawfulness within this problem. I believe that the discovery of unique patterns among physical events in stuttered speech can set the stage for both developing a way to explain stuttering and to construct an effective treatment program for it.

Stuttering is special in a cosmological sense. Look up into the clear, dark night sky. The naked eye allows us to see about a thousand stars. Occasionally, we are able to see planets or watch man-made satellites cross above us. We can also make out a faint band of stars, the Milky Way, streaming across the sky.

There is much more out there in the night sky beyond the scope of the human eye. Trillions of stars and billions of galaxies are spread throughout the universe. The numbers are so large and the distances so vast that they are difficult to comprehend. It is amazing to grasp the idea that the distance light can travel in a year is a standard unit of measurement in the study of the universe.

Stop for a moment and consider the billions upon billions of galaxies that make up the universe. At the present time, we know of only one where stutterers are found. That is the Milky Way galaxy, characterized as a spiral nebula over one hundred light years across, about ten light years thick, and consisting of hundreds of billions of stars. Our solar system—comprised of the sun, eight planets, and a variety of moons, asteroids, and comets—lies in the Orion-Cygnus arm of the Milky Way galaxy, about twenty-seven thousand light years from its center.

In our solar system, there is only one location where stuttering is found: that is on planet Earth, the third planet from the sun. Even though the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (the SETI project) continues, to date, there are no signs of life beyond Earth. Clearly, this planet is an unusually distinctive place.

Stuttering is special, not only in terms of galactic distribution but also when viewed against the broad range of animal species represented on our planet. It has been estimated that there are more than two million animal species on planet Earth. However, there are a relatively small number (about five thousand) of mammalian species.

It is particularly meaningful that only a single mammalian species uses the distinctive and powerful form of communication identified as language. Of course, that species is the modern human, Homo sapiens sapiens. The important point is that while many different animals demonstrate communication, the evidence indicates that the powerful tool of syntactic language is unique to humans and is a necessary condition for the presence of stuttering.

In my view, speech represents the most complex naturally occurring individual behavior humans produce. The complexity of speech production can represent a barrier to trying to understand stuttering. However, if we take time to learn and understand some of its basic properties, we can begin to make sense out of the miracle of our speech—and we can improve our understanding of stuttering.

… [end of excerpt from Chapter 1]

For more information about From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief, visit Amazon.com. To learn more about HCRI stuttering therapy, click here: www.stuttering.org.

HCRI News and Happenings

This year has been exhilarating for our nonprofit institute. In addition to treating a growing number of stuttering therapy clients, our team at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) has been hard at work testing a new service offering and developing more treatment innovations that advance fluency outcomes. Following is an overview of HCRI news and activities.


 

New Therapy Release

In August, we launched a new “high definition” version of our stuttering therapy program. This new release elevates HCRI treatment to an unprecedented level of precision and ease with which fluency can be learned. For details, click here: Hollins Fluency System III.

Pilot Training Program for Parents of Children who Stutter

parentschildTo address growing demand, we are testing a new service designed to teach parents of young children who stutter how to effectively work with their sons and daughters to promote fluent speech.

This training initiative involves a series of individualized sessions with parents and kids at HCRI. Over two and a half days, we impart specialized speech techniques and exercises that parents can put into practice with their children when they return home. Then, we follow-up with the parents to monitor progress. More testing and refining will continue over the coming months and into 2017.

Remote-Access Therapy Testing

remotetherapyTrials continue to determine the viability of offering remote-access, quality-controlled alumni refresher programs via the web using an iPad, computer or late-model iPhone. The use of Bluetooth headsets with these devices facilitates instruction, speech measurement and fluency progress.

Current findings show great promise. Our goal is to be able to offer refreshers – and ultimately the HCRI stuttering therapy program – to anyone, anywhere who has a device and internet connection.

Multi-Dimensional, Automated Speech Measurement

stuttering speech measurementOur team is developing new technology that automates the measurement of speech at a level of detail that enables us to better examine how stuttering is physically differentiated from fluent speech.

As we develop this new system, we will evaluate how well we can use objectively extracted acoustic features to assist in improving the diagnosis and treatment of stuttering. Our early work is encouraging. We are continuing our efforts to reach the stage where practical clinical benefits can be achieved.


 

At HCRI, we continue to push forward advancing stuttering treatment and helping people from across the U.S. and worldwide achieve their full potential in life through fluency. It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve our clients and alumni on an ongoing basis.

We are always here for you and encourage you to reach out if you need assistance, have questions or want to connect for any reason. Contact us at info@stuttering.org or 855-236-7032.

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.

 

How Fluency Changed Scott Nickell’s Trajectory in Life

Scott Nickell spends his work days calling prospects, conducting face-to-face meetings, strategizing solutions with co-workers, and giving presentations to packed rooms of industry professionals.

Scott Nickell - HCRI Therapy Participant
Scott Nickell

As Business Development Manager for a leading distribution company, success depends on Scott’s ability to effectively communicate with decision makers and convey how his company can transform their operational systems into a competitive advantage.

His daily communication requirements are demanding even for the most eloquent and powerful speakers. Though, the gift of speech isn’t something Scott takes for granted – and it isn’t something that comes naturally or easily. He lives with a stuttering condition that surfaced in his youth.

In school, his stuttering hindered his ability to socialize and diminished his self-confidence. He couldn’t say certain words and struggled to communicate each day.

After trying traditional speech therapies with no success, Scott’s parents heard about the unique behavioral therapy offered at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) in Roanoke, Virginia. They enrolled him in the intensive treatment program when he was 12 years old.

“My parents and I saw HCRI as the last shot. The ability to speak fluently meant everything to me and I was committed to giving 110 percent to the therapy program,” Scott recalled.

He found HCRI stuttering treatment unlike any other therapy experience. It was hard work and he was the youngest of 10 participants in his therapy group. Yet, HCRI clinicians provided tremendous support and guided Scott through each step in the treatment process.

According to HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI clinicians work one-on-one with therapy participants and help them learn new, specifically defined ways to use speech muscles that enable the ability to speak fluently. Webster and his research team invented HCRI’s comprehensive behavioral therapy approach, which has been tested with thousands of people who stutter and continually refined through the years.

“Today, the use of advanced computer technology and real-time speech measurement during therapy at HCRI makes fluency acquisition even easier and more precise for participants,” Webster said. “In addition, our post-therapy clinical support and a comprehensive package of practice tools keep participants on track with fluency throughout their lives.”

HCRI research demonstrates that 93 percent of therapy participants achieve fluent speech at the conclusion of their treatment. When evaluated two years later, 75 percent of participants maintained their fluency.

By the end of his HCRI program, Scott spoke fluently for the first time in his life. When he returned home, people could not believe how well he spoke. It was exhilarating for the 12-year-old to talk like everyone else.

However, Scott is quick to point out that it is easy to fall back to old speaking habits without ongoing practice of the speech skills he learned during treatment. In fact, he practiced his HCRI fluency techniques every day for many years.

“When you are a stutterer, how you talk is always in the back of your mind,” he said. “Even to this day, I recall my HCRI fluency training and take advantage of HCRI’s online fluency-practice tools that are available to alumni.”

Scott believes his experience with HCRI at an early age changed his trajectory in life – from his educational achievement to his career success. “I talk every single day, every single hour, as part of my job. I love what I do. I would be in a completely different line of work if it hadn’t been for HCRI. I don’t know where I would be without fluent speech,” he added.

HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 7,000 people who stutter, aged 11 to 73, from 50 countries. Clients include students, broadcasters, athletes, teachers, engineers, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, paramedics, and others from all walks of life. For more information about HCRI stuttering therapy, visit www.stuttering.org.

How Mountain Climbing, World Travel and HCRI Stuttering Therapy Helped This Attorney Achieve Fluency

Attorney and mountain climber Leigh P. Bennett of Edmonds, Washington has stuttered since he uttered his first sentence. Yet, he considers himself lucky to have dealt with the challenge of stuttering at such a young age.

During school and into adult life, Leigh regularly faced difficult situations and frustration because of the way he talked. Though, he believes his speech condition served as the impetus to develop a can-do attitude, courage, and emotional strength early in life. These traits have stayed with him through the years, enabling him to thrive professionally and personally.

“My stuttering was ever-present for as long as I can remember. While it got in the way whenever I spoke, I was determined to stay positive and become stronger because of it,” Leigh said.

Stuttering affects three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. 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.

From Stuttering to Fluency

Leigh’s journey to fluency included a gamut of unsuccessful treatment attempts that included speech therapy in elementary school, unproductive sessions with a psychologist, and visits to a speech clinic once every two weeks during high school. None of these efforts produced results.

Leigh P. Bennett
Leigh P. Bennett

After high school, Leigh went to college and also became an avid mountain climber and windsurfer. His outdoor activities required significant mental focus, training, self-control, and self-reliance. He learned how to manage his fear and maintain a sense of calm, as he scaled summits, traversed rough waters, and achieved each new goal he set for himself.

At the time, he didn’t consider that these carefully honed skills would help him on the path to fluency.

Upon graduation, Leigh traveled the world and grew even more self-assured. He also ran his own mountaineering school. Yet, he knew he needed to bring his stuttering under control to pursue the next chapter in his life.

Then, he learned about the unique behavioral stuttering therapy provided by Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) in Roanoke, Virginia. He was drawn to HCRI’s physically based approach, scientifically derived methodology and intensity of therapy. The treatment strategy made sense to him and he enrolled in the stuttering therapy program.

HCRI Therapy Participation

At HCRI, Leigh worked one-on-one with specially trained clinicians and systematically learned how to replace faulty muscle behaviors that cause stuttering with new speech motor skills that enable fluency. His can-do attitude, strong self-reliance, and ability to adapt – which were skills he cultivated through his outdoor sports and independent travels – served him well in achieving success during therapy.

According to HCRI Founder and President Dr. Ron Webster, “Our physically based therapy takes hard work, focus and total commitment to the process. Clients who give 110 percent leave with the knowledge and techniques they need to take control of their stuttering and remain fluent for life.”

Research shows that 93 percent of HCRI therapy program participants achieve fluency by the end of treatment. Follow-up studies reveal 75 percent retain fluency for the long term. “Our results are in stark contrast to other speech therapy approaches that work in only 25 percent of cases,” Webster noted.

New Opportunities through Fluency

After attending HCRI, Leigh was able to manage his stuttering for the first time in his life. “HCRI treatment provided me with the tools I needed to speak fluently,” Leigh explained. “When I would start stuttering in stressful situations, I knew just what I needed to do to regulate my speech.”

With his newly acquired fluency, Leigh decided to go to law school, become an attorney in Edmonds, and follow in his father’s respected footsteps. Today, Leigh has a busy law practice with his brother, Peter W. Bennett, and is carrying on his father’s legacy at his Bennett and Bennett law firm. He specializes in estate planning, elder law, trusts, Medicaid planning, real estate law, and other related legal services. Leigh is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, board member of the Hubbard Family Foundation, member of the Everett Mountaineers, and a ski instructor.

He believes that success requires an individual to proactively take control of his or her life and “make things happen.” Leigh attributes his ability to overcome stuttering to having the right attitude, learning from his experiences, and getting the right stuttering treatment.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) was founded by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. 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. HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,500 individuals from across the U.S. and 50 countries. The center is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 855-236-7032 (toll-free) or admin@stuttering.org.

About Bennett and Bennett

The Bennett and Bennett partnership was founded in 1988 by brothers Leigh P. Bennett and Peter W. Bennett in Edmonds, Washington, The goal of the law firm is to guide clients successfully through the often complex processes of estate planning, probate, trusts, elder law, real estate law, and related legal matters – and to make the process educational, practical, and cost effective. Bennett and Bennett is located at 400 Dayton, Suite A, Edmonds, Wash. 98020. For more information, visit www.edmondslaw.com, call 425-776-0139, or send an email to bb@edmondslaw.com.