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.

Overcoming Stuttering Enabled a Dream Career

Bethany Marcusson-Mercedes works at a thriving start-up company that specializes in educational technology. As an experienced educator and school administrator, she is uniquely qualified in her role as a trainer and teacher liaison to help the company transform classrooms around the globe using new mobile technology.

HCRI alumna Bethany Marcusson-Mercedes with her husband Chris.
HCRI alumna Bethany Marcusson-Mercedes is shown here with her husband Chris.

Bethany’s responsibilities involve regular travel and speaking in front of large groups of educators on an ongoing basis. With the confidence and expertise she exudes in her presentations, no one is aware that Bethany has lived with a stuttering condition that impacted her ability to speak fluently since the age of three.

Beginning in elementary school, Bethany’s parents were proactive and enrolled her in speech therapy to address her stuttering. While she worked hard in therapy year after year, she continued to struggle with her speech on a daily basis.

She confronted ongoing communication challenges and was mocked by classmates because of her stuttering. Yet, with ever-growing fortitude and the encouragement of her parents, she pushed forward with her young life and participated in school and extracurricular activities.

Then, when she was 16 years old, Bethany and her parents were introduced to an engaging woman at their church who also had a stuttering condition – yet spoke fluently. Bethany learned that her new friend participated in the stuttering therapy program at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org) in Roanoke, Virginia where she acquired skills to speak fluently and spontaneously.

Developed by stuttering expert and HCRI Founder Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI stuttering therapy is a science-based, 12-day behavioral treatment that has been tested with thousands of stuttering cases. HCRI’s specially trained clinicians utilize detailed behavioral therapy protocols and advanced technology to systematically teach people how to replace abnormal muscle contractions that cause stuttering with specific, new muscle movements that generate fluent speech.

“Our center’s early research demonstrated that stuttering is a physical condition and not emotionally based. HCRI therapy teaches individuals how to control the physically derived repetitions, prolongations and voice blockages that characterize stuttered speech.” Webster explained. “During our treatment program, clients are methodically taught new ways of speaking that enable them to stop stuttering and generate fluent conversations in everyday situations.”

That meeting at church was a turning point in Bethany’s life. Her parents enrolled her in HCRI stuttering therapy. Bethany was excited about her treatment program and seized the opportunity to acquire skills that would enable her to take charge of her stuttering once and for all.

“I found HCRI stuttering therapy hard work. Each day was intensive and led to the next step in the treatment process. The other therapy participants and clinicians were an excellent support system throughout the program and afterwards,” Bethany said.

By the end of her treatment, the teen could speak fluently for the first time in her life. The therapy was transforming. Yet, Bethany knew that she had to commit to practicing her new speech skills every day once she returned home.

“Daily practice helped me habituate my fluency capabilities. While some days were harder than others, I continued to persevere to control my stuttering,” Bethany explained.

Even now, many years later, when she is preparing to speak in front of groups, Bethany mentally reviews the fundamental fluency principles she learned at HCRI.

“Without a doubt, I would not have the career that I have today without HCRI. The therapy and ongoing support from HCRI have made such a difference in my life,” she concluded.

Bethany’s Advice to Individuals who Stutter

  • Never let stuttering define you.
  • Don’t give up if you have a hard time.
  • Don’t let fears stand in the way of what you can achieve.
  • Get the help you need to make a difference in your life.
  • Stay connected to people, utilize available tools and have a support system you can always count on.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute 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 derived therapy approaches.

HCRI clinicians have treated more than 6,500 individuals from across the U.S. and 50 countries. Research shows that 93% of therapy participants achieve fluency by the end of their 12-day program. Follow-up studies one and two years post therapy reveal 70-75% of clients maintain their fluent speech.

HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Va. 24019. For more information, contact HCRI 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.

Nathan Greiner Driven by Passion for Horses and Achieving Fluency

Equine trainer and clinic facilitator Nathan Greiner views his experience with stuttering therapy the same way he views how to effectively handle, care, and train challenging horses.

Achieve Fluency with HCRI Stuttering Therapy
Top/inset: HCRI Alumnus Nathan Greiner. Bottom: Nathan (left), Buck Brannaman (far right).

To achieve successful outcomes, he believes the root cause of the problem must be addressed rather than treating the symptoms with a temporary solution.

Three years ago, Nathan left an enviable position after 15 years with Fareway Stores, where his father serves as president, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow his passion for horses.

He went to work for world-renowned horsemanship master Buck Brannaman. Brannaman inspired the character of Tom Booker in the Nicholas Evans novel The Horse Whisperer and the movie by the same name that starred Robert Redford.

Nathan now travels the country organizing and staging Brannaman’s sought-after equine training clinics.

When he started working with Brannaman, Nathan noticed his life-long stuttering condition was becoming more pronounced. In the past, he masked his stuttered speech by controlling his environment and using word-substitution techniques.

Yet, the travel and physical demands of his new position, coupled with the need to continually communicate with up to 50 clinic participants at any given time, took their toll on his speech.

Over the years, Nathan participated in traditional stuttering therapy and met with a speech therapist one or two days a week for a period of time. Yet, the time and money he invested in treatment did not yield the fluency results he wanted.

“I was living with my stuttering and not addressing it. I got to the point that I didn’t want to grow old and regret the way I talked,” Nathan said.

Then, Nathan learned about Hollins Communication Research Institute (HCRI) and the nonprofit center’s unique approach to stuttering therapy. He saw an online video of TV broadcaster John Stossel discussing his former stuttering condition and participation in an intensive stuttering treatment program at HCRI. Stossel’s confident, commanding speech style and HCRI therapy experience resonated with Nathan. He contacted HCRI and enrolled in the therapy program.

According to HCRI President Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI stuttering therapy is markedly different than traditional speech therapies for stuttering. “Our early research demonstrated that stuttering is physically based and needs to be treated at the muscular level. As a result, we used scientific principles to create, research and refine a comprehensive behavioral therapy program that addresses the problem of stuttering exactly where and when it occurs.”

HCRI stuttering therapy is an intensive program that teaches people who stutter how to replace faulty speech muscle movements, which cause the prolongations, repetitions and blocks of stuttering, with new muscle behaviors that produce fluent speech.

Specially trained clinicians conduct HCRI’s 12-day program in a small group setting at the institute’s headquarters in Virginia. Proprietary fluency training tools and therapy technology are used during the treatment process, which make acquiring new speech skills easier and more precise for therapy participants.

“I knew the therapy would be hard work. Yet, it is harder to live with stuttering,” Nathan said. “I was passionate about making it work. And, my experience with HCRI was great from the clinicians to the technology to the support staff.”

Nathan is quick to point out that HCRI stuttering therapy is not a magic formula or quick fix. Learning to systematically rebuild speech patterns takes commitment to the therapy process. Maintaining fluency after therapy takes regular practice because old speech habits can return. That’s why he regularly stays in touch with HCRI clinicians and other therapy participants to practice his speaking skills.

“When working with horses, Buck taught me the importance of dealing with their issues from the inside, so they will be right on the outside. Stuttering therapy is the same way. You’ve got to address the core of the problem that causes the stuttering and not just treat the symptoms. HCRI does exactly that,” Nathan concluded.

For more information on HCRI therapy, please click here: HCRI Stuttering Therapy Approach

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.