What’s the Best Holiday Gift to Receive? For Some, It is the Gift of Fluency.

As shoppers spend their last days before the holidays rushing through retail stores looking for the “perfect gift” for loved ones and friends, the gift-of-a-lifetime became a reality for eight people at the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – www.stuttering.org ) in Roanoke, Virginia. These individuals acquired the ability to speak fluently after living with a debilitating speech condition, stuttering, that had robbed them of reaching their full potential.

As participants in an HCRI stuttering treatment program, they chose to spend two weeks leading up to Christmas in intensive therapy working eight to ten hours a day-rather than partaking in holiday festivities and shopping trips. For these individuals, experiencing the joy of speaking smoothly and spontaneously is the best possible gift to receive for the holidays.

According to therapy participant and college student Kevin McAlpine of Arlington Heights, Illinois, HCRI’s stuttering treatment was “hard work but extremely worth it.” The December timing of therapy was ideal for McAlpine. He scheduled an interview immediately following his treatment program with an admissions representative of a prestigious college where he would like to transfer. He needed to complete the interview before the school closed for the holidays.

“I had a severe case of stuttering before coming to HCRI. The condition is degrading and extremely challenging. My stuttering affected me socially and I was afraid to talk to people. Now, I can speak fluently for the first time in my life,” McAlpine said.

The physical capability to speak fluently is something that most people take for granted. Yet, three million people in the U.S. and 66 million worldwide live each day with a stuttering condition that serves as a barrier to education, social and career opportunities. Stuttering occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and “jump out of control” with too much force and abruptness during attempts to speak. Markers of stuttering include repetitions of sounds, syllables and words; prolongations of first sounds in syllables; and voice blockage when trying to talk.

There is no cure for stuttering; though, therapy can help. To treat the disorder, there are a wide range of approaches with the most common based on counseling to modify speech disfluencies. “Unfortunately, this non-systematic approach is only effective among 25 percent of those treated,” said nationally recognized stuttering expert Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI founder. “Additionally, the stuttering devices that have garnered recent media attention typically work in just 20 to 25 percent of cases.”

In contrast, research shows 93 percent of HCRI clients attain fluent speech by the end of their 12-day treatment program. Follow-up studies indicate 70-75% retain fluency for the long term.

McAlpine, who is an aspiring writer and interested in politics, had six years of speech therapy in his home town while growing up. “For all those years, I went to speech therapy one day a week and it helped me a little bit. But the intensive regime at HCRI and the therapy tools they use are what it took to retrain my speech muscles to speak fluently,” he explained.

“At HCRI, we address and treat the physical aspects of stuttering because research has shown us that stuttering is a physically based condition,” said Webster. “We teach people skills that put them in full control of the speech. That’s why our therapy participants achieve long-lasting fluency outcomes.”

During treatment, HCRI clinicians teach clients how to replace distorted muscle contractions that occur with stuttering with new behaviors called “targets” that generator fluent speech. By reconstructing muscle actions that drive movements of the tongue, lip, jaw, soft palette, and breathing mechanisms, individuals who stutter learn how to speak fluently. Similar to other muscle-building and skill-training activities, through intensive practice muscle memory occurs, enabling clients to maintain fluent speech for a lifetime.

In addition, HCRI researchers have created new ways to use technology in therapy to make fluency skills easier to learn and therapy more interesting for clients. Specialized electronics developed at HCRI, including a Voice Monitor application for Apple’s iPhone, provide accurate feedback to clients during the learning of fluency targets.

“The technology used during HCRI therapy made a huge difference. The computer tools provided clear, precise feedback about my speech and signaled whenever I needed to make adjustments,” McAlpine added.

The non-profit Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually and has treated nearly 5,800 people from across the U.S. and 23 other countries. For more information, visit www.stuttering.org or contact HCRI at 540-265-5650.