How Gerald R. McDermott Conquered Stuttering with Determination, Innate Gifts and HCRI Therapy

The distinguished career of Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D. spans many roles, including school principal, college professor, author, and pastor. These pivotal positions involve speaking in front of large groups, as well as talking one-on-one with individuals from all walks of life.

Gerald R. McDermott
Gerald R. McDermott

With his eloquent speech, no one would know Dr. McDermott struggled for years with a stuttering condition that began before he entered kindergarten. Throughout his school years, his unpredictable stutter made classroom participation difficult and embarrassing. He faced ridicule from others because of his speech.

Dr. McDermott, who is now Anglican Chair of Divinity, History and Doctrine at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, believes that facing the challenges of stuttering when he was young impelled him to push harder and excel more in life.

Like many people who stutter, Dr. McDermott tried different speech therapies during his youth. None of the treatments produced lasting fluency. So, he moved forward with his goals in spite of his speech. He was determined that his stuttering would not hold him back.

When he was a new professor at Roanoke College, a colleague suggested he look into the stuttering therapy program at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org). “I didn’t realize my stuttering was at a point that someone would mention I needed therapy. I was humiliated and in denial,” Dr. McDermott said.

Nevertheless, he contacted the nonprofit institute, met with HCRI President and Founder Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., and then enrolled in the stuttering therapy program. For three intensive weeks, Dr. McDermott systematically relearned how to use his speech muscles and adjust his breathing. The skills he acquired enabled him to control his stutter and speak fluently for the first time in his life. It was hard work and unlike any other therapy he experienced.

“HCRI stuttering therapy was transforming. The change in my speech from beginning to end was dramatic,” Dr. McDermott noted. “Dr. Webster and his team are among the few experts in the world who know how to appropriately treat stuttering. The therapy strategy is brilliant and it works.”

Dr. Webster, who also is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at Hollins University, invented the concept of comprehensive behavioral therapy for stuttering. He and his research team spent years investigating and developing his scientifically based treatment program that makes lasting fluency possible.

“We tested our stuttering treatment approach with thousands who stutter, representing a wide range of stuttering types and severity levels,” Dr. Webster said. “Our data consistently shows 93 percent of participants achieve fluency by the end of treatment and 70 to 75% maintain fluent speech when evaluated one and two years post therapy.”

Through the years, the HCRI team has continually refined the Institute’s stuttering therapy program, now 12 days in length. In addition, they created treatment technologies that make fluency skills easier to learn and maintain. More than 6,500 people who stutter from 50 countries have come to Virginia-based HCRI for stuttering therapy.

Famous Stutterers

According to Dr. McDermott, his struggles with stuttering yielded many life lessons and gifts. “It is easy to feel sorry for yourself when you are living with any type of disability – including stuttering. It can rob you of your joy if you aren’t careful,” he said.

“It is important to focus on the positive, get treatment that works, and consider how coping with stuttering makes you a better person,” he added. “Living with the disorder may drive a person to work harder, listen more, and have greater empathy for people with challenges.”

To provide inspiration to others who stutter, Dr. McDermott recently wrote a book, Famous Stutterers, that showcases 12 famous people who achieved greatness while struggling with their speech impediment.

The individuals profiled experienced anger and frustration like others who stutter. Yet, none let their stuttering prevent them from using their innate talents to make the world a better place. For a video trailer about the book, click here.

 

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About HCRI

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 scientifically derived therapy approaches.

Clients include broadcaster John Stossel; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, musicians, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, a supreme court nominee, and even royalty.

HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 855-236-7032.

Chapter 2 Excerpt – From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief

The following is the second in a series of chapter excerpts from the insightful and innovative book on stuttering, From Stuttering to Fluent Speech, 6,300 Cases Later: Unlocking Muscle Mischief, written by Ronald. L. Webster, Ph.D. An expert on stuttering, Dr. Webster is a clinical psychologist and president of Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org.).

CHAPTER 2 EXCERPT

How Stuttering Became a Universal Problem

There are fascinating unanswered questions about the origin of stuttering. How long ago did stuttering appear in human speech? What factors enabled stuttering to become a universal problem that appears in all language groups? Are there present-day implications about the cause of stuttering that flow from its possible origins? New tools have been developed that may enable us to suggest possible answers to some of these questions.

GeneticsWe live in exciting times. Recent advances in genetic analysis have provided opportunities to look into the molecular structure of life itself. Advanced forms of genetic analysis have generated new insights into human evolution that can guide our thinking about the origins of stuttering.

These new forms of genetic analysis deal with mutations in DNA molecules that lie outside the human genome and thus are not available for recombination during the normal course of reproduction. Rates of mutations can be calculated for different types of DNA, and identification can be made of patterns of mutations that are passed from generation to generation. Analysis of DNA sequences can reveal the distinctive genetic variations for different groupings of the human species.

In fact, these new methods provide a virtual time machine that allows us to travel back through the centuries and identify when specific elements of genetic material first appeared in the DNA of our species. Recent analyses of the evolution of the FOXP2 gene, identified as the first gene clearly associated with the human capability to develop language, have indicated that the human variant of this gene was established in the past two hundred thousand years.

Thus, the time of appearance for the FoxP2 gene is consistent with the notion that the rapid expansion of humans to locations beyond East Africa was driven by the presence of increased speech and language abilities (Enard, Przeworski, Fisher, Lal, Weibe, Kitano, et al. 2002).

As we shall see, genetic analyses have indicated that there were two population “bottlenecks” in human evolution that occurred about 135,000 years ago. At the time of the first bottleneck, offspring of a single female became the survivors from whom all of us are descended. Sometime later, when the second bottleneck occurred, offspring of a single male became the survivors from whom we have all evolved.

… [end of excerpt from Chapter 2]

From Stuttering to Fluent SpeechFor more information about Dr. Webster’s book, 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.

 

HCRI’s Inaugural 5K Race Filled with Enthusiam and Friendly Competition

Alumni of the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) stuttering therapy program, along with Roanoke-area runners, participated in the nonprofit center’s first 5K Race and 1-Mile Fun Walk – Stride to Cure Stuttering – on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

StridetoCureStuttering1temp1The event was held on the beautiful Roanoke River Greenway in Downtown Roanoke, Virginia. Stride to Cure Stuttering helped raise much-needed funds to support HCRI’s ongoing work in stuttering research and treatment innovation.

The Institute was founded in 1972 by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D. to investigate stuttering and develop new therapy approaches for the difficult-to-treat speech disorder. Today, HCRI is a leader in science-based stuttering treatment and has helped thousands of people who stutter from across the U.S. and 50 countries.

Donations raised from Stride to Cure Stuttering will further HCRI’s important work of making life-changing stuttering therapy  more accessible and continuing research to find a cure for stuttering.

The race director and organizer was Courtney Stackhouse who also serves as a stuttering therapy clinician at HCRI. Forty-two competitors ran in the inaugural race, along with numerous others who participated in the event’s 1-Mile Fun Walk to help HCRI.

Following are the racers who clocked the fastest times for the 5K run.

  • Jonathan Seidel – 16:33.28
  • Joel Hanlon – 17:50.81
  • Colin Munsey – 17:58.32

EVENT PHOTOS

HCRI Stride to Cure StutteringHCRI Stride to Cure Stuttering

HCRI Stride to Cure StutteringHCRI Stride to Cure StutteringHCRI Stride to Cure StutteringHCRI Stride to Cure Stuttering

 

 

 

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.

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.