How avoiding avoidance transformed my stutter

badmingtonAbout the author: Alan Badmington, a retired police officer (from Wales in the UK), commenced stuttering in childhood. During recent years, he has become a highly successful public speaker, winning numerous trophies (in competition with fluent contestants), as well as appearing as a finalist in the Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships on two occasions. Alan regularly addresses diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering, while his media involvement has further highlighted the subject. He has travelled extensively to fulfil speaking engagements on three different continents, including a keynote speech at the 2004 World Congress for People Who Stutter in Australia, where he also won the Oratory Competition. He has addressed SLP students in the USA, as well as undertaking presentations and workshops at NSA/BSA and ASHA conferences and events.  His papers, articles and poems have been reproduced in numerous publications and on various international websites/forums.

Having commenced stuttering in early childhood, I developed a wide range of strategies to protect myself from shame and embarrassment. I began avoiding words that appeared to cause me difficulty. Almost unconsciously, I substituted them with others that I felt more confident in using.

I developed an incredible expertise and could instantly provide a wide array of synonyms (commencing with different letters) whenever a ‘difficult’ word loomed large on the horizon. I became a ‘walking thesaurus’.  This, generally, allowed me to conceal the true impact of my struggles.

In 2000, I learned about the immense implications of such a practice.  I had previously been unaware of the fact that, whenever I changed a word, I fuelled my fear of saying that word. Each time we avoid something, we strengthen its influence over us. We can evade for so long, but the time will come when the situation demands that we have to say a specific word, or speak in a particular situation. When that happened, I found that my fear level had increased to such an extent that I stuttered more severely.

Although I had been using avoidance strategies for many years, it was only when I closely examined my behaviours that I realised just how widespread they had become. They had infiltrated so many different areas and involved considerable effort and energy. It was enlightening (and in some ways frightening) to discover the extent to which avoidance had crept insidiously into my life – influencing so many of my decisions.

I immediately adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance. I vowed that I would never again substitute a word, nor shirk the challenge of any speaking situation.

In common with many other persons who stutter (PWS), I found my name to be particularly challenging, so I only said it when it was absolutely essential.

I addressed this issue by routinely introducing my name into everyday conversations. I didn’t wait until it was imperative (for me to say it) – I began uttering it at every opportunity, even when it may have appeared inappropriate.  I would simply slip it into exchanges when there was little pressure, particularly in the company of friends and family.

After a while, I found that my name presented fewer problems. Each time I said it, a heartening message was transmitted to my subconscious saying, “Hey, you’ve just said Alan Badmington”.

Throughout my life, the same little voice had constantly reminded me that I could not say it – thus strengthening my self-limiting belief and contributing to future anticipatory fear. By reversing the adverse dialogue that I had been having with my inner critic, I eventually convinced myself that I could say that emotionally charged combination of words.

The thoughts that occupy our minds prior to engaging in a speaking situation are hugely significant. What we believe about ourselves, as well as the manner in which we perceive the environment that we are entering (or the persons with whom we are due to come into contact) will, undoubtedly, influence our approach and expectations. In addition, it will almost certainly have a considerable impact upon the outcome. If we anticipate a negative scenario, we prepare ourselves for that eventuality. But when we believe that things are possible, they are more likely to occur.

I became extremely proactive and began introducing challenges into my conversations throughout the day.  I would deliberately create sentences that incorporated words I perceived to be difficult.

I also commenced utilizing visualization – a tool used by successful athletes.  This involved creating internal movies that depicted me speaking in a positive manner. To a very large extent, our accomplishments (or lack of accomplishments) are as a direct result of the images that we hold in our head. The empowering mindset that I developed (through visualization and real life triumphs) enabled me to reduce (and subsequently eliminate) expectations of anticipatory fear.

I should stress that I did not simply use visualization, in isolation.  I employed that technique together with a myriad of other approaches (including physically expanding my comfort zone by systematically placing myself in a wide array of challenging real-life speaking situations).

The more I challenged myself (and did things that I previously believed I could not do), the more comfortable I became in undertaking those new roles. After a while, I felt comfortable fulfilling them and readily accepted that they fell within my compass. My self-image had extended to accommodate them.

In addition, I began answering the ‘dreaded’ telephone with my name. When it rang, I would pick it up and immediately say “Alan Badmington”. I avoided any preamble or surplus words (such as “Hello, this is Alan Badmington speaking”). That would have been an easier option but I intentionally made the decision to confront my fears head-on.  Even today, I instinctively answer the telephone in the same manner – it has become so automatic. The difference is that it now holds no fear whatsoever.

I also adopted a similarly proactive approach in respect of other letters/sounds that held an emotional charge. Each day, I would call toll free numbers that I had plucked from the Yellow Pages directory, creating fictitious enquiries in which I would intentionally use words commencing with ‘challenging’ letters (and they were plentiful).  The more I said them, the more confident I became.

I rang hotels and restaurants, reserving tables/rooms in the name of “Alan  Badmington”.  I would call back 30 minutes later to cancel the reservation.

I approached total strangers in the street and requested directions to locations that I perceived would be difficult to say.  Sometimes I would ask for such places as `Badmington Road’, ‘Badmington Drive’ or ‘Badmington Gardens’, even though I knew they didn’t exist.  When visiting the USA, I would seek directions to ‘Badmington Boulevard’ (a double dose of the ‘dreaded’ letter ‘B’).

I also created challenges when I attended my first British Stammering Association and National Stuttering Association Annual Conferences in 2001(Liverpool, England) and 2002 (Anaheim, California) respectively. Those who are familiar with such events will know that each delegate is issued with a conspicuous lapel badge that makes their identity readily available to everyone else. I raised a few eyebrows when I removed the official name strip and replaced it with the following handwritten message:

“Please ask me my name, I enjoy a challenge”.

Those ventures were, in effect, extensions of the series of proactive projects that I commenced in 2000 in order to place myself in unfamiliar situations. They afforded wonderful opportunities to further expand my comfort zones, while also starting many interesting discussions.

Today, having consistently demonstrated that I can say my name in any situation, I have no fear whatsoever about introducing myself. Had I continued with avoidance, the same long-established disempowering beliefs and limited self-image would have continued to impose their restrictions.

Not surprisingly, I felt apprehensive when I first embarked upon my more expansive lifestyle. But, as my past behaviours were not serving me well, I knew that I had to do something different. We don’t change anything by retaining the status quo.

Choosing to say specific words (that I had intentionally neglected for so many years) was bound to be scary. In the initial stages, it is possible that those who were familiar with my usual speaking pattern may have considered that (on occasions) I was speaking less fluently. But that didn’t bother me. You see, I had come to view my word substitutions as “stuttering on the inside” and felt that I needed to bring the matter out into the open in order to resolve the issue.

Within a relatively short period of time, the apprehension receded and was replaced by a feeling of excitement. The external dysfluencies were also short-lived, as I grew in confidence. Today, there are no words, letters or sounds that continue to hold an emotional charge, or generate negative anticipatory thoughts.

I fully appreciate (and respect) that not everyone who stutters would wish to repeat my actions. Some PWS are accepting of their current position and have no desire to change. Each of us is responsible for the paths that we choose to tread. The decisions we make are personal and, invariably, relevant to our own unique circumstances. My stance against avoidance seemed appropriate for me at that particular time in my life.  However, the concept that we may need to experience pain, in order to achieve gain, can be difficult for some people to accept.

It is important that we do not blame ourselves when we resort to avoidance. Avoidance is NOT a crime, so we should not feel guilty about using it. I leaned heavily upon such strategies for more than half a century – it was the only way in which I knew how to cope.  Many people avoid doing things that generate fear or discomfort – such behaviours are NOT exclusive to those who stutter.

I’ve heard it said that “every cloud has a silver lining”.  Well, in my case, that has certainly proved to be true.  A lifetime of word substitution has equipped me with an extensive and varied vocabulary.  Yet, for so many years, I only chose to call upon its services when I had occasion to write.

Transferring my thoughts to paper was, generally, the only effective way in which I could meaningfully express myself.  The written option allowed me to communicate exactly what I wanted to say.  I could select the most suitable words without experiencing the usual emotions associated with stuttering.

Past oral exchanges were frequently littered with words that I considered to be inferior, or in some instances, totally inappropriate. My mind was constantly in turmoil as it frantically searched for synonyms to replace those words that I feared.  I purposely succumbed to mediocrity and accepted second best – simply because of my desire not to be seen or heard stuttering.

Today, having eliminated avoidances, I no longer differentiate between written and spoken occasions. The crippling oral shackles have finally been removed and I can now pluck whatever words I wish from the extremities of my vocabulary and say them without anticipatory fear. It is truly exhilarating!

Having discovered (rather late in life) that the human voice is such a wondrous thing, I now look forward to using it at every possible opportunity. After years of frustration and under-achievement, I am finally participating widely on life’s stage.

 

CHANGING THE WORDS AROUND

I couldn’t say muffin. I couldn’t say butter
If I ordered a burger, I’d stumble and stutter
So, instead of me saying the words that I should
I’d swap them for others, I hoped that I could

But you can’t always leave out the words that you dread
There are times when a certain thing has to be said
My sister’s called Sarah, my best friend is Ben
They just wouldn’t answer to Lucy and Len

Whenever I spotted a difficult sound
I’d hastily juggle my sentence around
I spent so much energy word rearranging
Whenever I spoke, I was chopping and changing

My efforts to search for an easier word
Resulted in sentences, sometimes absurd
At times, my selections just didn’t make sense
Which made me more anxious, frustrated and tense

Each time I avoided a troublesome sound
I felt rather guilty, and very soon found
That my fear of speaking increased even more
The number of ‘problem words’ started to soar

In time, I discovered that word substitution
Was simply avoidance, and not a solution
Although I was fluent, or so it appeared
The words I avoided became much more feared

One day, I decided enough was enough
I made myself promise, although it was tough
To say what I wanted, whatever the letter
At times I still struggled, but I felt so much better

Today, I will say any letter or sound
Confronting my fears, is the best way – I’ve found
Should I ever be tempted to waver sometime
I’ll remember the message contained in this rhyme

An illustrated version of my poem is available at:
http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/badmington7/badmington17.html

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Comments

How avoiding avoidance transformed my stutter — 146 Comments

  1. Welcome to the 2013 ISAD Online Conference. I hope that you found (or will find) my paper of interest. Please feel free to post your comments and/or ask me any questions you wish. Having contributed to each of the last twelve conferences, I always look forward, with eager anticipation, to the meaningful feedback that I receive from all corners of the globe. I thoroughly enjoy the daily interaction and greatly appreciate the fact that so many of you take time out of your busy lives to participate in the threaded discussion. I value each and every response. There may be occasions when (due to personal commitments) I will not readily have online access. Should this occur, please be assured that I will reply at the earliest possible opportunity. Well, what are you waiting for? :-)

    Kindest regards Alan

    • Wow, your testimony is truly inspirational!! =)

      By any chance, did you ever go to speech therapy for stuttering or did you resolved the stuttering problem yourself by overcoming the fear/avoidance? What did you feel was most challenging about the process of overcoming the fear/avoidance? Do you still stutter? How did you come to the realization that avoidance was the issue? Who has helped you the most overcoming stuttering and how?

      I do not stutter, but I am currently taking a Voice and Fluency class and stumbled upon your paper and found it interesting! =) Thank you for sharing!

      • Hi Monmonn 13,

        I apologize for addressing you in such an informal manner, but I do not know your name. 🙂

        Thank you for taking the time to read (and provide feedback in relation to) my conference paper. I very much appreciate your generous comments.

        I’m sorry that I haven’t responded sooner but I’ve only just noticed your post. Although you submitted your comments on October 6, they were somehow registered out-of-sequence (ahead of posts to which I had already responded several days earlier). As it my policy to deal with questions in strict chronological order, I was totally unaware that it was languishing unanswered. :-)

        Now that it has come to light, I will do my best to answer the specific points that you raise (in the sequence they are listed).

        I received minimal formal speech therapy during early childhood and early adolescence. As it was such a long time ago, my memories are rather distant. To the best of my recollection, it involved reading aloud in the clinician’s room, where I was reasonably fluent. I did not receive any guidance as to how I might transfer those gains from that safe environment into the outside world.

        The physiological tools that I initially implemented (when I decided to tackle my avoidance issues) were acquired as a result of my involvement with a self-help program. I used the techniques as a springboard. The resultant self-confidence assisted me to challenge myself in a wide range of speaking situations. As a result, I acquired more empowering beliefs, together with a wider self-concept that embraced many new roles that I previously believed lay outside my scope.

        Most of the tasks that we undertake are performed unconsciously. When we attempt something new it will, invariably, feel strange. That is why so many people (not just those who stutter) avoid venturing outside their comfort zones, preferring their habitual (tried and tested) way of doing things.

        The fear of failure plays a huge part in deterring us from leaving our safe environments. When people step outside their comfort zones, they invariably experience apprehension and uncertainty. It is important to recognise that such feelings are NOT unique to persons who stutter. However, by learning to manage the thoughts that trigger our emotions, we can positively influence our physical reactions and anticipatory fear.

        I have totally eradicated the fear that caused me to avoid 13 letters of the alphabet for most of my life, as well as the fear of using the telephone, and of speaking in various other situations. By adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance, I was able to release myself from their adverse influence and emotional charge.

        I have completely relinquished my long-held stuttering mindset by readjusting my beliefs and self-image. My life is totally free of thoughts about stuttering – they are simply non-existent. Today, I simply pluck whatever words I wish from the extremities of my vocabulary and look forward to every speaking opportunity.

        I’m not sure if the earlier negative memories have been erased – all I know is that they no longer impact upon my thinking, decisions or behaviours. Maybe they have simply been superseded by the numerous positive speaking experiences that I have amassed during the past 13 years? It is the latter images that now occupy my mind.

        Today, I do not experience anticipatory fear in respect of any letter, word or sound. I no longer have to accept second best by using words that I considered to be inferior or inappropriate. By confronting my fears, and saying the words of my choice, I have gained total freedom. I enter every speaking situation free of the limitations associated with my past communication issues.

        My approach to oral communication is now so different. Throughout my life, it was simply a question of survival. Speaking was once a chore but now it is a pleasure. 🙂

        I first learned about the immense implications of avoidance while attending a self-help seminar. I immediately made the decision to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance. I simply refused to avoid any word, letter, sound or situation. I told myself that I would rather stutter than succumb to temptation. I had arrived at a time in my life where I was determined to bring about change.

        During the early stages, I derived considerable benefit from my involvement with self-help organizations. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to confront the issues that impede our progress. However, as members of a self-help group, or an online forum, some people gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge, experience and collective support that are present within those groups. It can also ignite belief in our own capabilities.

        I attended support groups for a couple of years, principally to gain confidence from speaking in front of groups. However, I feel that I achieved the greatest advances as a result of the personal steps that I took to change my lifestyle and approach.

        For example, I routinely expanded my comfort zones by seeking out opportunities to speak in situations that I had always avoided, I also joined several public speaking clubs, while also enlisting for other public speaking and Speaking Circles workshops; drama groups; personal development sessions – in fact any situation which allowed me to speak. :-) I also spent many hours conversing with other PWS via a self-help support network and online discussion groups.

        At first, I found it strange; it was like walking in someone else’s shoes. But the more I exposed myself to those challenging situations, the more comfortable I became in undertaking those new tasks. My self-concept (which had always imposed so many restrictions) expanded to readily accommodate the different roles. I found that I was no longer surprised by the things I was able to achieve – they simply became a natural (and even mundane) part of my everyday life.

        I recounted (in far greater detail) various aspects of my journey in several past ISAD Online Conference papers. If you are interested, here are the relevant links:

        “STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives”

        http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

        “How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering”

        http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

        I wish you every success with your studies.

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  2. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for this.
    Positive affirmation. A very good and useful practice.

    Visualization. We all do this, but most of us do this on auto-pilot.
    I was very pleased to see your example of visualizing what you want.
    Auto-pilot often produces videos / pictures of what we want to avoid, or what we do not want. This is usually unresourceful.
    It needs a little practice to prepare our own short / long internal videos or even just pictures depicting scenes of what we want. This is a very resourceful habit. Have you experimented placing your internal videos ‘up close’ vs ‘farther away’ or big vs small or black and white vs colour?

    I have loved you poem for a long time. Thanks for including it.
    Keith Boss

    • Hi Keith,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback.
      By focusing on what I wanted (rather than on what I did not want), I began discovering my true potential and thrived on the new experiences and responsibilities.

      Once I decided to take the initial step (to deal with my stuttering issues), I didn’t really require any motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was (and still is) so enjoyable. We only have one life – like you, I believe we should live it to the full.

      It’s difficult to recall exactly when I began using creative visualization. It was one of many different approaches that I adopted in 2000, shortly after I embarked upon a more expansive lifestyle. I must admit that I haven’t experimented a great deal with that technique, although I am aware of the different strategies that you outlined in your post.

      Prior to entering challenging situations, I would create an internal movie that depicted me speaking in the manner of my choice. In effect, I became the director, producer, script writer and principal actor. But, most importantly, I always created a positive outcome. 

      I duped my mind into believing that I had already successfully spoken in certain situations (or undertaken specific roles) that I had always considered lay outside my scope.

      It is my understanding that the subconscious cannot differentiate between the memories of real-life events and the situations that we vividly create in this way. As a result, I built up a reservoir of positive speaking experiences (within my subconscious), thus reducing (and then eliminating) anticipatory fear.

      As I mentioned in my paper, the thoughts that occupy our minds prior to engaging in a speaking situation are hugely significant and will almost certainly have a considerable impact upon the outcome. If we anticipate a negative scenario, we prepare ourselves for that eventuality. But when we believe that things are possible, they are more likely to occur.

      You wrote:

      “I have loved you poem for a long time. Thanks for including it.”

      Thank you for your generous comments. I was flattered when you chose to recite the poem in your workshop at the World Congress in Croatia in 2007.

      Keith, my friend, I wish you every success with the conference and, of course, your new role as ISA Chair.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  3. Thank you Alan! I love your spirit! I know that when you say “Each of us is responsible for the paths that we choose to tread,” you are speaking for adults. Parents and speech therapists are responsible for the paths children take — preparing them to have the courage and self-confidence to go out into this world and flourish as you have. I know my son, who is almost no longer a child, is inspired by your journey. Glad we’ve reconnected! Dori Lenz Holte

    • Hi Dori,

      Thank you, so much, for taking the time to read (and comment upon) my paper.

      The paths that we tread are influenced by many different factors. We are all unique – we come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems. That is why we should never attempt to compare our progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path.

      You wrote:

      “Parents and speech therapists are responsible for the paths children take — preparing them to have the courage and self-confidence to go out into this world and flourish…”

      Yes, certain adults play an important part in determining how children progress through life. I recall reading that by the time we reach early adolescence (14-15 years), it is estimated that no less than 80% of our belief system is in place.

      Our beliefs and our self-image create the script by which we act out our lives. They generate our thoughts and set the boundaries to our accomplishments. What we believe about ourselves moulds the way in which we perceive the world. It influences our educational and employment paths; it determines our relationships and social interaction. But, most importantly, when we believe that we cannot do something, then it’s almost certain that we will not do it.

      These beliefs remain with us throughout our lives, unless we change them, or they are challenged by events that bring them into question. If we fail to confront our disempowering beliefs, they will continue to impede us.

      Effectively, what we think runs our lives, so it is critical that we create a mindset that generates empowering thoughts. Otherwise, we will never achieve our true potential.

      Dori, thank you for participating in this threaded discussion.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It’s not easy to rewire those synapses once dis-empowering beliefs are solidly in place… it takes hard work, focus, and dedication. I’m always encouraged when I meet adults who have attained natural speech after years of struggle. Very few children have the capacity for this — so we must do what we can to minimize those beliefs from the beginning…
        Best,
        Dori

  4. Hi Alan,

    Thank you for writing about the many ways you initially avoided troublesome words, only to find the avoided words haunting you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this phenomenon.

    My name is Wes, and I am a graduate student at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, USA, seeking a profession as a Speech-language pathologist. I am taking a fluency class right now, and a discussion arose the other week about this very phenomenon. We were discussing how children, at a very early age, develop these extensive, complex vocabularies in their everyday conversations. Most people think, “Wow! This child is brilliant!” Don’t get me wrong, I applaud these children for having such extensive vocabularies, but these kids are often referred to SLPs when they all of a sudden begin to stutter. The conclusion of the discussion that day was to simply wait until the child began to stutter before taking the necessary steps to conquering the troublesome words. So, my question for you is how can I, as a future clinician, distinguish between those children with naturally extensive vocabularies, and those children that have learned avoidance at a young age? Were there any external characteristics that you showed that an experienced clinician could have spotted? I would love the ability to listen to a child speak, and based on their vocabulary, be able to tell if that child is at risk for developing a stutter. Any insight into what you think would be a distinguishing characteristic for these children would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you again for contributing your time, story, and poem. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Wes Summerlin

    • Hi Wes,

      I apologise for the slight delay in responding. I will reply more meaningfully tomorrow.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Wes,

        I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback.

        To be quite honest, I can’t recall when I first resorted to word substitution. You will note from my photograph that I’m rather “long in the tooth”, so my memories of childhood are very distant.  To the best of my recollection, it occurred progressively from an early age.

        For most of my life, I held the self-limiting belief that I could not use half of the alphabet. This belief came about as a result of the difficulties that I experienced in saying words commencing with the letters “b, c, d, f, g, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, and v”. I would avoid using words commencing with those letters at all costs.

        My mind would race ahead like radar and when one of those words loomed large on the horizon, I developed the expertise to be able to provide multiple synonyms (words meaning the same but commencing with a different letter). I became a “walking thesaurus”.  Every time I experienced difficulty, my belief strengthened.

        Avoidances become a part of us – they shape our personality. We revert to them instinctively; the behaviour becomes so engrained. One of the consequences of avoidance is that others (including friends and family members) do not appreciate the true extent of our stuttering.

        However, when a PWS decides to become more accepting of (and open about) his/her stutter, and opts to say perceived ‘difficult’ words; the stuttering behaviour is likely to become more evident to others. Previously, the PWS would (in the absence of a better description) have ‘stuttered on the inside’, but his/her avoidance strategies would have simply made it less apparent externally.

        During recent years, I have been associated with several PWS who have adopted a policy of greater openness and non-avoidance. Some (who were previously covert) mention that others have commented that they appear to be “stuttering more than before”. I think that it may be helpful for you to be aware of this factor.

        I remember entering into correspondence with an SLP several years ago about this very matter. She expressed concern that a young client had “started stuttering more severely”. It transpired that he had become more accepting of his speech. When we elect not to avoid, it is quite understandable that we may initially stumble on words that we previously avoided.

        When someone embarks upon a path of non-avoidance, then his/her speech may well appear more dysfluent to the listener (particularly if it is someone who has previously heard them speak). In my opinion, this is a positive development, although the uninformed may not view it in the same light. I think it is important that clients/parents/loved ones/teachers understand exactly what is happening.

        You wrote: “…how can I, as a future clinician, distinguish between those children with naturally extensive vocabularies, and those children that have learned avoidance at a young age? Were there any external characteristics that you showed that an experienced clinician could have spotted? I would love the ability to listen to a child speak, and based on their vocabulary, be able to tell if that child is at risk for developing a stutter. Any insight into what you think would be a distinguishing characteristic for these children would be greatly appreciated!”

        The fact that a child may have an extensive vocabulary does not necessarily mean that they stutter. When I’m in the company of my young grandchildren, I never cease to be amazed at the words and expressions they use. None of them has a stutter – they’ve acquired wide and varied vocabularies from listening to those with whom they come into contact.

        It should be appreciated that word substitution is far easier to practise when we are in a position to select the words of our choice. However, as I mentioned in my paper, there were times when I simply had to say a specific word – the situation dictated that I could not use an alternative. When that occurred, the fear level increased and I stuttered more severely.

        A classic example was when (as a young police officer) I had to give evidence in court for the very first time. I had calculated weeks in advance that the oath comprised 23 words – NINETEEN of which, I knew I could not say. It was an absolute nightmare. I struggled immensely to progress past the initial two words. Many years later, I wrote a limerick which captured that humiliating experience in verse:

        “A policeman in court with a stutter.
        While giving the oath, caused a flutter.
        He said “I sssssssssswear”.
        Then gave up in despair.
        Not a single word more could he utter.

        Let me make it abundantly clear that I’m NOT suggesting you should arrange for your child clients to enter the witness box in order to establish whether they resort to word substitution.  There are far more conventional ways of determining that fact.  Even as an adult, I invariably stuttered whenever I was required to read a set passage from a book. Maybe you might consider inviting those children who possess reading skills to perform a similar task?

        Wes, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

        Kindest regards

        Alan

        • Hi Wes,

          The penultimate paragraph of my earlier response was written with my tongue firmly implanted within my facial cheeks. :-) I originally included a few appropriate smiley faces to indicate that the sentiments were intended in a humorous vein – but, unfortunately, they did not appear in the published text. 🙂

          I thought it best to re-post the relevant passage with the smileys included – just in case anyone misinterprets what I wrote. 🙂 

          Here it is:

          Let me make it abundantly clear that I’m NOT suggesting you should arrange for your child clients to enter the witness box in order to establish whether they resort to word substitution. :-) There are far more conventional ways of determining that fact. :-) Even as an adult, I invariably stuttered whenever I was required to read a set passage from a book. Maybe you might consider inviting those children who possess reading skills to perform a similar task? :-)

          Kindest regards

          Alan

  5. Thanks for sharing this Alan! I very much enjoyed reading your paper. I found it very interesting when you stated you often “succumbed to mediocrity”, in order to avoid using words that were difficult to say. Can you tell me about a time that you used this tactic and it left you feeling worse than if you would have just stuttered in front of your listener? Did you ever feel like your inability to express yourself appropriately, left you feeling worse than actually stuttering?

    Thanks again for your willingness to share!!

    • Hi Amesa,

      I apologise for the slight delay in responding. I will reply more meaningfully tomorrow.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Arnesa,

        Thank you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my paper. Please accept my apologies for addressing you as Amesa in my earlier post. I misread your username. 🙂 Sorry!

        In the past, there were numerous instances where I would restrict myself to inferior vocabulary, simply to avoid stuttering. It was in stark contrast to those occasions when I expressed myself in writing. In the latter, I selected the most appropriate words – it was so satisfying. However, my oral exchanges often left me feeling so frustrated. I felt cheated that I could never say exactly what I wanted to say.

        If I was in a group situation and someone posed a question, I frequently refrained from volunteering a response, even though I knew the answer(s) and had something of value to contribute. In effect, I would choose to give others the impression that I knew little (or nothing) about the subject under discussion – rather than stutter in front of them.

        Many years ago, I attended a friend’s wedding, where guests were seizing the opportunity to say a few congratulatory words to the bride and groom. Whilst other guests were on their feet, I thought of some humorous comments that I could use. At the last moment, I “chickened out” and one of my other friends jumped to his feet and used my material instead. The room erupted with laughter and applause. As he returned to his seat, I felt incredibly disheartened, knowing that the experience could have been so different.

        Today, things ARE different. I regularly address audiences in a wide range of environments. Public speaking is now an exciting and integral part of my existence.

        Arnesa, thank you for contributing to this threaded discussion.

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  6. Thanks for sharing this story. As a current graduate student in a Communication Disorders program, I found it to be a very good learning experience for me regarding how much avoidances can affect a person who stutters. The message that I took away from this story was that every person tries to avoid things in life that they fear, whether they stutter or not, but facing these fears is how we can overcome them. As a future clinician I truly appreciate hearing your story and learning from it. Do you have any advice regarding how to help a person face their avoidances or fear of situations with regards to stuttering?

    Thanks,

    Chelsea

    • Hi Chelsea,

      Thank you for your generous comments. I’m delighted that you found my paper of interest.

      I think that many persons who stutter would benefit from the realization that fear and self-doubt are NOT exclusive to persons who stutter. Likewise, avoidance is also practised by so many other people – it is not solely the prerogative of PWS.

      As long as we continue to avoid something that we fear (or which feels uncomfortable) it will continue to restrict our lives.

      You asked:

      “Do you have any advice regarding how to help a person face their avoidances or fear of situations with regards to stuttering?”

      As I can only really speak about my own experiences, may I respectfully suggest that you allow your clients to have sight of my ISAD paper. If an SLP suggests a particular course of action, I think it is important that it is discussed fully with the client beforehand. In my view, the client needs to be acquainted with the reason(s) and purpose of such a request. If someone understands why he/she is being asked to do something, then there is a greater likelihood that they will come on board and comply.

      As I mentioned in my paper, I suspect that it may be difficult for persons of tender years to grasp the true implications of avoidance. The concept that we may sometimes need to experience pain (or discomfort) in order to achieve gain is not an easy one to sell or accept. 🙂 Collaboration of the parents is essential.

      Parents may wish to shield their son/daughter from pain and discomfort. But, being overly protective can hamper personal growth and even lead to further avoidances. I guess it’s a question of treading a middle path – one that encourages independence, yet does not expose clients to the risk of too many early reversals.

      I think it is important that children (and adults) are encouraged to take “small steps” in the initial stages. Attempting to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance may prove a little daunting and difficult. (I know that’s what I did but I feel that I may have been better equipped to follow such a path.) :-) As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”. Minor successes can help us to build our confidence, thereby allowing us to attempt (and cope with) more difficult challenges.

      Clients may need reassurance if things do not quite go according to plan. I found it useful not to view setbacks as failures but as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      Chelsea, I feel it might also be of value for your clients to gain an insight into the principles of expanding our comfort zones. I feel that they go hand in glove with reducing/eliminating avoidance strategies.

      You may wish to read the following paper that I wrote for an earlier ISAD Online Conference:

      “STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives”

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      Chelsea, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  7. “The thoughts that occupy our minds prior to engaging in a speaking situation are hugely significant.”

    Well stated and oh-so true. I think there are more than enough therapy protocols to address the physicality of stuttering, but perhaps not enough to address the mental/emotional piece. Some people who stutter are proactive and sort of figure out a protocol that works for them, as you did. Others do not or cannot by themselves. Likewise with clinicians, many do not receive much training in counseling, or the mental/emotional piece.

    My question is, will you tell me more about when you decided to “(adopt) a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance.” What really sparked the self-investigation and new-found commitment? Why might you not have done that, or weren’t ready to do that, earlier? Might there be a catalyst for deep personal change besides pain?

    Thank you for your willingness to share and advocate.

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for choosing to read (and respond to) my paper.

      In my opinion, addressing the mechanics of our speech has only limited value. There were occasions (in my life) when I experienced considerable improvements in controlled environments, yet they were cruelly snatched away when I returned into the outside world. In order to achieve permanent gains, I truly believe that we must change our stuttering mindset. That’s exactly what I have now done.

      Although I began stuttering during early childhood, it is only during recent years that I have gained an understanding of how I developed my stuttering mindset.

      Our beliefs and our self-image create the script by which we act out our lives. They generate our thoughts and set the boundaries to our accomplishments. What we believe about ourselves moulds the way in which we perceive the world. It influences our educational and employment paths; it determines our relationships and social interaction. But, most importantly, when we believe that we cannot do something, then it’s almost certain that we will not do it.

      These beliefs remain with us throughout our lives, unless we change them, or they are challenged by events that bring them into question. If we fail to confront our disempowering beliefs, they will continue to impede us. For so many years, I was oblivious to my true potential – sacrificing my aspirations for the false illusion of comfort and safety.

      When I took charge of my thoughts, and systematically exposed myself to risks, I created the perfect antidote for the debilitating effects of fear and self-doubt.

      When I speak to SLP students, I share my thoughts about the need to address such issues as self-acceptance, expanding comfort zones, approach avoidance, negative self-talk, assertiveness, self-esteem, self-image, limiting beliefs, emotional baggage etc.

      You posed the question:

      “Will you tell me more about when you decided to “(adopt) a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance.” What really sparked the self-investigation and new-found commitment? Why might you not have done that, or weren’t ready to do that, earlier? Might there be a catalyst for deep personal change besides pain?”

      On May 6, 1954, British medical student Roger Bannister became the first person to run the mile in less than four minutes. For so many years, it had been considered impossible – many had tried and failed. Yet, the moment he overcame that mystical barrier, the mindset of athletes worldwide changed overnight. They now had evidence that it could be achieved. Before long, others were regularly fulfilling the same feat. Such is the power of belief.

      Fast forward 45 years to April 1, 2000 when I witnessed a PWS recounting how he had successfully embraced public speaking. This had a profound effect upon me. It was such a defining moment that the date is indelibly imprinted upon my memory. 🙂 Prior to hearing his story, I was convinced that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. A catalogue of painful experiences fuelled my belief that I could never successfully undertake that task. Up until that point, I was resigned to the fact that my stuttering would remain an issue for the rest of my days. Everything changed when I heard him speaking – my whole outlook changed.

      He opened my eyes to possibilities that I could never have dared imagine. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to entertain the thought (and hope) that I might be able to do something meaningful about my speech. That fortuitous encounter sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life.

      Shortly afterwards, I also learned about the implications of avoidance, as well as gaining an understanding of the advantages of expanding our comfort zones. The rest is history, as they say. 🙂 The past 13 years have been so exciting and fulfilling.

      Thank you, once again, for your interest.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • One defining experience then, was the beginning. Your story is an excellent reminder to continue pointing students and clients towards motivational and inspirational opportunities, and to expand the definition of “therapy.” You’re setting aside a good deal of time to respond with care to so many people- I sincerely appreciate it and wish you the best!!

        • Hi Daniel,

          I’m heartened that you found my response of interest/value.

          Yes, that encounter with the PWS who had successfully embraced public speaking caused me to question (and then successfully challenge) my long-held self-limiting beliefs in relation to communication. It also ignited a burning desire within me to emulate his actions.

          Incidentally, Walt Manning (Professor, Audiology and Speech Language Pathology at the University of Memphis) has chosen to recount that life-changing experience in his internationally renowned book, ‘Clinical Decision in Fluency Disorders’.

          I allowed my fears (and narrow self-image) to inhibit my personal growth for more than half a century. As a result, my life was, generally, unfulfilled. I think it is important that others are made aware that there are alternative paths available for them to tread. If we retain the status quo, then nothing different is ever likely to happen. Our future will simply be a re-run of the past.

          Incidentally, I was invited to present at last year’s ASHA Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. Someone kindly recorded the event on their cell phone and posted it to YouTube. I will certainly forward you the link if you are interested.

          My email address is: alan@highfieldstile.fsnet.co.uk

          Kindest regards

          Alan

  8. Hi Chelsea,

    I apologise for the slight delay in responding. I will reply more meaningfully tomorrow.

    Kindest regards

    Alan

  9. Stopped by to say “Hello” and “Thank you” for continuing to share what you have learned from experience.
    Best,
    Ellen-Marie

  10. Hi Ellen-Marie,

    Thank you for your generous comments. I feel that we can all learn something from each other’s experiences.

    I know that you are heavily involved with your latest project which, no doubt, explains the absence of your name from the list of contributors to this year’s conference. I wish you every success with the book and look forward to reading it in due course.

    Kindest regards

    Alan

  11. Hi Alan,
    First and foremost I’d just like to say that you truly are an extremely brave person. It takes a great deal of courage to create any change in one’s life, especially the major change you made. I am absolutely sure you become a role model for most people who read your story. Based on your experiences you possess qualities that many value such as determination, courage, and willpower. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I love the message you wrote instead of your official name strip at the conferences you attended. How did the people react to that? I find the visualization technique you used for yourself really interesting. As a future Speech Pathologist, I was wondering if you think that technique would benefit stutterers in therapy? Have you ever had speech services for your stutter?

    I look forward to hearing from you!
    Best,
    Yelena Norkina, Graduate Student
    Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY

    • Hi Yelena,

      Thank you for your generous comments – it was kind of you to write in such a vein.

      You wrote:

      “I love the message you wrote instead of your official name strip at the conferences you attended. How did the people react to that?”

      The amended lapel identity badge (that I wore at the NSA and BSA conferences) generated a great deal of interest and mirth. Whenever I met new delegates, it immediately created a talking point – thus breaking down any barriers that might have existed. The exercise also ensured that I could never resort to avoidance strategies. When someone at such a supportive gathering poses the question, “What’s your name?”, you simply have to provide the correct answer. :-)

      You also wrote:

      “I find the visualization technique you used for yourself really interesting. As a future Speech Pathologist, I was wondering if you think that technique would benefit stutterers in therapy?”

      Yelena, I believe that creative visualization can be a useful tool for anyone, not just those who stutter. Athletes regularly use it to enhance their performances.

      Let me briefly outline what creative visualization involves. I created internal movies that depicted me speaking in the manner (and location/situation) of my choice. I visualized myself saying my name (and other challenging words) successfully, thereby duping my subconscious into believing that it had actually happened in everyday life.

      My understanding is that when you vividly imagine yourself achieving a goal in your mind, your brain accepts the experience as authentic. You will even experience emotions and sensations similar to those that would occur had you achieved that same goal in real life. When you regularly see yourself achieving a goal in your imagination, you begin to believe that you are capable of achieving it in reality.

      With practice, I was able to build up a reservoir of successful speaking experiences (in my mind), which gradually superseded the numerous negative memories that I had accumulated over the years. This had the effect of (initially) reducing, and subsequently eliminating, the anticipatory fear that, invariably, preceded certain speaking situations. The absence of such advance fear and self-doubt increased my confidence, thereby allowing me to accept and fulfil further challenges.

      I look upon creative visualization as an internal movie in which I am the director, producer, script-writer and principal actor. Because I’m in charge, I ALWAYS ensure that it has a happy ending. 🙂  If I ever find myself playing over a negative scenario in my head, I simply press the eject button and replace the ‘negative’ DVD with a ‘positive’ DVD of my own creation. It makes far better viewing. 🙂 

      I should explain that I did not receive professional guidance in relation to creative visualization – I acquired the information from various sources.

      You finally asked:

      “Have you ever had speech services for your stutter?”

      I have received very limited formal therapy during my life, principally in childhood and early adolescence. At no time did I receive any suggestions as to how I could transfer the gains that I enjoyed in the safe environment of the clinician’s office – out into the real world. During recent years, I have derived considerable benefit from my involvement with self-help organizations and online discussion groups.

      Yelena, I wish you every success with your studies and your future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Alan,
        thank you so much for the kind wishes and for responding to my questions with such great detail. I appreciate you explaining visualization to me. I still find it a very interesting technique that can be applied to many situations, not only stuttering. This is definitely something that I may consider using with future clients. It saddens me that many people state that they did not receive suggestions as to how to transfer what was gained in speech therapy out in the real world. I will keep this thought in mind with me as I continue with my studies and in my future career. Having clients transfer what was practiced in therapy to the outside world should surely be an important aspect of speech therapy.

        All the best,
        Yelena Norkina, Graduate Student
        Long Island University, Brooklyn NY, USA

  12. Alan,
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. As a graduate student in Communication Disorders, the emotional side of stuttering can be a daunting one to explore because we as students are unfamiliar with feelings and attitudes associated with stuttering. I appreciate your honesty and the strength in which you challenged yourself to face your fears. What advice could you provide to a new clinician on how to better empathize with and facilitate confidence in cases of avoidance? Also in your case, how did you handle introductions as a child with your avoidance strategies? I loved your focus on the individual’s right to determine how to approach his or her own stutter and to adapt it to fit one’s own life.Your poem is a wonderful insight into your experience.Thanks again for your story,
    Kia Gronski

    • Hi Kia,

      Thank you for taking time to read my paper.

      You wrote:

      “…the emotional side of stuttering can be a daunting one to explore because we as students are unfamiliar with feelings and attitudes associated with stuttering.”

      Having had the privilege of conversing and/or communicating with numerous SLP students over the years, you may wish to be reassured that many others have voiced similar reservations. 

      As I mentioned in an earlier response, merely addressing the mechanics of a client’s speech, in isolation, has only limited value. In my view, in order to achieve permanent gains, the client needs to change his/her stuttering mindset.

      It would take me far too long to describe the many and varied paths that I have trodden while coming to terms with my stuttering issues, so I’ll confine myself to a few relevant points.

      Although I had demonstrated to myself that I could speak reasonably well in a controlled/safe environment, I could never hold onto those gains when I returned into the outside world. You see, I was still operating under my old belief system. What I mean by that is I still had fears of speaking in certain situations; I still had fears of using the telephone; and I still had fears of saying specific words/sounds/letters (including saying my name).

      It may be necessary for a client to address a wide variety of issues. For example, I identified (and then challenged) the various self-limiting beliefs that were holding me back. I also expanded my comfort zones and widened my self-image, so that it incorporated roles that I had always believed lay outside my scope. In addition, I also took charge of my thoughts and dealt with the negative self-talk that frequently reminded me of my past difficulties.

      A client may also need to address such things as low self-esteem; assertiveness; lack of confidence; greater openness; avoidance strategies; and interpersonal skills. With regard to the latter, I’m not talking about fluency; I’m referring to the art of conversation (knowing to how engage in social chit chat). Some PWS are, understandably, deficient in this area, due to the fact that they tend to remain on the fringes of conversation, whereas ‘fluent’ people acquire these skills (progressively) throughout their lives.

      I adopted a holistic approach – I didn’t simply focus on my speech. As a result of working on different facets of my life/self, I discovered that my speech improved as a by-product. Although I didn’t find it necessary to enlist professional help, it is possible that some clients (particularly those with acute anxiety issues) may benefit from such assistance.

      With regard to your enquiry about dealing with avoidance, you may wish to allow your client(s) to have sight of my paper.

      You wrote:

      “…how did you handle introductions as a child with your avoidance strategies?”

      From the age of 3 until 11 years, I was educated at the same school. Consequently, everyone knew me – so I didn’t need to introduce myself. 🙂 However, when I commenced studying at the grammar school (or high school in US parlance), everything changed. I knew only one other person in the entire school. 

      I have vivid memories of struggling to give my name and address at the initial registration in front of 100 new pupils. It was an entirely different ball game.

      Kia, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  13. Mr. Badmington,

    I too am a police officer who stutters. Also, as you once did, I have relied on avoidance tactics to attain a false sense of fluency.It is so great to hear from a fellow officer who has had this same issue and who has been so successful in overcoming the odds! I recently began professional speech therapy, mainly due to work related issues with my stuttering which have negatively impacted my perception of my career that I love so much. I found myself using avoidance tactics more and more, and also developed a false perception that my fellow officers held a negative view of my stuttering.
    I am now working on reducing and ultimately eliminating all of my avoidance measures, especially word substitution. I have also been more open about my stuttering, and have found that most of my fellow officers either do not notice me stuttering or don’t care that I do. Though I have had success with improved fluency through reducing avoidance, I have also had a recent set-back which I believe mostly stems from anticipation and renewed negativity about my lack of fluency. But, I intend to remain committed, and after reading your story I hope I can also become as successful with my speech as you have.
    Is there any advice that you can offer me concerning decreasing avoidance at work(as I am sure you know it is a different environment with police coworkers and perpetrators alike)? Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story and giving so many other PWS hope and determination in there endeavor to reach improved fluency.
    Andrew Erdmann

    • Hi Andrew,

      Thank you, so much, for reading my paper and for participating in the threaded discussion. I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond but I have been rather occupied of late. By the way, please feel free to address me as “Alan” – “Mr Badmington” makes me feel so old. 🙂 

      It’s great to hear from someone who understands the issues that I faced as a serving police officer. Over the years, many people (not just those who stutter) have asked me why I chose to seek out such a demanding role – I suspect that you may also have been asked the same question. 

      I knew that I could take a far easier passage through life by entering employment that required limited speaking – but that was not the path I wished to tread. I realised (at a relatively young age) that I needed to confront my fears head-on and recognised that a police career could provide regular contact with members of the public.

      In those days, the appointment process was reasonably uncomplicated, comprising the usual security checks and a relatively brief interview. By carefully selecting words that I knew I could say, I concealed the true extent of my stutter and gained acceptance. 🙂 

      It was totally unlike today where applicants are required to submit themselves to an extensive interview, over a period of several days, during which they are required to stand up and present in front of groups. Had that been the case then, I would never have worn a police uniform.

      I kept my head above water by using word substitution at all times. As you are well aware, you can hide for so long but the time will eventually come when you have to say a specific word; you have to speak in a particular situation. As I described in my earlier reply to Wes, the crunch came for me when (as a fresh-faced 19 year old) I had to give evidence in court for the first time. I had calculated weeks in advance that the oath comprised 23 words – NINETEEN of which, I knew I could not say.

      As a result of the difficulties that I encountered, a supervisory officer reported (of me) – “When this officer gives evidence in court, he is an embarrassment to all.” He later wrote “The only reason he has not been considered for promotion is his speech impediment.” I was withdrawn from operational duties and transferred to an administrative role.

      Several years later, the Chief Officer of Police prematurely terminated a promotion board interview, irately telling me to leave the room as I was wasting his time. He made it abundantly clear that he would never allow me to advance through the ranks because of my speech. In those distant days, there were no avenues available to me to contest such prejudices/decisions.

      The severity of my stutter caused me to acquire a prosthetic Masked Auditory Feedback (MAF) device known as the Edinburgh Masker (now obsolete), which I wore at all times while on duty. I also used it on social occasions and always kept it near to the telephone at home.

      It became my mechanical crutch for more than 20 years, during which time I did not hear myself speak whilst it was activated. I was subjected to a buzzing noise every time that I uttered a sound, making it impossible for me to hear others who spoke simultaneously. Consequently, I became very adept at lip-reading. :-)

      The Masker played an immense part in enabling me to cope with the extensive demands that I faced during my police career. After several years of using the apparatus, I persuaded my employers to allow me to return to operational duties. With the aid of the Masker, I renewed the much-needed public contact that I had been denied for so many years – giving evidence in court (including many murder trials) and dealing with incidents.

      Although the apparatus never eliminated my stutter, it gave me the confidence to venture into situations that I might, otherwise, have avoided. Consequently, I developed useful interpersonal skills. I’m not talking about fluency – I’m referring to the ‘art of conversation’.

      Despite experiencing considerable setbacks, I built a system that would eventually support greater fluency and self-expression later in life. The device provided invaluable assistance when it was most needed. Without it, I would have floundered.

      In 2000 (several years after I had left the Police Service), I made the decision to abandon the apparatus which had sustained me in my greatest hours of need. I felt that it was time to move on and release myself from its dependency. Severing the connection was similar to losing a close friend — after all, it had been my constant companion for two decades. We had been through so much together.

      My divorce from the Masker coincided with my decision to adopt a more pro-active approach towards my stutter. This involved, inter alia, adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance, together with an extensive expansion of my comfort zones.

      I initiated change by identifying the self-limiting beliefs that were holding me back. I then devised an extensive plan of action that allowed me to routinely challenge myself in a wide range of speaking circumstances. In effect, I did the things I thought I could not do. And, the more I did them, the more comfortable I became in undertaking those roles. My self-image widened.

      Speaking in front of groups had always figured prominently amongst my list of fears. I addressed the situation by enrolling in drama classes, as well as personal development and psychology workshops that embraced such issues as assertiveness, self-esteem, listening skills, confidence building and the reframing of unhelpful thoughts. In fact, I would seek out any opportunity to interact with total strangers. 🙂

      I also joined the Association of Speakers Clubs that has its origins in Toastmasters International. I entered public speaking contests in competition with fluent speakers and, almost immediately, began winning the silverware. 🙂  It was an amazing feeling.

      Over the past 12 (or so) years, I have been extremely active on the public speaking circuit, regularly addressing diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering. It has been necessary for me to expand my repertoire considerably in order to accommodate the many additional invitations that I receive to speak about non-stuttering subjects.

      During recent times, my former employers have invited me to provide an input (as a motivational speaker) into a personal development programme. The talks (based upon my life-story) are intended to encourage serving police officers to confront their fears and expand their comfort zones. In view of my public speaking experience, I am also required to evaluate their individual ORAL presentations. Now isn’t that ironic! 🙂

      Andrew, I do not retain any bitterness over what happened all those years ago. I regard it as history and have moved on. I simply don’t have time to dwell in the past – I’m having far too much fun in the present. 🙂 

      I realised that it was futile to harbour grievances against those who impeded my advancement. Continuing to focus upon my disappointments would, undoubtedly, have caused me to adopt a jaundiced view of life – thus impacting not only upon me, but also my loved ones. I was determined not to develop a “chip on my shoulder”.

      When we fail to let go, we surrender a great deal of power to those whom we consider to be responsible for perpetrating the wrong. We allow them to push our emotional buttons long after the actual event.

      Andrew, I suspect that much of what I have written may not apply to you. Firstly, we reside on different continents (where the cultures and procedures differ) and, secondly, I am aware that attitudes have changed considerably over the years.

      Despite the realization that some of my experiences might not be relevant to your current circumstances, I decided to share them just in case you find something of interest/value.

      I don’t want to give you the impression that my police career was all doom and gloom. That certainly wasn’t the case. Without the challenges that I faced, and the trials and tribulations that I overcame, I would not be the confident outgoing individual I am today.

      I readily acknowledge that my communication issues precluded me from attaining my true potential during my police career. I am, nevertheless, extremely proud of what I did manage to achieve.

      Incidentally, I have written numerous papers/articles about my lifetime of stuttering in which I share information about the diverse paths that I have trodden, including many of experiences that I encountered during my police career. If you are interested in some bedtime reading, please don’t hesitate to contact me privately, when I will let you have the relevant online links. 🙂

      My email address is:

      alan@highfieldstile.fsnet.co.uk

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Alan,
        Please Excuse my previous bungled attempt at respecting my elders! I hope this does not make you feel old as well, haha! Thank you for the very extensive reply. I have e-mailed a much longer reply to the address you provided.
        Good luck with the remainder of the conference!
        Andrew Erdmann

  14. Hi Alan,
    First off, I commend your ability to face your fears head on! Although I am not a PWS, it would be quite a challenge to approach my own fears the way you did. You showed the importance of positive thinking by constantly telling yourself you CAN do something rather than you can’t.

    Based on your story and comments, it seems that your decision to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward avoidance was one you made largely on your own when you were ready. As a future speech-language pathologist, what can I do to help a PWS address, and perhaps overcome, the covert features (embarrassment, low self-esteem, fear) associated with stuttering? In other words, how can I help the PWS discover his or her voice without tipping the boat?

    Anjali

    • Hi Anjali,

      Thank you, so much, for reading my paper. I appreciate you taking the time to participate in the threaded discussion.

      You wrote:

      “You showed the importance of positive thinking by constantly telling yourself you CAN do something rather than you can’t.”

      Yes, I certainly have a positive outlook on life. :-) The manner in which you view, behave towards, and speak to yourself plays a huge part in determining who you will allow yourself to be; what you will allow yourself to do; and how you perceive and live your life. Your relationship with yourself is of prime importance. How you feel on the inside influences how you come across to the outside world.

      If we continually focus upon negativity (those things that we don’t want to happen, or the possible consequences of undertaking a certain task/role), then we create a state of mind that supports those types of behaviours and results. But, it is not merely sufficient to think in a positive manner – we must follow this up with positive actions.

      A positive outlook helps you to view obstacles as challenges and opportunities – and to stay motivated. With an optimistic attitude, you will make self-fulfilling prophecies work for you, rather than against you. If you expect things to turn out well, they are more likely to do so.

      Keeping your glass half-full does not mean that you are denying the negative. It simply means that you are making a conscious decision to see encouragement, rather than discouragement.

      We move in the direction of our dominant thought. If your dominant thought is failure, then you create failure. If your dominant thought is success, then you are more likely to create success.

      You also wrote:

      “As a future speech-language pathologist, what can I do to help a PWS address, and perhaps overcome, the covert features (embarrassment, low self-esteem, fear) associated with stuttering?”

      As I mentioned in an earlier response, I enrolled in personal development and psychology workshops that embraced such issues as assertiveness, self-esteem, listening skills, confidence building and the reframing of unhelpful thoughts. In fact, I would seek out any opportunity to interact with total strangers. 🙂 I also acquired numerous books and CDs about many of the topics I’ve listed above. In addition, I attended a variety of public speaking workshops, as well as joining the Association of Speakers Clubs that has its origins in Toastmasters International.

      It is worth reiterating another point that I made earlier, namely that we are all unique. As a result, individual needs will vary from client to client.

      I also derived considerable benefit from attending self-help groups. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to confront the issues that impede our progress. However, as members of a self-help group, or an online forum, some people gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge, experience and collective support that are present within those groups. It can also ignite belief in our own capabilities.

      Anjali, I wish you every success with your studies and your future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Alan,
        Thank you so much for taking time out to reply! I sincerely appreciate your positivity and advice.

        Regards,
        Anjali

  15. Hi Alan,
    I am currently a student in speech pathology and found your paper really inspiring and interesting as I am still in the learning process. I really like how you explained avoidance so clearly and put it in perspective… “Each time we avoid something, we strengthen its influence over us” It is very empowering that someone can make a decision on their own to stop avoidance behaviors, stick to it, and put themselves into situations that are not comfortable. This is a great paper to read to gain the motivation and encouragment that one may need to overcome their stuttering. I really enjoyed it. I also had a few questions. Did you receive any speech therapy when you were younger? What kind of therpay did you do? Did you feel it worked? Also, have you ever been in a support group and if so, did they work? Lastly, for a child that stutters, would you recommend doing this as well – facing the fear and encouraging the child to face the stutter to avoid the avoidance behaviors? Thank you!

    • Hi JEAna,

      Thank you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my paper. I greatly appreciate your feedback.

      I received minimal formal speech therapy during early childhood and early adolescence. As it was such a long time ago, my memories are rather distant. :-) To the best of my recollection, it involved reading aloud in the clinician’s room, where I was reasonably fluent. I did not receive any guidance as to how I might transfer those gains from that safe environment into the outside world. The therapists changed regularly, so there was very little continuity. It was not a particularly useful experience. 

      Conversely, I have benefitted immensely from my involvement with self-help organizations and (to a lesser extent) online discussion groups.

      Fear and self-doubt figure prominently in the lives of many people, not just those who stutter. They can sabotage hopes and aspirations. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to face the issues that impede our progress. However, as members of a support group, or online forum, some people gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge, camaraderie and collective support that are present within that group.

      You wrote:

      “Lastly, for a child that stutters, would you recommend doing this as well – facing the fear and encouraging the child to face the stutter to avoid the avoidance behaviors?”

      I have had very limited contact with children who stutter. I think it would be impracticable to invite a child to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance. It could prove too daunting and difficult. It might be more appropriate to encourage the child to take “small steps” in the initial stages.

      As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”. Minor successes can help us to build our confidence, thereby allowing us to attempt more difficult challenges in the future. I found that the success I achieved was proportionate to the risks that I took. My confidence increased as my life expanded to accommodate the new experiences and roles.

      JEAna, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  16. Hello Alan,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I appreciate it.
    I wanted to ask you, what did you find most helpful when addressing difficult words? Did you use easy onset, light articulation, or anything else?
    Thank you!
    -Mahta

    • Hi Mahta,

      Thank you for your interest.

      My experiences of speech therapy have been extremely limited – occurring during childhood and early adolescence. I have no recollection of being taught any physiological techniques whatsoever in a formal setting.

      The tools that I initially implemented (when I decided to tackle my avoidance issues) were acquired as a result of my involvement with a self-help program. Whilst I am familiar with the terminology used within that environment, I suspect that such descriptions may not be recognizable within the professional arena. :-)Utilizing an assertive approach certainly counteracted my previous tendency to hold back. Diaphragmatic control was also particularly helpful in reducing (and then eliminating) my blocking.

      I used the techniques as a springboard. The resultant self-confidence assisted me to challenge myself in a wide range of speaking situations. As a result, I acquired more empowering beliefs, together with a wider self-concept that embraced many new roles that I previously believed lay outside my scope. I no longer find it necessary to focus on any techniques.

      In some respects, I suppose my personal experience may be likened to children learning to ride bicycles. In the early stages, they feel secure in having stabilisers attached to assist their balance. When they become more competent and detach the two additional wheels, they may well encounter a few initial wobbles. However, with further experimentation and practice, they eventually gain the confidence and belief to ride unaided. That’s exactly what I have done.

      Mahta, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  17. Alan,
    Like so many others, I truly enjoyed reading your paper. Great paper and great picture! Funny how we as people who stutter are often so much more comfortable looking “odd” as opposed to stuttering. Your comment on mediocrity brought back many memories of substituting words that truly were less than the best choice, because at that time in my life I was much more comfortable looking odd than stuttering. Though, I felt terrible about myself all the same. I might not have stuttered, but I felt a like a coward. As I read over this I wonder why I am thankful for reliving these memories 🙂
    On a more serious note… I’m going to bookmark your paper and then share it with those clients that I think will benefit from your discussion of avoidance. Our paths have crossed (online) in the past. I am hopeful that they might cross “off-line” in the future. I wish you well.
    Kevin Eldridge

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thank you, so much, for your generous comments. It was kind of you to write in such a vein. I recall that we have corresponded on several previous occasions but I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting you in person. It’s a shame that our paths did not cross last November when I was invited to present at the annual ASHA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. (I did in fact make the acquaintaince of a well-known delegate from your ‘neck of the woods’.) 🙂

      I thoroughly enjoyed writing the ISAD paper but I really struggled to accommodate the 2000 word limit. At one point, my rough draft (which embraced so many different aspects) extended to more than 16,000 words. I should explain that there was considerable duplication because, in the initial stages, I simply collated copies of past posts and emails that I had written about the subject. 🙂

      After a great deal of effort, I eventually pruned it to the 2000 figure but it grieved me that I needed to omit so many pertinent points. When I have time, I intend to re-write the piece to incorporate many of the paragraphs that I had to exclude.

      Thank you, once again.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  18. Hello Alan,

    I found your story to be truly inspirational and I thank you for being so kind to share it. The amount of courage it must have taken you to attack the avoidance is worth noting. I am graduate student in Communicative Disorders and Sciences and reading your paper allowed me to learn more about feelings and attitudes that a person who stutters may have. I did have a couple of questions for you. Addressing the avoidance behaviors, is apart of stuttering modification and I saw that you “received very limited formal therapy during [your] life, ” however, I was wondering if you learned about any techniques such as pullouts, or preparatory sets? Or what technique did you apply when actually producing your name. You also mentioned that you would call places or approach people in order to practice saying your name. When listener’s reactions weren’t so nice, how did you handle it and what did you do to overcome the less than positive reactions? Thank you again for posting this story of bravery and determination. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Rena

    • Hi Rena,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback. I’m delighted that you found it of interest/value.

      You wrote:

      “I was wondering if you learned about any techniques such as pullouts, or preparatory sets? Or what technique did you apply when actually producing your name.”

      I touched upon this in my earlier response to Mahta. My experiences of speech therapy have been extremely limited – occurring during childhood and early adolescence. That was a long time ago, so my memory of those events is rather hazy. :-) As far as I can recall, I spent the 30 minutes sessions reading aloud in the presence of the clinician. It very soon became a comfort zone and I enjoyed a high degree of fluency.

      I have no recollection of being taught any physiological techniques whatsoever in that formal setting, nor did I receive any suggestions as to how I could transfer the gains that I enjoyed in that safe environment – out into the real world.

      The tools that I initially implemented (when I decided to tackle my avoidance issues) were acquired as a result of my involvement with a self-help program. Whilst I am familiar with the terminology used within those surroundings, I suspect that such phraseology may not be recognizable within the professional sector. 🙂

      Utilizing an assertive approach (particularly on the first sound) certainly counteracted my long-held tendency to hold back. Diaphragmatic control was also particularly helpful in reducing (and then eliminating) my blocking behaviours. (I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful but I really am an ignoramus when it comes to recognized formal techniques.):-)

      You later wrote:

      “You also mentioned that you would call places or approach people in order to practice saying your name. When listener’s reactions weren’t so nice, how did you handle it and what did you do to overcome the less than positive reactions?”

      The severity of my stutter caused me to purchase an electronic device known as the Edinburgh Masker (also referred to as Masked Auditory Feedback (MAF)) which I wore daily for more than 20 years. It became my mechanical crutch and helped me to keep my head above water. Although it never made me fluent, it gave me the confidence to challenge myself by speaking in situations that I know I would, otherwise, have avoided.

      As a result, I acquired useful interpersonal skills – I’m not talking about fluency, I’m referring to the art of conversation and social chit chat. Some persons who stutter (understandably) are deficient of these skills because they have tended to remain on the fringes of conversation throughout their lives – whereas ‘fluent’ people generally develop them progressively from an early age. Please be assured that this statement is not intended to be disparaging – I’m simply making an observation based upon my personal experiences.

      The fact that I possessed good social skills was extremely helpful when I approached total strangers. When one is lacking in this area AND happens to stutter, the task can be incredibly daunting. I feel that my confident approach (with smiles and added touches of humour) had a positive influence upon my listeners. Almost without exception, they responded in a positive manner. What we show to the world, it reflects back to us.

      I always ensured that I maintained good eye contact throughout. This enabled me to connect with my listeners, while also allowing me to observe their reactions. 

      Many people (including those who do not stutter) worry about (and adjust their everyday lives in accordance with) what other people think of them. During recent years, I’ve refused to judge myself through someone else’s eyes. My self-worth emanates from within – I am not dependent upon the
      approbation/ approval of others. Their opinions do not have to become our reality.

      I feel that people would be far less concerned of what others think about them, if they realised just how infrequently they do so. Most folk are too pre-occupied with their own lives to spare us more than a fleeting thought.:-)

      As I have become more mature, I have tended to live my life in accordance with the adage, “What other people think of me is none of MY business. If they have an issue with the way in which I speak, then it’s THEIR problem not mine”. :-)

      Rena, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  19. Alan,
    Thank you so much for submitting your paper about your use of avoidance to deal with stuttering. You said “each time we avoid something, we strengthen its influence over us” and I think that’s just such a powerful and true statement. I commend your determination to decide to never substitute a word again. I realize that answering the telephone must have been a challenge and usually when a PWS encounters a high-stress situation, it causes them to stutter even more. I found it inspirational that you chose to take a proactive approach and you actually CREATED speaking situations. I agree with you that if you had continued to use avoidance regarding your stutter that you would have been largely restricted today and I’m sure you wouldn’t be where you are if you still used those limiting tactics.
    I am in graduate school to become a speech language pathologist, and while I know that therapy cannot progress without changing the attitude of the client, how can I do that in dismayed younger children? I know that you enrolled in personal development workshops to increase your self-esteem and confidence. But, chances are, my clients are currently younger than you were when you decided to change your mindset. There’s also a high chance of them encountering situations with a bully by the time they enter middle school which can add to their discouragement and crush their self-esteem. How can I encourage a positive attitude in these children so that the therapy I offer is most effective?
    Thank you,
    Daria

    • Hi Daria,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion.

      You wrote:

      “I agree with you that if you had continued to use avoidance regarding your stutter that you would have been largely restricted today and I’m sure you wouldn’t be where you are if you still used those limiting tactics.”

      We need to take risks if we are to advance in any walk of life -not just in relation to our speech. Progress is achieved when we are willing to expose ourselves to uncertainty by treading the paths that generate fear. Unless we place ourselves in more demanding situations, we will remain ignorant of our true capabilities.

      The fear of failure plays a huge part in deterring us from leaving our safe environments. When people step outside their comfort zones, they invariably experience apprehension and uncertainty. It is important to recognise that such feelings are NOT unique to persons who stutter. However, by learning to manage the thoughts that trigger our emotions, we can positively influence our physical reactions and anticipatory fear.

      You then wrote:

      “…while I know that therapy cannot progress without changing the attitude of the client, how can I do that in dismayed younger children? I know that you enrolled in personal development workshops to increase your self-esteem and confidence. But, chances are, my clients are currently younger than you were when you decided to change your mindset. There’s also a high chance of them encountering situations with a bully by the time they enter middle school which can add to their discouragement and crush their self-esteem. How can I encourage a positive attitude in these children so that the therapy I offer is most effective?”

      Wow! I’m not sure that I’m in a position to answer all the points that you raise, particularly as my contact with children who stutter has been extremely limited. There are so many different issues that may need to be addressed. Every client is unique, although there will, of course, be common factors.

      Over the years, I’ve written several ISAD Conference papers that touch upon such matters as mindset, self-image, beliefs, expanding comfort zones etc. Perhaps you might wish to check them out when you have a moment.

      Here are the relevant links:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      How I Changed My Stuttering Mindset (2005)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad8/papers/badmington8.html

      With regard to bullying, I am aware that some SLP/therapists have found the following poem (which I wrote for the 2004 conference) useful in helping children to understand that we are all different. I understand that the poem (together with “Changing the Words Around”) is listed as an official ASHA resource.

      EVERYONE’S DIFFERENT (2004)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/badmington7/badmington27.html

      It’s a pity that such subjects as ‘self-esteem’ and ‘positive thinking’ are not taught at school. I can’t help feeling that they would be more useful in helping us to cope with the challenges of life than the sonnets of William Shakespeare. 🙂

      I very much regret that I cannot be of any more assistance to you.

      I wish you every success with your studies and career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Thank you so much for the resources you posted! I will make sure to check them out. Take care,
        Daria

  20. Hi Alan,
    As a first year graduate student in Communication Disorders, I haven’t worked with many persons who stutter. I have always found stuttering to be an area of interest. I think that it is fascinating to read that you taught yourself how to avoid certain words and letters that caused you distress. I’m sure the process of learning all the avoidance strategies you used was very time consuming. As a future clinician, what sort of advice would you give to helping a clinician understand avoidance strategies and helping a PWS lessen those strategies? Did you work with a clinician on coming up with strategies to quit avoiding, or do you have a good resource that helped you?
    Thank you for sharing your story!
    Melanie

    • Hi Melanie,

      It’s always a pleasure to receive feedback from SLP graduate students. The exchanges are to our mutual benefit.

      You wrote:

      “I’m sure the process of learning all the avoidance strategies you used was very time consuming.”

      Avoidance was my constant companion for so many years – it accompanied me wherever I went. Each time I substituted a word, or created some other innovative ruse in an attempt to avoid/reduce my oral struggles, I was blissfully unaware that such strategies were fuelling my stuttering behaviour. At that time in my life, I would go to enormous lengths to conceal my communication difficulties. My principal concern was to lessen/eliminate the possibility of “external” reaction/embarrassment. What I failed to appreciate was that I was still “stuttering on the inside”.

      Having successfully adhered to a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance for more than 13 years, I am free from their harmful influences and gravitational pull. When I initially decided to abandon my lifelong practice (on May 4, 2000), it was necessary for me to utilize my conscious brain to combat any tendency to fall back on avoidance strategies. After all, that had been my automatic default program since childhood.

      As time progressed, the urge to avoid grew less and less before finally disappearing. Today, NON-AVOIDANCE has become my unconscious behaviour. I simply select whatever word(s) I wish without any thoughts (or desire) of resorting to my former ‘crutch’.

      You then wrote:

      “…what sort of advice would you give to helping a clinician understand avoidance strategies and helping a PWS lessen those strategies? Did you work with a clinician on coming up with strategies to quit avoiding, or do you have a good resource that helped you?”

      My experiences of formal therapy were confined to childhood and early adolescence. To the best of my recollection, there was never any mention of avoidance. When I first learned about the implications (while attending a self-help seminar in 2000), I immediately embarked upon a policy of zero-tolerance.

      You might wish check out the writings of the late and renowned SLP Joseph Sheehan, who wrote (inter alia) – “Theory and treatment of stuttering as an approach avoidance conflict”. Links to some of his work are provided on the Stuttering Homepage at:

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/pioneers/jsheehan/jsheehan.html

      I am also aware that SLP Vivian Sisskin, a clinical faculty member at the University of Maryland (and a member of the “Ask the expert” panel) has produced a DVD about approach avoidance.

      And, finally, you might also wish to discuss my humble paper with any future clients. :-) Over the years, many PWS (worldwide) have told me that they can identify with the poem that accompanies my paper. It is to my knowledge that several SLPs already use the poem, which is listed as an official ASHA resource.

      Melanie, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  21. Well told story, Alan, and I see why “avoiding avoidance” works for you. I have gone another route. I have chased the fickle mistress known as “Fluency” for more than 60 years, and finally I told her to “bugger off.” (I’m not from the UK. I hope that usage is proper.) I feel I have earned the right to say “prior to” if I don’t want to say “before.” I slip, slide, avoid, hesitate and generally mush my way through anything I want to say. I consider it “my voice” now and I do anything I chose with it. I feel we each must come to our voice in our own unique way. On my book tour, I usually start my readings with a joke: “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is I’m only going to read two pages. The bad news is we could be here all night.” It’s not pretty, but it’s me and my voice serves me well these days.

    • Hi Vince,

      Thank you, so much, for responding to my paper. I very much regret that I haven’t yet had time to peruse your conference contribution but I intend to remedy the situation at the earliest opportunity. 

      It’s great that you have reached such a comfortable place in your life. Many people (not just those who happen to stutter) would envy your high degree of self-acceptance.

      The paths that we tread are influenced by many different factors. We are all unique – we come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems. That is why we should never attempt to compare our progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path.

      It would be totally improper of anyone to question the motives of those PWS who continue to rely upon avoidance strategies. I did it for so many years – without it, I would have floundered. It’s entirely their choice.

      Who can blame those who wish to avoid the adverse reactions that sometimes occur simply because we are unable to communicate in a manner that is acceptable to some sections of the community? Who can blame those who wish to escape ridicule, isolation or lack of respect? Who can blame those who wish to avoid the erroneous perception that they are of a nervous disposition, uneducated or unsociable? Who can blame those who simply wish to converse with a friend; commence a relationship; or contribute to discussions at work, school, or social events?

      We should never berate ourselves for indulging in avoidance. So many people evade things that cause them fear or discomfort. Such behaviour is not exclusive to PWS and (as I mentioned in my paper) is certainly not a crime. 

      Each of us is responsible for the paths that we choose to tread in life. The decisions we make are personal and, invariably, relevant to our own unique circumstances. We should respect those chosen by our fellow beings, providing, of course, they are lawful and/or do not contravene public decency. 🙂  My stance against avoidance (that I commenced in 2000) seemed appropriate for me at that particular time in my life.

      Like you, fluency is not something on which I focus. I had a desire to become a better communicator and say exactly what I wanted to say. I realized that as long as I continued to practice extensive avoidance, I would never experience the satisfaction of using the words of my choice. Despite the fact that I had developed an incredible ability to provide instant synonyms, there were times when I would have given my right arm to have used a more appropriate selection.

      As I have become more mature, I tend to live my life in accordance with the adage, “What other people think of me is none of MY business. If they have an issue with the way in which I speak, then it’s THEIR problem not mine”. 🙂 Vince, I suspect that you adopt a similar outlook. 🙂

      Another thing that we appear to have in common is that we have both found our voices rather late in life. Since joining the public speaking circuit, I have developed a wide repertoire of talks about a host of different subjects. One of my favourites is an extremely humorous look at the ageing process. At one point in the presentation, I deviate from the mirth and tell the audience:

      “Age is no barrier to achievement. You’re never too old to set a new goal. It’s never too late to become the person you always wanted to be. As we move into the autumn of our life, we find that what we most regret are the things we have not undertaken. I strongly believe that we should do everything possible to achieve our true potential irrespective of our age. We must enjoy life to the full by living everyday as though it were our last. Don’t just live the length of it – live the breadth of it too. We only get one bite of the cherry.”

      My aim has not simply been to deal with my speech issues. I wished to become self-actualized – to be doing the things that I have always wanted. I think I’ve travelled a long way along the road to self-actualization. I’ve encountered (and overcome) many hurdles along the way, as well as passing many significant milestones. Although I feel that I’m pretty close to my destination, the real pleasure has been the experience of that eventful journey.

      Vince, I hope that out paths will cross one day so that we may continue this interesting discussion face to face.

      Thank you, once again.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  22. Hello Alan,

    I found your experiences in overcoming your stuttering to be quite inspirational. I think we often forget how easily we can elicit change within ourselves just by changing simple actions. I think the strategy you used to overcome your fear of certain words and sounds can be beneficial to many other people who stutter. My favorite technique you used was the one where you called 1-800 numbers and asked about various things that contained sounds and words you feared.

    At the time you decided that you were no longer going to let stuttering control your life, did you also receive encouragement from family members?

    -Jamie
    Graduate Student

    • Hi Jamie,

      Thank you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my paper.

      My wife has supported me through thick and thin – offering love, encouragement and support at all times.

      When I decided to face my fears and eliminate my avoidance strategies, she was wholeheartedly behind me – accompanying me to every support group (at least 150) that I have ever attended.

      Throughout our marriage, there were occasions (albeit infrequent) when my wife would interject while I was speaking with others. She had the uncanny knack of knowing exactly when I was about to block, or struggle on a particular word. Without drawing attention to my predicament, she would unobtrusively insert the word (or words) into the conversation.

      At that period in my life, I welcomed her timely interventions because they allowed me to continue with what I was saying. She might also choose to order a meal at a restaurant, or make a telephone appointment (for me) with the dentist/doctor etc.

      When I decided to embark upon a more expansive lifestyle, I discussed the implications with her. I explained that (in future) I wished to accept full responsibility for ALL my speaking opportunities/requirements. She understood the position and was fully supportive of my stance.

      In the absence of such an explanation, it is possible that a spouse/partner might well feel excluded/redundant, particularly if he/she had regularly fulfilled such a supportive role. In certain respects, the established rules of a relationship are being revised.

      My wife has always loved and accepted me unconditionally. However, she was aware of my frustration (particularly in relation to my under-achievement in the work place) as a result of the communication difficulties that I encountered. She has contributed immensely to (and is sharing enjoyment in) the fact that I am now living a more fulfilling existence. Saying exactly what I want to say (after so many years of accepting second best) is truly liberating.

      Jamie, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Jamie,

        I’d like to add a postscript to my earlier response. I regularly undertake talks to community organisations in an attempt to create a greater public awareness about stuttering. During the 60 minutes presentation, I ALWAYS pay tribute to enormous contribution made by my wife in enabling me to come to terms with my communication issues.

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  23. Hi Alan,
    As always, what a great contribution to the ISAD conferrence. Your experiences are so helpful to so many people, especially all of the students who check in here. Your paper is beautifully written.
    But I am most impressed with the time and effort you take to compose such thoughtful responses to all of the questions.
    It’s always wonderful to read your work.
    Pam

    • Hi Pam,

      It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. I’m sorry that it’s taken me a few days to respond but I have been rather occupied of late.

      Thank you, so much, for your generous comments. They are particularly special – coming from someone who devotes so much of her time to disseminating information about stuttering, as well as providing a platform for those who stutter to share their views/stories.

      In your blog, you wrote (about yourself):

      “Since opening up about my stuttering, my world has opened up, profoundly and deeply. I feel it is my responsibility to share my journey with others whose lives have been touched by stuttering.”

      Pam, like you, I have a desire to let others know that there are alternative paths available for them to tread, IF THEY SO WISH. I think it is useful for those who have been fortunate enough to make advances with their speech/lives to share their experiences with other PWS (and persons associated with stuttering).

      I feel that we can all learn something (however small) from each other’s stories. Reading about the lives of other PWS can provide an interesting insight into how they deal (or have dealt) with their respective difficulties, as well as offering reciprocal inspiration. It can alert us to possibilities of which we were previously unaware — in relation to therapies, techniques and opportunities that allow us to unearth our true potential. It can also open our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined, igniting belief in our own capabilities.

      I recognise that every PWS is unique – so there is unlikely to be an approach that suits all. 🙂 However, there may well be certain aspects, or general principles, that others may wish to consider/explore. When I speak (or write) about the paths that I have trodden during recent years, I describe (in general terms) what has been successful for me. I stress that I did what I considered appropriate for my own personal circumstances. I would never be so arrogant as to suggest that others should attempt to imitate my example (although, in the past, I have observed such evangelism on the part of well-meaning individuals). 🙂

      It would be improper for us to impose our views upon anyone else. All we can do is to speak about the experiences that we have encountered or witnessed. If individuals choose to take account of what we have written, then that’s fine. It’s also OK if they choose to retain the status quo. That is entirely their prerogative.

      It would be wonderful if more persons who stutter could find time to share their experiences with future clinicians. I truly believe that such interaction is to our mutual benefit. Having addressed SLP students at several US universities, I have found that they genuinely welcome and appreciate our input. They are also so enthusiastic.

      In addition, I feel that it is important to increase public awareness about stuttering. That’s why I undertake an extensive programme of talks to community organisations here in the UK. I find it SO rewarding and never cease to be amazed at the hugely positive responses that I receive from my audiences.

      Sharing my experiences in the above manner has had a two-fold effect. Firstly, it has provided others (future SLPs and members of the public) with a better understanding of what stuttering involves. It has also helped to desensitize my own feelings towards the many difficulties that I have encountered throughout my life as a result of my speech.

      However, I appreciate that the very nature of stuttering is such that some PWS may well feel reluctant, or unable, to discuss it with others. Again, that is their choice.

      Pam, I really must close at this point – otherwise I won’t have time to respond to other feedback that I have received. I also need to peruse the many other interesting conference papers – including one written by a certain Pam Mertz. 

      Thank you, once again.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  24. Hi Alan,
    I really enjoyed reading your piece. I was especially moved by how you have overcome avoidance in your life through approaching difficult speaking situations and with positive self-talk. Although I am not someone who stutters, I had the opportunity to participate in an intensive stuttering workshop that worked on avoidance through similar methods. Activities such as calling businesses to ask for information, talking to strangers face-to-face, and speaking to groups were done everyday. Both clinicians and clients performed these activities, with clinicians demonstrating to the client before asking them to approach a feared situation. This training was absolutely invaluable to me as a SLP graduate student. As you mentioned in your paper, all of us have situations in our life that we fear and avoid. By participating in these activities myself, I gained a great deal of respect for PWS and the bravery that it takes to face your fears. It is also wonderful to see the confidence and freedom that is achieved when someone doesn’t let their stutter hold them back from living the life that they want. Your story is very powerful! Thank you for sharing.
    Christy
    Graduate Student

    • Hi Christy,

      Thank you, so much, for reading my paper. I greatly appreciate your generous comments.

      I was heartened to read about your experiences with the intensive stuttering workshop. Such exercises can be mutually beneficial (to the client and the clinician).

      You wrote:

      “…all of us have situations in our life that we fear and avoid.”

      Christy, that is SO true.

      I undertake an extensive programme of talks to community organisations (in the UK) in an attempt to create greater public awareness about stuttering. I’m simply inundated with requests to share my life story.

      Despite the fact that the audiences have no connection with stuttering, my talks generate such a positive feedback. Those present frequently tell me that (after learning about how I have dealt with my personal adversity) they are similarly inspired to confront challenges that exist in their own lives. It’s been enlightening to discover that there are many common threads affecting persons who stutter and those who don’t.

      The strategies that I have employed (eliminating avoidances; taking charge of my thoughts; expanding comfort zones; attaining personal growth; changing my mindset; challenging self-limiting beliefs and widening my narrow self-concept) appear to provide encouragement for others (totally unrelated to stuttering) to deal with their own problems.

      Some time ago, I had the privilege of addressing a group of stroke victims and others with brain damage (including a former soldier whose life was cruelly transformed when he sustained a serious head injury in his 20’s). Ironically, a few of those who have subsequently developed speech issues admitted to practising word substitution in respect of words/sounds that they now find difficult to say. (Doesn’t that sound familiar?) :-)

      During recent years, I have (inter alia) also addressed persons affected by cancer, hearing impairment and Parkinson’s disease. I find such interaction both humbling and rewarding – I never fail to be moved by the courage that they display. Meeting such people has also helped me to view stuttering in an entirely different perspective.

      Christy, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  25. Hi Alan,
    I am a second year graduate student studying speech-language pathology. Currently I am taking a stuttering class, which led me to discover your paper. Your story is truly inspirational. There is nothing better than to hear success stories from the source themselves. I am not an individual who stutters and this paper has empowered me to reevaluate life. You have shown me that we have the power to control our lives through our internal being. I loved your use of self talk and motivation to help yourself. I can imagine how empowering and inspirational this must be for a person who stutters who may be struggling with a similar inner conflict. I engaged in a pseudo stuttering activity for my class and the internal conflict I experienced controlled my every move. After a few times I became more and more desensitized to others opinions. However, I cannot imagine having to cope with these feelings everyday. I am curious to find out how old you were when you decided to make this change. I recently had listened to a panel of which contained people who stutter. Almost every person wished that as a child they had known they did not have to hide who they are. Does overcoming the internal conflicts resulting from stuttering stem from emotional maturation through adolescence and adulthood? Do you have any insight or perspectives into this matter?
    Lastly, thank you for sharing your poem with everyone. Is there a way to save the illustrated version? I would love to share this poem with children clients, as it is very relatable.

    Great insight into the root of stuttering. I am truly inspired by your story and success.

    Regards,
    Stephanie

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and contribute to the threaded discussion. It was kind of you to write in such a generous vein.

      You wrote:

      “I am not an individual who stutters and this paper has empowered me to reevaluate life.”

      You’re not the first person to have expressed those sentiments.  I regularly share my story with community groups in an attempt to create a greater public awareness about stuttering. Despite the fact that the audiences have no connection with stuttering, my talks generate such a positive feedback. Those present frequently tell me that (after learning about how I have dealt with my personal adversity) they are similarly inspired to confront challenges that exist in their own lives. It’s been enlightening to discover that there are many common threads affecting persons who stutter and those who don’t.

      Several years ago, I spoke to a group that included a person who had experienced a considerable degree of ill-health during his lifetime. His medical condition had (inter alia) stunted his growth – an issue with which he had struggled to come to terms.

      Shortly after my presentation, he wrote me a very moving email that contained the following comments:

      “Listening to your experience as a younger man, it felt very familiar to my experience also, when I was growing up, although with a totally different sort of problem. But, I have to say that listening to you, really helped me, to look at myself in a different way, I now realise that we are only here once, and have to make the most of what we’ve got. You were very inspiring to me – thank you.”

      You also wrote:

      “You have shown me that we have the power to control our lives through our internal being.”

      Yes, I truly believe that we can do so much to influence the course of our lives. Today’s thoughts will determine tomorrow’s experiences and destination. We become what we think about, so it is of prime importance that we pay close attention to those thoughts. By taking charge of the way in which we respond to life’s events, we take charge of our destiny.

      We travel in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. That’s fine when they are positive and empowering – but extremely damaging when they are brimming with fear, self-doubt and negativity. Many people focus on what they don’t want, rather than what they wish to achieve in life. I chose to focus on becoming an effective communicator, rather than focusing on not stuttering.

      You then wrote:

      “I am curious to find out how old you were when you decided to make this change.”

      I struggled to communicate effectively (orally) for more than 50 years. Whilst accepting that maturity (which is a euphemism for growing older) can be accompanied by greater self-confidence, I do not think that such a factor played a significant part in causing me to embark upon a more expansive lifestyle. Instead, several things collectively influenced that decision.

      Firstly, I witnessed a PWS who had successfully embraced public speaking. This caused me to question (and challenge) my long-held self-limiting belief that I would never be able to deal with my stuttering issues.

      Secondly, I attended a self-help seminar where I acquired physiological tools that enabled me to overcome blocking, whilst also assisting me to say words/letters/sounds that had previously held an emotional charge.

      Thirdly, for the first time in my life, I gained an understanding of the immense implications of avoidance.

      And fourthly, I was able to lean upon the support network provided by that self-help organization, as I progressively changed my stuttering mindset.

      Although my age didn’t have any direct bearing upon my decision to embark upon a new course of action, I readily accept that (as a result of my maturity) , I was probably better equipped/placed (than someone with lesser life experiences) to deal with the diverse cognitive issues that I had to face. 

      Stephanie, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  26. Alan,
    While reading your paper, I found myself saying “wow” over and over again. My favorite part was when you replaced your name tag with “Please ask me my name, I enjoy a challenge.” Your bravery and boldness to face all of your fears head-on is an unbelievable accomplishment. I’m sure that many people long to have your courage and perseverance – I know that I do. I am a graduate student and am currently in a fluency disorders class where we recently talked about the importance of creating opportunities for clients to build a history of fluency success. It seems that your success was a product of being tired of fighting the avoidance behaviors and self-motivation to make the changes necessary, even if they were painful initially. Do you think that you would have been as successful if an SLP had presented you with these challenges as part of a therapy program? Without the amount of self-motivation that you had, I wonder if you would have had the same experiences and results. Some people are naturally more timid and would not find this strategy very appealing. I know that if I was a PWS I would not be able to put myself out of my comfort zone as frequently and freely as you did. I would need the support and motivation of my therapist or some other special person in my life to push me. What does therapy look like for a client that is not yet willing and self-motivated to put himself out of his comfort zone and purposefully find opportunities to face his fears related to stuttering?
    Thank you for sharing your story. It is a great reminder that everyone has fears that they are avoiding and how great it is to face them and conquer them.
    Kristin

    • Hi Kristin,

      I am grateful to you for reading my paper and providing such generous feedback.

      You wrote:

      “It seems that your success was a product of being tired of fighting the avoidance behaviors and self-motivation to make the changes necessary, even if they were painful initially.”

      My avoidances had become so engrained that I automatically defaulted to such strategies whenever I was confronted by specific circumstances. When we do things repeatedly (especially over a period of years), they become part of our subconscious behaviour. It was only when I focused on my actions (by deliberately bringing them into my conscious thoughts) that I came to appreciate the true extent of my dependency.

      Despite the automatic nature of my responses, I can confirm that my mind was frequently in turmoil as I searched for synonyms commencing with different letters. On occasions, it could be rather draining.

      You also wrote:

      “Do you think that you would have been as successful if an SLP had presented you with these challenges as part of a therapy program?”

      When we move into uncharted waters, it can be useful to have encouragement and support. As I intimated in some earlier responses, I first learned about the immense implications of avoidance while attending a self-help seminar. I immediately made the decision to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards all kinds of avoidance.

      A few weeks earlier, I made the acquaintance of a PWS who had successfully embraced public speaking. He opened my eyes to possibilities that I could never have dared imagine. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to entertain the thought (and hope) that I might be able to do something similar. That fortuitous encounter sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life.

      It also caused me to question (and challenge) my long-held self-limiting belief that I would never be able to deal meaningfully with my stuttering issues.

      The self-help group (to which I referred above) equipped me with physiological tools that enabled me to overcome blocking, whilst also assisting me to say words/letters/sounds that had previously held an emotional charge. I was also able to lean upon its support network, as I progressively changed my stuttering mindset.

      I attended support groups for a couple of years, where I gained a huge degree of confidence whilst speaking in front of other members. On occasions, I also utilized their telephone and online support networks. However, I feel that I achieved the greatest advances as a result of the personal steps that I took to change my lifestyle and approach.

      I created an extensive plan of action that allowed me to routinely challenge myself in a wide range of speaking situations. I also enrolled in personal development and psychology workshops that embraced such issues as assertiveness, self-esteem, listening skills, confidence building and the reframing of unhelpful thoughts.

      As if that was not enough, I became involved in public speaking sessions; ‘Speaking Circles’ workshops; drama, dance and singing classes etc. In fact, I would seek out any opportunity to move outside my comfort zone and interact with total strangers. A few other PWS accompanied me to some the public speaking groups, so I was not always alone.

      You then wrote:

      “Without the amount of self-motivation that you had, I wonder if you would have had the same experiences and results. Some people are naturally more timid and would not find this strategy very appealing. I know that if I was a PWS I would not be able to put myself out of my comfort zone as frequently and freely as you did. I would need the support and motivation of my therapist or some other special person in my life to push me.”

      I fully accept that the proactive approach I adopted is unlikely to be suitable for everyone. We are all different. I was at a place in my life where I wanted to create such challenges. I regarded myself as a relatively outgoing individual with a wide experience of life. The fact that I had worn a mechanical device (the Edinburgh Masker) during the preceding 20 years had equipped me with useful interpersonal skills. I was a good communicator when I didn’t stutter.

      The problem was that I never knew when I was going to experience struggles –the threat constantly hovered over me like the “Sword of Damocles”.

      The acquisition of physiological techniques, coupled with an understanding of the psychologically-related issues (such as beliefs, self-image, thoughts, assertiveness, comfort zones – and, of course, avoidance) proved to be the final pieces in my personal stuttering jigsaw puzzle.

      Once I decided to take the initial step (to deal with my avoidance and other stuttering issues), I didn’t really require any motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was (and still is) so enjoyable. We only have one life – I believe we should live it to the full.

      There will, undoubtedly, be times when most of us can benefit from a helping hand. Whether that support is provided by a self-help group; stuttering management program; speech-language pathologist; or some other professional will, I feel, depend upon the unique personal circumstances of the individual(s) involved.

      Kristin, I wish you every success with your studies and future career as an SLP.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Kristin,

        Having re-read my response to you, I realize that I omitted to include smileys in several places. 🙂

        Please feel free to add them wherever you consider it appropriate. 🙂

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  27. I am currently a second year graduate student becoming a speech language pathologist and reading your article was eye-opening and taught more about avoidance than I have ever imagined. I can confidently say that the term “avoidance” is now much more than a textbook definition to me.

    Moreover, I happened to read your article the morning I was going to work with a client who stutters. This client seems to be a master at avoidance and when I showed this client your article, it was way more powerful than anything I ever said. I want to say thank you for sharing this personal experience and I know your story will positively impact lives, because it influenced mine as a future speech language pathologist.

    I was also wondering if you have any specific “tips” I can offer clients who stutter that decide to follow your path?

    • Hi Sonia,

      I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and provide such positive feedback.

      I’m delighted that it has widened your insight into the subject of approach avoidance. If I had gained a similar understanding at an earlier age, I would certainly have taken steps to address the issue when I was much younger. Still, I’m not a person to dwell upon what might have been (because we can’t change what’s happened in the past), so I now focus on what I can achieve in the present and future. 🙂  As I regularly opine -it’s never too late to become the person you’ve always wanted to be. 🙂

      I’m also heartened by the favourable response that you received from the client with whom you shared my paper. He may, if he so chooses, similarly decide to address avoidance in his own life – although that is, of course, his prerogative. Should he elect to follow that route, I’m sure he would benefit from support and encouragement.

      He may find it useful to read one of my past ISAD Online conference papers in which I outline the principles and benefits of expanding our comfort zones. It formed the thrust of my keynote speech at the 2004 World Congress for People Who Stutter:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      Incidentally, over the years, numerous PWS (from all parts of the world) have told me that they can identify with the message contained in my poem. It is, in fact, listed as an official ASHA resource and, to my knowledge, used by SLPs on several continents.

      You wrote:

      “I was also wondering if you have any specific “tips” I can offer clients who stutter that decide to follow your path?”

      Sonia, the paper was based upon my personal experiences. As I mentioned in an earlier response, every client is unique. We come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems. That is why we should never attempt to compare our progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path.

      We need to take risks if we are to advance in any walk of life – not just in relation to our speech. Progress is achieved when we are willing to expose ourselves to uncertainty by treading the paths that generate fear. Unless we place ourselves in more demanding situations, we will remain ignorant of our true capabilities.

      When we venture into uncharted waters, we will almost certainly experience a degree of apprehension and/or self-doubt. This is a natural reaction for anyone who steps outside their comfort zone. I think it is important for your client to recognise that such feelings are NOT confined to those who stutter. We don’t hold the exclusive rights to such emotions. 🙂

      Some of us are presented with greater challenges than others. We cannot select the cards we are dealt, but we can certainly bring considerable influence to bear upon the manner in which we play our hand. We can choose how we respond to those challenges. I feel that we should make every effort to ensure that stuttering does not inhibit our personal growth. There will, undoubtedly, be setbacks along the way, but they should not be viewed as failures. I found it helpful to regard them as learning experiences – stepping stones to eventual success.

      Sonia, thank you, once again for participating in the threaded discussion. I wish you every success with your studies and future career as a speech-language pathologist.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  28. Alan, as a future Speech Language Pathologist, I am extremely impressed with your ability to face your fears head on and stop avoiding the things that had become so second nature for you to avoid. In doing some research on your journey to “avoiding avoidance,” I found a few pieces of literature that support your personal methods. A relatively new approach to fluency therapy is mindfulness training. In short, mindfulness encourages people to be nonjudgmental and present in the moment, open to new experiences and accepting of situations as they arise, both internally and externally. Mindfulness has helped persons who stutter by helping them be aware and accepting of their internal feelings about stuttering, which in turn can help them better manage their stuttered moments (Boyle, 2011). After reading your paper, it sounds like you engaged in mindfulness without getting direct training in becoming mindful. This is an impressive feat! Plexico, Manning and DiLollo (2005) found that some people who stutter had more success managing their stuttering when they took more risks by being forthcoming about their stuttering and forcing themselves to be involved in situations they would normally find difficult. Being aware and facing feared situations is only a small component of mindfulness and further supports mindfulness as a helpful and important addition to fluency therapy. Another key feature of mindfulness is acceptance, which helps with the development of adaptive coping skills (Boyle, 2011). As people who stutter become more open and accepting of their stuttering, they can develop agency. Agency is the person’s ability to act in a way that is different than they have acted in the past. The development of agency allows a person to control their stuttering and make the changes they desire to make (Plexico, Manning & Levitt, 2009). I want to applaud you, Alan, for implementing some very difficult, yet important, findings from the literature into your life. You have an amazing story and I am thankful to you for sharing it with us.

    Resources:
    Boyle, M. P. (2011). Mindfulness training in stuttering therapy: A tutorial for speech-language pathologists. Journal of fluency disorders, 36(2), 122-129.
    Plexico, L., Manning, W. H., & DiLollo, A. (2005). A phenomenological understanding of successful stuttering management. Journal of fluency disorders, 30(1), 1-22.
    Plexico, L., Manning, W. H., & Levitt, H. (2009). Coping responses by adults who stutter: Part II. Approaching the problem and achieving agency. Journal of fluency disorders, 34(2), 108-126.

    • Hi Danni,

      I’m always heartened to receive feedback from SLP students. I feel that the interaction and exchange of experiences/viewpoints is of mutual benefit.

      Thank you for your generous comments – it was kind of you to write in such a vein.

      I was interested to learn of the research that you have conducted and impressed by the manner in which you related your findings to my personal story.

      You wrote:

      “In doing some research on your journey to “avoiding avoidance,” I found a few pieces of literature that support your personal methods. A relatively new approach to fluency therapy is mindfulness training. In short, mindfulness encourages people to be nonjudgmental and present in the moment, open to new experiences and accepting of situations as they arise, both internally and externally. Mindfulness has helped persons who stutter by helping them be aware and accepting of their internal feelings about stuttering, which in turn can help them better manage their stuttered moments (Boyle, 2011). After reading your paper, it sounds like you engaged in mindfulness without getting direct training in becoming mindful. This is an impressive feat!”

      Whilst I did not intentionally follow the mindfulness route, I certainly recognize some of the specific points that you list. I successfully released myself from the influence of past and anticipatory negative thoughts and chose to focus on what was happening in the “now”. I became more aware of my feelings and emotions and dealt with them as they surfaced.

      You also wrote:

      “Manning and DiLollo (2005) found that some people who stutter had more success managing their stuttering when they took more risks by being forthcoming about their stuttering and forcing themselves to be involved in situations they would normally find difficult. Being aware and facing feared situations is only a small component of mindfulness and further supports mindfulness as a helpful and important addition to fluency therapy.”

      In 2000, I devised an extensive (and proactive) plan of action that routinely placed me in wide range of speaking circumstances. This was doubly challenging because not only did I terminate my reliance upon avoidance strategies, but I simultaneously abandoned the electronic device (Edinburgh Masker) that had been my constant companion for more than 20 years. I, initially, felt ‘naked’ without my mechanical crutch.

      You may read more about my experiences in the following papers that I wrote for past ISAD Online Conferences:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      Technology: A friend or foe of someone who stutters?

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad9/papers/badmington9.html

      You further wrote:

      “Another key feature of mindfulness is acceptance, which helps with the development of adaptive coping skills (Boyle, 2011). As people who stutter become more open and accepting of their stuttering…”

      Danni, at the same time that I decided to live a more expansive lifestyle, I also made a conscious decision to adopt a policy of assertive self-acceptance. Some people accept their stutter but (quite properly) choose to retain the status quo. I became more accepting of the manner in which I spoke but I wanted to do something about it. There is no conflict between the two paths – they are simply different.

      As I mentioned in an earlier response, every client is unique. We come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems. That is why we should never attempt to compare our progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path. The route I took was appropriate for me – there is no right or wrong. It’s an individual decision.

      I became more open about my stutter and told friends, family members and complete strangers about my ‘darkest secret’. I even subjected myself to radio and television interviews. 🙂 Everyone was most supportive and encouraging. My perceptions about what others thought about my stutter changed drastically.

      Danni, I think I’ve written enough. It’s time to close as I need to respond to many other posts. 🙂

      I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  29. I appreciated your insight into your stuttering journey and the way in which you inspired yourself to overcome your anxiety related to stuttering. Although you mentioned that you received speech therapy in your response to other comments, you also held that you did not employ any of the specific techniques related to stuttering modification. To me, the goals of stuttering modification such as desensitization to stuttering moments and reduction of anxiety seem consistent with your attitude toward stuttering therapy (Blomgren et al., 2005). At the conclusion of your paper, you mentioned that you were supportive of those who wished to live with their dysfluency or those who continued to use avoidance techniques. In light of this comment, I was curious about your attitude toward the use of fluency shaping techniques with children who stutter. While the goal of your journey seems to be the desensitization to feared words and situations, fluency shaping advocates stutter-free speech and the elimination of events that encourage dysfluency (Prins & Ingam, 2009). As such, your bravery in your practice of “avoiding avoidance” directly contradicts the beliefs of fluency shaping. Although the technique advocates a program of therapy opposite from the one that helped you, evidence presents positive results and increases in fluency through the use of fluency shaping in school-aged children (Laiho & Klippi, 2007). Given what you know about fluency shaping and your attitudes toward your dysfluency as a child, do you think you would have benefitted from therapy using fluency shaping? Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hi Shira,

      Thank you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my conference paper.

      I very much regret that I’m finding it a little difficult to respond meaningfully to the interesting questions that you pose because I do not have any understanding of the approaches known as ‘stuttering modification” or “fluency shaping”. Of course I’ve heard of them but I am totally ignorant of what they involve.

      I should explain that my experiences of speech therapy have been extremely limited – occurring during childhood and early adolescence (around about the time that the wheel was invented) 🙂 That was a long time ago, so my memory of those events is rather hazy. 🙂 To the best of my recollection, it involved reading aloud in the presence of the clinician where I enjoyed a high degree of fluency.

      I have no recollection of being taught any physiological techniques whatsoever in that formal setting, nor did I receive any suggestions as to how I could transfer the gains that I enjoyed in that safe environment – out into the real world.

      The tools that I initially implemented (when I decided to tackle my avoidance issues) were acquired as a result of my involvement with a self-help program. Whilst I am familiar with the terminology used within those surroundings, I suspect that such phraseology may not be recognizable within the professional sector. 🙂

      Utilizing an assertive approach (particularly on the first sound), I was able to counteract my long-held tendency to hold back. Diaphragmatic control was also particularly helpful in reducing (and then eliminating) my blocking behaviours. (I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful but I really am an ignoramus when it comes to recognized/accepted formal techniques/terminologies.) 🙂

      I used the techniques as a springboard. They gave me the reassurance and confidence to embark upon an extensive plan of action that routinely exposed me to risks – allowing me to expand my comfort zones in a wide range of challenging situations. The resultant self-confidence assisted me to challenge myself even further. As a result, I acquired more empowering beliefs, together with a wider self-concept that embraced many new roles that I previously believed lay outside my scope.

      I was able to continue with this venture because my initial experiences were so successful. They created the expectation of further positive outcomes. I came to accept that I possessed the resources to deal with any blocks that might occur, as well as being able to say words that had always generated an emotional charge. I found myself in such a favourable position. This was so different from the past when my speech had been such a lottery.

      Success followed success, creating an empowering mindset that enabled me to stop focusing on my speech and, instead, concentrate my efforts on the things I wanted to achieve in life.

      I should mention that I have not used any physiological techniques/tools for many years. After leaning upon them for a relatively limited period, I chose to continue my journey unaided. In some respects, I suppose that my experience may be likened to those of children who learn to ride a bicycle. In the initial stages, they will enlist the aid of stabilizers – but when they overcome their doubts and fears (and become proficient), they detach them and ride without support. That’s precisely what I’ve done.

      Shira, I’m sorry that I may not have answered the specific questions that you posed but (for the reasons given) I do not feel qualified to do so. However, I sincerely hope that you will derive some benefit from the general response that I have provided.

      You may gain a better insight into the exciting paths that I have trodden by reading the following papers that I contributed to past ISAD Online Conferences:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      Technology: A friend or foe of someone who stutters?

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad9/papers/badmington9.html

      I fully accept that the proactive approach I adopted is unlikely to be suitable for everyone. We are all different. I was at a place in my life where I wanted to change the status quo. I regarded myself as a relatively outgoing individual with a wide experience of life. The fact that I had worn a mechanical device (the Edinburgh Masker) during the preceding 20 years had equipped me with useful interpersonal skills. I was a reasonably good communicator when I didn’t stutter. 🙂 The problem was that I never knew when I was going to experience struggles – the threat constantly hovered over me like the “Sword of Damocles”.

      The acquisition of physiological techniques, coupled with an understanding of the psychologically-related issues (such as beliefs, self-image, thoughts, self-acceptance; assertiveness, comfort zones etc– and, of course, approach avoidance) proved to be the final pieces in my personal stuttering jigsaw puzzle. 🙂

      Once I decided to take the initial step, I didn’t really require any motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was (and still is) so enjoyable. We only have one life – I believe we should live it to the full.

      With regards to your enquiry about my childhood, you may be interested to learn that I was never subjected to bullying – probably due to the fact that I was a prominent sportsman. I suspect that my fellow students looked up to me because of my sporting prowess. I am well aware of the problems experienced by many other PWS and realize that I was, indeed, very fortunate to have escaped such unwelcome attention.

      Shira, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  30. Alan,
    Your paper is truly moving. I especially love the part when you say “each time we avoid something we strengthen its influence over us.” This is something that all individuals-not just PWS-should embrace.

    You describe how you immediately quit using any avoidance strategies after realizing the extent to which your avoidance had infiltrated your life. I was wondering how this affected your stutter when you first made the choice. Did you stutter more severely after adopting this “no-avoidance” policy since you no longer were using your fear-reducing strategies? And did those close to you notice a change or comment on your fluency when you first started facing words/situations you used to avoid?

    For a PWS who wishes to adopt this technique you used, would you recommend the same approach you used? Or would you suggest choosing specific situations (talking on the telephone or introducing oneself) to target first?

    Thank you for your paper, you are an inspiration to many.

    Bianca Minniti
    Idaho State University Graduate Student

    • Hi Bianca,

      I apologize for the slight delay in replying to your post. I will respond more meaningfully tomorrow.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

    • Hi Bianca,

      I’m grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion.

      You wrote:

      “I especially love the part when you say “each time we avoid something we strengthen its influence over us.” This is something that all individuals-not just PWS-should embrace.”

      Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. Avoidance is NOT exclusive to persons who stutter – so many others avoid doing things that they fear, or which feel uncomfortable.

      I regularly undertake talks to community organizations in an attempt to create a greater public awareness about stuttering. Despite the fact that the audiences have no connection with stuttering, my talks generate such a positive feedback. Those present frequently tell me that (after learning about how I have dealt with my personal adversity) they are similarly inspired to confront challenges that exist in their own lives. It’s been enlightening to discover that there are many common threads affecting persons who stutter and those who don’t.

      The strategies that I have employed (eliminating avoidances; taking charge of my thoughts; expanding comfort zones; developing personal growth; changing my mindset; challenging self-limiting beliefs and widening my narrow self-concept) appear to provide encouragement for others (totally unrelated to stuttering) to deal with personal issues that are, effectively, restricting their daily existence.

      I think it is important for PWS to understand that fear and self-doubt are not the sole prerogative of those who happen to stutter.

      Incidentally, I wrote (at far greater length) about the benefits of treading unfamiliar paths in a paper that I contributed to the 2003 ISAD Online Conference. On that occasion, several SLP students intimated that, in addition to sharing the content with their clients, they intended to apply the principles to their own lives.

      Here is the relevant link (if you are interested):

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      You then wrote:

      “Did you stutter more severely after adopting this “no-avoidance” policy since you no longer were using your fear-reducing strategies?”

      I touched upon this very point in a few of my earlier responses. Avoidances become a part of us and shape our personality and self-image. We revert to them instinctively – they become our automatically default program. One of the consequences of our engrained avoidances is that others (including friends and family members) do not appreciate the true extent of our stuttering.

      However, when a PWS chooses to become more accepting of (and open about) his/her stutter, and opts to say perceived ‘difficult’ words; the visible struggles are likely to become more evident. Previously, the PWS would (in the absence of a better description) have ‘stuttered on the inside’, but his/her avoidance strategies would have simply made it less apparent (externally). I hope that makes sense. 🙂

      During recent years, I have been associated with several PWS who have adopted a policy of greater openness and non-avoidance. Some (who were previously covert) mention that others have commented that they appear to be “stuttering more than before”.

      I remember entering into correspondence with an SLP several years in which she expressed concern that a young client had “started stuttering more severely”. It transpired that he had become more accepting of his speech. When we elect not to avoid, it is quite understandable that we may initially stumble on words that we previously avoided.

      When someone embarks upon a path of non-avoidance, then his/her speech may well appear more dysfluent to the listener (particularly if it is someone who has previously heard them speak). In my opinion, this is a positive development, although the uninformed may not view it in the same light. I think it is important that clinicians, parents and loved ones (as well as teachers – in the case of children) understand exactly what is happening.

      I also made reference to this point in my current paper when I wrote, “Choosing to say specific words (that I had intentionally neglected for so many years) was bound to be scary. In the initial stages, it is possible that those who were familiar with my usual speaking pattern may have considered that (on occasions) I was speaking less fluently. But that didn’t bother me. You see, I had come to view my word substitutions as “stuttering on the inside” and felt that I needed to bring the matter out into the open in order to resolve the issue. Within a relatively short period of time, the apprehension receded and was replaced by a feeling of excitement. The external dysfluencies were also short-lived, as I grew in confidence.”

      You further enquired:

      “And did those close to you notice a change or comment on your fluency when you first started facing words/situations you used to avoid?”

      In addition to the policy of non-avoidance, I simultaneously adopted a policy of greater openness. I began discussing my communication issues with all and sundry. In many cases, I was speaking openly about my “darkest secret” for the first time in my life. It was incredibly liberating and had a hugely desensitizing effect.

      I explained to friends and family members the diverse approaches that I was exploring and was encouraged by their positive and supportive responses. My perceptions of what other people thought about my stutter became so much more favourable.

      Despite the close and loving relationship that I have enjoyed with my wife since we first met in our early 20’s, there were times when I did not tell her about some of the negative speech-related incidents that I encountered. I suppose I didn’t want to give her too much cause for concern. She knew a great deal about what occurred but I held back from confiding the full extent of my anguish and disappointments.

      Things changed dramatically in 2000 when I pointed my life in a new direction. My wife became actively involved with my journey, accompanying me to every weekly support group meeting that I attended during the next five or so years (probably in excess of 150). This gave her an incredible insight into the immense difficulties that I (and other members of the group) had faced in our lives. She also became familiar with the new techniques and tools I was using and appreciated the expansive course of action that I needed to follow in order to achieve my desired aims.

      Prior to 2000, she had always been SO supportive – I can’t emphasise that too much. My decision to adopt a policy of greater openness (with her and others) greatly enhanced her understanding of the issues involved. We spoke at length about my need to challenge the disempowering beliefs that were holding me back. I explained the adverse implications of avoidance and why I needed to expand my comfort zones and do the things I always believed I could not do.

      She never begrudged the time and money that I expended while travelling 500 miles each month to attend SIX public speaking meetings (similar to Toastmasters International). She also knew the value of me enrolling for diverse seminars/workshops that enabled me to widen my self-image and interact with persons I did not know.

      She was patient while I spent lengthy periods each day on the telephone, creating fictitious enquiries so that I could consolidate my new speaking behaviours. She did likewise while I chatted for hours (by telephone and online) with other PWS in various parts of the world.

      In addition, she fully understood why I spoke to all and sundry whenever we were out shopping, walking or socializing. 🙂

      Throughout our married life, my wife had helped by arranging appointments with the doctor/dentist, or ordering meals in restaurants. I told her that I greatly appreciated her previous assistance but stressed that I now needed to assume full responsibility for ALL my speaking tasks. I felt it imperative that I explained my reasons, otherwise she may have felt rejected. After all, I was adjusting the ‘accepted’ rules of our relationship.

      If we fail to share our experiences and fears with our loved ones, then they are unlikely to be aware of how much they impact upon our lives. My wife has always loved me, unconditionally, but was aware of my frustration of not being able to fulfil my true potential. Today, she shares in the immense personal satisfaction that I derive from following my dreams and performing widely on life’s stage.

      And, finally, you wrote:

      “For a PWS who wishes to adopt this technique you used, would you recommend the same approach you used? Or would you suggest choosing specific situations (talking on the telephone or introducing oneself) to target first?”

      The proactive approach that I adopted is unlikely to be suitable for everyone. We are all different. When I embarked upon a more expansive lifestyle, I was at a place in my life where I wanted to explore uncharted waters and experience new challenges.

      I was a relatively outgoing individual with a wide experience of life. The fact that I had worn a mechanical device (the Edinburgh Masker) during the preceding 20 years had equipped me with useful interpersonal skills. I considered myself to be a reasonably good communicator when I didn’t stutter. 🙂

      The acquisition of physiological techniques (which I used for a limited period), coupled with an understanding of the psychologically-related issues (such as beliefs, self-image, thoughts, self-acceptance; assertiveness, comfort zones etc– and, of course, approach avoidance) proved to be the final pieces in my personal stuttering jigsaw puzzle.

      You may find it useful to encourage your clients to take “small steps” in the initial stages. Attempting to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance may prove too daunting and difficult. (I know that’s what I did but I believe I was better equipped (than most) to follow such a path.) 🙂 As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”.

      Minor triumphs can help us to build up our confidence (gradually), thus enabling us to progress to more difficult challenges. My confidence certainly increased as my life expanded to accommodate the new experiences and roles.

      Your clients may also need reassurance if things do not go according to plan. I found it useful to view setbacks as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      Our ability to tolerate short periods of discomfort is the key to successful expansion. We must not give up at the first hurdle. Like the turtle, we can only move forward when we stick our neck out. But we can’t expect to get things right every time. That’s not how we change behaviours – it’s a gradual process.

      I found it helpful to focus on what I wanted to achieve, as opposed to dwelling upon what I didn’t want to happen. But, above all, I decided to let go and have fun. Life is far too short to do otherwise. 🙂

      Bianca, I wish you every success with your studies and future career as an SLP.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  31. Hello Alan,
    I am a 2nd year graduate student at Idaho State University. I just wanted to tell you that I find what you did to be very courageous. I don’t personally stutter but I am a very shy person and could not fathom exposing myself like you did though I wish that I could. Thank you so much for your insightful story and your beautiful poem.
    Sincerely,
    Itxaso

    • Hi ltxasoU,

      Please accept my apologies for addressing you in such an informal manner but I don’t know your name. 🙂

      It was kind of you to read my paper and respond in such a generous and positive manner.

      Persons who stutter (and, indeed, those who do not stutter) develop a mental blue-print of themselves. This personal concept is influenced by what they consider to be their failures and successes; their strengths and weaknesses; their competency and worth; and the way in which others have reacted towards them. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are consistent with that self-determined identity, irrespective of the reality of that image. Our personal opinions about ourselves are more influential than facts.

      Our beliefs and self-image create the script by which we act out our lives -they set the boundaries to our accomplishments. Throughout my life, everything I did was in accordance with what I believed about myself and what I thought I was able to do. These views restricted me from undertaking many things that I considered lay outside my scope.

      The majority of our belief system is established during childhood and adolescence. So, regardless of your current age, the beliefs that dictate the way in which you live your life today were largely developed during those formative years. That hugely critical period will continue to dominate our current lives, unless we reassess our long-established opinions and self-worth. Account should be taken of more recent and relevant information that challenges those views, or has been acquired from experiences that bring them into question.

      If we fail to confront our disempowering beliefs, they can imprison us. I admired (and had dreams of emulating) those who appeared at ease in front of an audience. Yet, I always shunned public speaking, justifying my avoidance by the fact that I stuttered. I could never envisage successfully fulfilling that role.

      Persons who are of a reserved nature may claim that they have always been shy, accepting timidity as an irrefutable and permanent part of their makeup. Such beliefs confine us – they shape our expectations, influence our attitudes and limit our future attainments.

      But behaviours are not changed by retaining the status quo. We need to widen our self-concept to accommodate the new behaviours and roles; otherwise our existing self-image will continue to impose its restrictions.

      Many of us have difficulty letting go of the past. We cling onto our old self-image because we (and those around us) derive a sense of security from the familiar face that it presents. Self-concept is at the very core of our life experience – it can cause us to resist attempts to embrace change, even though it may be to our advantage to do so. The moment I relinquished my old self-image, I discovered incredible opportunities for growth.

      Although our long-established beliefs may be deeply entrenched, it is important to understand that they are NOT set in stone. The realisation that I could reappraise (and adjust) my beliefs was hugely empowering and a cornerstone of the advances I have made during recent times.

      I note that you consider yourself to be a shy person. May I respectfully suggest that you read the following paper that I contributed to the ISAD Online Conference in 2009:

      ‘How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering’
      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      Although I wrote it specifically for persons who stutter, the principles to which I refer are equally relevant to everyone.

      I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  32. Hi Alan,
    I am a first year graduate student at Illinois State University. I enjoyed reading about your experiences with stuttering and am amazed at your courage. It was really interesting to hear about your life before and after you addressed your reliance on avoidance. I can’t imagine making the decision to quit using avoidance and begin using words that I would most likely stutter when saying. You’re story is very inspirational and your accomplishments are proof that stuttering does not have to control a person’s life. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Sarah Melcher

    • Hi Sarah,

      I’m always heartened when an SLP student takes time to read (and respond to) my paper. I truly believe that such interaction is to our mutual benefit.

      We need to take risks if we are to advance in any walk of life – not just in relation to our speech. Progress is achieved when we are willing to expose ourselves to uncertainty by treading the paths that generate fear. Unless we place ourselves in more demanding situations, we will remain ignorant of our true capabilities.

      If we retain the status quo, then nothing different is ever likely to happen. Our future will simply be a re-run of the past. The realization that I could reappraise (and adjust) my beliefs was hugely empowering and a cornerstone of the advances that I have made during recent times.

      Fear and self-doubt can sabotage the hopes and aspirations of many people, not just those who stutter. Some PWS allow their speech to influence their educational paths, choice of careers, relationships and social involvement. I feel that is of prime importance that we do not adopt a victim mentality, or exclude ourselves from participating widely on life’s stage.

      Hopefully, events such as this will make others aware that there are alternative routes available for them to travel.

      I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      I note that you are studying at Illinois State University. Please say “Hi” to Dr Jean Sawyer (associate professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders) whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I presented at the 2012 ASHA Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. 🙂

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  33. Thank you for sharing for your story, I enjoyed reading it as well as your responses to the postings. I love your outlook on life. In your response to Keith Boss you mentioned how you discovered your potential by focusing on what you wanted rather than what you did not want. These are words to live by as I have avoided completing tasks due to my fear of failure but it is truly rewarding feeling once I do accomplish what I was avoiding. It is wonderful how you recognized you can overcome your fear and have challenged and continue to challenge yourself. You are an inspiration not only to a community of persons who stutter, but to people in general. Thank you once again for sharing and I wish I was there to make your acquaintance.

    -Sandra

    • Hi Sandra,

      I greatly appreciate your generous comments.

      I allowed my fears (and narrow self-image) to inhibit my personal growth for more than half a century. As a result, my life was, generally, unfulfilled. I think it is important that others are made aware that there are alternative paths available for them to tread (IF THEY SO WISH).

      If we retain the status quo, then nothing different is ever likely to happen. Our future will simply be a re-run of the past. The realization that I could reappraise (and adjust) my beliefs was hugely empowering and a cornerstone of the advances that I have made during recent times.

      Our beliefs and our self-image create the script by which we act out our lives. They generate our thoughts and set the boundaries to our accomplishments. What we believe about ourselves moulds the way in which we perceive the world. It influences our educational and employment paths; it determines our relationships and social interaction. But, most importantly, when we believe that we cannot do something, then it’s almost certain that we will not do it.

      These beliefs remain with us throughout our lives, unless we change them, or they are challenged by events that bring them into question. If we fail to confront our disempowering beliefs, they will continue to impede us. Our self-limiting beliefs (and narrow self-concept) can impact upon our lifestyle to such an extent that there are things we will not even attempt because we feel they lie outside our scope.

      When you believe that things are possible, they start to become reality. When we anticipate an outcome, we find that it generally tends to occur. I think that this is because (at an unconscious level) our resources are mobilized to make it happen.

      If we continually focus upon negativity (those things that we don’t want to happen, or the possible consequences of undertaking a certain task/role), then we create a state of mind that supports those types of behaviours and results. But, it is not merely sufficient to think in a positive manner – we must follow this up with positive actions.

      However, when we experience a positive outcome (particularly in a situation that has previously generated fear and/or self-doubt), it can cause us to view ourselves in a different light. That success ignites optimism, allowing us to entertain thoughts (and hope) that we may (after all) be able to fulfil tasks/roles that we have always dreaded or avoided.

      But an isolated occurrence is unlikely to be sufficient to change the long-established beliefs that have adversely shaped our lives for so many years. As the saying goes – “One swallow doesn’t make a summer”. :-) We will, undoubtedly, need additional evidence to convince us that we can break free from the deeply engrained restrictive views and opinions that influence our behaviours.

      We need to take risks if we are to advance in any walk of life – not just in relation to our speech. Progress is achieved when we are willing to expose ourselves to uncertainty by treading the paths that generate fear. Unless we place ourselves in more demanding situations, we will remain ignorant of our true capabilities.

      The success we achieve will be proportionate to the risks we take – we become increasingly powerful as our lives expand to accommodate more experiences. As our power increases, so does our confidence in our own ability. We find it easier to continue the process of stretching our comfort zones, in spite of any fears that we may experience. I certainly found that I became more adventurous as time progressed, the magnitude of the risks expanding correspondingly.

      When we achieve something that we, hitherto, regarded impossible, it causes us to reconsider our limiting beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged our advancement, we grow in stature. We are never quite the same again. When we overcome hurdles, it opens our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined. When we are stretched by a new experience, we likewise grow as human beings.

      Sandra, I have touched upon many of the above issues in several of my past ISAD Online Conference papers. If you are interested – here are a few of the links:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      I also incorporated them in a presentation that I was invited to give at the annual ASHA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2012.

      And, finally, you wrote:

      “Thank you once again for sharing and I wish I was there to make your acquaintance.”

      If you choose to read the above articles, you will note that one of the ways in which I overcame my fear of using the telephone was to randomly call (and chat to) people from all over the world. Many professors at US universities; SLPs and PWS on several different continents have unexpectedly received calls from me – totally out-of-the-blue. :-)I’ve enjoyed some wonderful conversations over the years. 🙂

      If you would like a chat (and are happy to furnish me with a LANDLINE telephone number), I will certainly give you a call at a mutually convenient time and date. I urge you NOT to provide any personal information via this open forum. If you are interested, please communicate privately with me at the following address:

      alan@highfieldstile.fsnet.co.uk

      Thank you, once again, for participating in the threaded discussion.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  34. Hi Alan,
    I am in my last semester of graduate school and I am enrolled in a fluency class. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I found your paper to be truly inspirational and extremely informative. As a future clinician I feel it is crucial to read personal stories like yours to gain insight on stuttering. In your paper and poem you discuss how you avoided 13 letters and became a walking thesaurus often substituting words that didn’t make sense. I was wondering, did members of your family or friends ever make comments about this? Did you ever talk about the fact you are a PWS with them? In my fluency class we discuss the idea for the clinician to “pseudo stutter” during the speech therapy session with the client to show that it is okay to stutter. How do you feel about this approach? Do you think if you were exposed to this approach you would have been open to it? Do you think you might have eliminated avoidances earlier? Thank you for your time!
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I apologize for the slight delay in replying to your post. I will respond more meaningfully tomorrow.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Lisa,

        Thank you, so much, for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback. It was kind of you to write in such a generous vein.

        Firstly, let me apologize for the slight delay in responding. I regret that I somehow missed your original post and did not become aware it until I received your later comments. Sorry! 🙂

        I’ll combine both replies in this one post. 🙂

        You wrote:

        “As a future clinician I feel it is crucial to read personal stories like yours to gain insight on stuttering.”

        I’m always heartened to communicate with persons in your position. Over the years, I’ve had some wonderful exchanges. I truly believe that such interaction is mutually beneficial. Having also had the privilege of addressing SLP student classes at several US universities, I never fail to be impressed by their enthusiasm and desire to learn.

        You then wrote:

        “In your paper and poem you discuss how you avoided 13 letters and became a walking thesaurus often substituting words that didn’t make sense. I was wondering, did members of your family or friends ever make comments about this? Did you ever talk about the fact you are a PWS with them?

        In the past, there were numerous instances where I would restrict myself to inferior vocabulary, simply to avoid stuttering. It was in stark contrast to those occasions when I expressed myself in writing. In the latter, I selected the most appropriate words – it was so satisfying. However, my oral exchanges often left me feeling so frustrated. I felt cheated that I could never say exactly what I wanted to say.

        If I was in a group situation and someone posed a question, I frequently refrained from volunteering a response, even though I knew the answer(s) and had something of value to contribute. In effect, I would choose to give others the impression that I knew little (or nothing) about the subject under discussion – rather than stutter in front of them.

        In common with many PWS, I found that there were environments in which I spoke more freely. This generally occurred when I was in the presence of someone with whom I was accustomed. In these situations, I felt at relative ease – they became my comfort zones. But a comfort zone can cease to a safe area at any time. For example, if another person (with whom I was less familiar) entered a room when I was talking, the situation could change instantly.

        Prior to that person’s entry, I would have been feeling much more relaxed and talkative. The moment the third party came into earshot, I would feel myself becoming tense and more conscious of the way in which I was speaking. Invariably, this would cause me to hold back, become very selective with my vocabulary; and generally less inclined to engage in conversation.

        My original listener(s) could not have failed to notice the stark transformation, although I do not recall anyone (with the possible exception of my wife) making any observations about this phenomenon.

        As I mentioned in one of my earlier responses, in addition to the policy of non-avoidance, I simultaneously adopted a policy of greater openness. I began discussing my communication issues with all and sundry. In many cases, I was speaking openly about my “darkest secret” for the first time in my life. It was incredibly liberating and had a hugely desensitizing effect.

        I explained to friends and family members the diverse approaches that I was exploring and was encouraged by their positive and supportive responses. My perceptions of what other people thought about my stutter became so much more favourable.

        Despite the close and loving relationship that I have enjoyed with my wife since we first met in our early 20’s, there were times when I did not tell her about some of the negative speech-related incidents that I encountered. I suppose I didn’t want to give her too much cause for concern. She knew a great deal about what occurred but I held back from confiding the full extent of my anguish and disappointments.

        Things changed dramatically in 2000 when I pointed my life in a new direction. My wife became actively involved with my journey, accompanying me to every weekly support group meeting that I attended during the next five or so years (probably in excess of 150). This gave her an incredible insight into the immense difficulties that I (and other members of the group) had faced in our lives. She also became familiar with the new techniques and tools I was using and appreciated the expansive course of action that I needed to follow in order to achieve my desired aims.

        Prior to 2000, she had always been SO supportive – I can’t emphasize that too much. My decision to adopt a policy of greater openness (with her and others) greatly enhanced her understanding of the issues involved. We spoke at length about my need to challenge the disempowering beliefs that were holding me back. I explained the adverse implications of avoidance and why I needed to expand my comfort zones and do the things I always believed I could not do.

        She never begrudged the time and money that I expended while travelling 500 miles each month to attend SIX public speaking meetings (similar to Toastmasters International). She also knew the value of me enrolling for diverse seminars/workshops that enabled me to widen my self-image and interact with persons I did not know.

        She was patient while I spent lengthy periods each day on the telephone, creating fictitious enquiries so that I could consolidate my new speaking behaviours. She did likewise while I chatted for hours (by telephone and online) with other PWS in various parts of the world.

        In addition, she fully understood why I spoke to all and sundry whenever we were out shopping, walking or socializing.

        Throughout our married life, my wife had sometimes helped by arranging appointments with the doctor/dentist, or ordering meals in restaurants. I told her that I greatly appreciated her previous assistance but stressed that I now needed to assume full responsibility for ALL my speaking tasks. I felt it imperative that I explained my reasons, otherwise she may have felt rejected. After all, I was adjusting the ‘accepted’ rules of our relationship.

        If we fail to share our experiences and fears with our loved ones, then they are unlikely to be aware of how much they impact upon our lives. My wife has always loved me, unconditionally, but was aware of my frustration of not being able to fulfil my true potential. Today, she shares in the immense personal satisfaction that I derive from following my dreams and performing widely on life’s stage.

        You then wrote:

        “In my fluency class we discuss the idea for the clinician to “pseudo stutter” during the speech therapy session with the client to show that it is okay to stutter. How do you feel about this approach? Do you think if you were exposed to this approach you would have been open to it? Do you think you might have eliminated avoidances earlier?”

        I am very familiar with pseudo-stuttering. The self-help organization (whose services I enlisted in 2000) promotes a policy of assertive self-acceptance, which includes (inter alia) encourages the use of such an approach. This involved venturing out onto the streets and approaching total strangers. I found that members of the public were accepting of my use of pseudo-stuttering and, invariably, reacted in a positive manner. Maybe this was due to the fact that I maintained good eye contact throughout and, invariably, smiled. What we show to the world, it reflects back to us. 🙂 My use of humour was also well received.:-)

        The reactions that I encountered were quite unbelievable – almost, without exception, everyone was courteous. I became totally desensitised and my perceptions and beliefs about what others thought in relation to my speech became so positive. Over the years, I have enjoyed similarly positive experiences during my perambulations on three different continents. I have had some quite exhilarating chats with fellow passengers on trains, planes and at airports. 🙂

        You further enquired:

        “Do you think you might have eliminated avoidances earlier?”

        I knew virtually nothing about stuttering until 2000. During the past 13 years, I have learned as a result of my involvement with the self-help organization and online discussion groups. As soon as I became aware of what was required to change my life around, I set the wheels in motion.

        Once I decided to take the initial step, I didn’t really require any motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was (and still is) so enjoyable. We only have one life – I believe we should live it to the full.

        In your second post, you wrote:

        “Your message is so universal and has made me step back and realize that if there is something that I want to make a change in my life, I am the only one who is standing in the way of that change.”

        Wow! I’m impressed. 🙂

        Thomas Edison wrote: “If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

        I, wholeheartedly, agree. For so many years, I was oblivious to my true potential – sacrificing my aspirations for the false illusion of comfort and safety. When I took charge of my thoughts, and systematically exposed myself to risks, I created the perfect antidote for the debilitating effects of fear and self-doubt.

        Personal development occurs when we venture beyond our existing comfort zones. It requires re-drawing our mental maps so that we increase the size of our familiar areas. The only limitations are those we impose upon ourselves.

        When we achieve something that we, hitherto, regarded impossible, it causes us to reconsider our limiting beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged our advancement, we grow in stature. When we overcome hurdles, it opens our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined. When we are stretched by a new experience, we likewise grow as human beings.

        If you experience a fraction of the fun and fulfilment that I have enjoyed, you will have a permanent smile on your face. 

        You then wrote:

        “I shared your poem with a family friend (he is like a brother to me) who is person who stutters. He really enjoyed it and also enjoyed reading about all of your accomplishments, as did I. He is not someone who openly talks about the fact that he stutters. I thought sharing your story and poem with him might show him that he is not alone and it is never too late to take control and live the life you want to live.”

        I’m flattered that you chose to share my poem with him and heartened that he found it of interest. Reading about the lives of other PWS can provide an interesting insight into how they deal (or have dealt) with their respective difficulties, as well as offering reciprocal inspiration.

        It can alert us to possibilities of which we were previously unaware – in relation to therapies, techniques and opportunities that allow us to unearth our true potential. It can also open our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined, igniting belief in our own capabilities.

        Many of us now possess a far greater understanding of the issues that shape our lives. We are also better informed about how we (and others) react to the diverse challenges that confront us, and have discovered that there are exciting paths available for us to tread. But, perhaps, most importantly, we know that we need never again experience the isolation of facing those challenges alone.

        And, finally, you wrote:

        “I truly enjoyed reading your paper.”

        Lisa, may I reciprocate by saying that I have similarly derived enjoyment from our online exchanges (albeit that my comments were somewhat delayed). 🙂

        I wish you every success with your studies and future career as a speech-language pathologist.

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  35. Hi Alan,I identified very much with your paper idea.
    For me the change started when I heard DR Greg Snider in Stuttertalk saying:that every avoiding increase the fear,so I decided to stop switching words.
    When I did it,i started to stutter very very hard,I didn’t have any confidence to speak.
    It took me a lot of time(more then a year) until I gain my confidence to speak again.
    Now today,i have a lot less fear then ever.
    Sometimes,it is not so hard for me to speak and stutter,sometimes I tense very hard and it is more difficult.
    My question is what happen to you when you stopped avoiding,did you feel like me that you “opened the gates of hell”?
    Did you learned how to stop tensing your speech over the years?
    Thanks
    Ari
    geashono@gmail.com

    • Hi Ari,

      I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback.

      I’m glad that you were able to identify with the sentiments I expressed. I have, in fact, had the pleasure of meeting Dr Greg Snyder, in person, at a National Stuttering Association conference in California. We have also conversed by telephone and via a transatlantic link (when I addressed his SLP students at the University of Mississippi).

      Ari, you mention that when you initially stopped using word substitution – your speech became more dysfluent. I touched upon this very point in one of my earlier responses. Avoidances become a part of us – they shape our personality. We revert to them instinctively – the behaviour becomes so engrained. One of the consequences of avoidance is that others (including friends and family members) do not appreciate the true extent of our stuttering.

      However, when a PWS decides to become more accepting of (and open about) his/her stutter, and opts to say perceived ‘difficult’ words; the stuttering behaviour is likely to become more evident to others. Previously, the PWS would (in the absence of a better description) have ‘stuttered on the inside’, but his/her avoidance strategies would have simply made it less apparent externally.

      During recent years, I have been associated with several PWS who have adopted a policy of greater openness and non-avoidance. Some (who were previously covert) mention that others have commented that they appear to be “stuttering more than before”.

      I remember entering into correspondence with an SLP several years in which she expressed concern that a young client had “started stuttering more severely”. It transpired that he had become more accepting of his speech. When we elect not to avoid, it is quite understandable that we may initially stumble on words that we previously avoided.

      When someone embarks upon a path of non-avoidance, then his/her speech may well appear more dysfluent to the listener (particularly if it is someone who has previously heard them speak). In my opinion, this is a positive development, although the uninformed may not view it in the same light. I think it is important that parents and loved ones (as well as teachers – in the case of children) understand exactly what is happening.

      I also made reference to this point in my paper when I wrote, “Choosing to say specific words (that I had intentionally neglected for so many years) was bound to be scary. In the initial stages, it is possible that those who were familiar with my usual speaking pattern may have considered that (on occasions) I was speaking less fluently. But that didn’t bother me. You see, I had come to view my word substitutions as “stuttering on the inside” and felt that I needed to bring the matter out into the open in order to resolve the issue. Within a relatively short period of time, the apprehension receded and was replaced by a feeling of excitement. The external dysfluencies were also short-lived, as I grew in confidence.”

      Ari, with hindsight, I realize that I derived immense benefit from temporarily using a small selection of physiological tools when I decided to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards all avoidances. They gave me the reassurance and confidence to embark upon an extensive plan of action that routinely exposed me to risks – allowing me to expand my comfort zones in a wide range of challenging situations.

      I was able to continue with this venture because my initial experiences were so successful. They created the expectation of further positive outcomes. I came to accept that I possessed the resources to deal with any blocks that might occur, as well as being able to say words that had always generated an emotional charge. I found myself in such a favourable position. This was so different from the past when my speech had been such a lottery.

      Success followed success, creating an empowering mindset that enabled me to stop focusing on my speech and, instead, concentrate my efforts on the things I wanted to achieve in life.

      I should mention that I have not used any physiological techniques/tools for many years. After leaning upon them for a relatively limited period, I chose to continue my journey unaided. In some respects, I suppose that my experience may be likened to those of children who learn to ride a bicycle. In the initial stages, they will enlist the aid of stabilizers – but when they overcome their doubts and fears (and become proficient), they detach them and ride without support. That’s precisely what I’ve done.

      Ari, as you have expressed a desire to pursue the non-avoidance route, are there any resources that you might consider using in order to ensure a smoother passage?

      I wish you well for the future.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Alan,I started confronting with my speech several years ago.
        When i started it was very hard,i always remembered the last try that ended very bad.Anyway,I tried before of it , CBT and other psychological tools ,but it didnt help me.I think that i needed to taste the water to be in hard situations,to see how i can get from it alive….
        The only things that helped me was to read about others that did the same road,and two friends (one of them i met in this conference)that helped me going in the right way.
        This is the reason I love your article,it is really help in the hard moments to see that you are not the only one that passed this moments.
        Thanks
        Ari
        geashono@gmail.com

        • Hi Ari,

          Thank you for the further post.

          If you have time to peruse my earlier responses to other correspondents, I think you may find some points of interest to assist your passage along the non-avoidance route that you are desirous of travelling.

          I wish you every success in reaching the destination that you seek.

          Kindest regards

          Alan

  36. What an inspirational story! I am currently a graduate student learning about doing therapy with individuals who stutter. I have heard many times about how individuals who stutter avoid specific words and/or situations. I have never heard someone talk about the avoidance causing even more of a problem than the original stutter. This is very interesting to me. The fact that you faced your fears instead of avoiding them is awesome! What a great story that I hope to share with future clients. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hi mrclose,

      I apologize for addressing you in such an informal manner but I do not know your name. 🙂

      I’m heartened that you have chosen to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion. Receiving feedback makes all the effort worthwhile.

      You wrote:

      “I have never heard someone talk about the avoidance causing even more of a problem than the original stutter.”

      I suspect that the majority of persons who stutter have resorted to avoidance strategies at some time in their lives. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a PWS who hasn’t. 🙂 The degree of avoidance will differ from person to person (or client to client).

      I wouldn’t say that avoidance was (to use your words) “even more of a problem that the original stutter”. I would describe it as being one of the varied factors that were fuelling and reinforcing my oral struggles. Other examples of unhelpful influences were my disempowering beliefs; a restricted self-image; negative thoughts; and concerns about the views of other people.

      Once I became aware of how avoidance was impacting upon my life (and ability to communicate), I immediately took action to address the issue.

      I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  37. Hi Alan,

    Thank you for this inspiring story of your experience with avoidance. I can relate heavily to this paper, as avoidance is how I mainly deal with my stutter right now. I really liked how you said that the more we challenge ourselves the more comfortable we become in undertaking those new roles. I find that I have been challenging myself throughout my life in everything I do, other than with my speech. I had never really thought about it in terms of a challenge. I had just thought that some words are harder than others and I would rather appear fluent and avoid them than show that I am struggling. After reading your paper it is strange to think that I would push myself in life, however when something as “simple” as speaking comes along, I take the easy way out. It was nice to hear that changing these avoidance tactics were possible, even at a later stage of life.

    Was there a certain situation or event in your life or with your speech that sparked this “zero-tolerance policy” towards avoidance? Did you find that with this new mind set you acquired and the lack of anticipatory fear, your speech became more fluent when saying those once “dreaded” words? Did you ever get frustrated during the beginning of this process and want to resort back to your old avoidance techniques? If so, what kept you going?

    Looking forward to your feedback. Thanks again for this encouraging story, as I hope to use avoidance less in my own speech.

    Samantha

    • Hi Samantha,

      Thank you for choosing to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion. I note that the use of avoidance is the principal coping mechanism for dealing with your own stutter.

      Avoidance became such an integral part of my life. I automatically defaulted to such strategies whenever I was confronted by specific circumstances. When we do things repeatedly (especially over a period of years), they become part of our subconscious behaviour. It was only when I focused on my actions (by deliberately bringing them into my conscious thoughts) that I came to appreciate the true extent of my dependency. It was both enlightening and frightening. 🙂

      Today, non-avoidance is my automatic default. I never think about substituting a word or manipulating a situation.

      At first, I found it strange; it was like walking in someone else’s shoes. But the more I exposed myself to those challenging situations, the more comfortable I became in undertaking those new tasks. My self-concept (which had always imposed so many restrictions) expanded to readily accommodate the different roles. I found that I was no longer surprised by the things I was able to achieve – they simply became a natural (and even mundane) part of my everyday life.

      You then wrote:

      “It was nice to hear that changing these avoidance tactics were possible, even at a later stage of life.”

      Are you suggesting that I’m a little “long in the tooth”? 🙂 No, seriously, it’s never too late to set a new goal; you’re never too old to become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

      Although our long-established beliefs may be deeply entrenched, it is important to understand that they are NOT set in stone. The realization that I could reappraise (and adjust) my beliefs was hugely empowering and a cornerstone of the advances I have made during recent times.

      You further wrote:

      “Was there a certain situation or event in your life or with your speech that sparked this “zero-tolerance policy” towards avoidance?

      On April 1, 2000, I witnessed a PWS recounting how he had successfully embraced public speaking. It was such a defining moment that the date is indelibly imprinted upon my memory. Prior to hearing his story, I was convinced that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. A catalogue of painful experiences had fuelled my belief that I could never successfully undertake that task. Up until that point, I was resigned to the fact that my stuttering would remain an issue for the rest of my days.

      He opened my eyes to possibilities that I could never have dared imagine. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to entertain the thought (and hope) that I might be able to do something meaningful about my speech. That fortuitous encounter sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life.

      A few weeks later, I learned about the implications of avoidance, as well as gaining an understanding of the advantages of expanding our comfort zones. I immediately decided to follow my dreams. The rest is history, as they say. The past 13 years have been so exciting and fulfilling.

      I described that ‘aha moment’ in greater detail in the following paper that I contributed to the ISADS Online Conference in 2011:

      Sporting milestone helps to set my stutter on right track

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad15/papers/turning15/badmington15.html

      You also wrote:

      “Did you find that with this new mind set you acquired and the lack of anticipatory fear, your speech became more fluent when saying those once “dreaded” words? Did you ever get frustrated during the beginning of this process and want to resort back to your old avoidance techniques? If so, what kept you going?”

      The fear of failure can inhibit us from attempting something new. But, if you read the autobiography of any successful person, you will find that he/she gained strength, inspiration and greater resolve from episodes that did not go according to plan. The secret is not to view setbacks as failures but as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      Another approach that I found helpful was to focus on the positive, rather than dwell upon the negative. For example, if I struggled when ordering a cappuccino, I focused on the fact that I had purposely chosen to challenge myself by saying a word commencing with the dreaded letter “C”. I disregarded the dysfluency, viewing it as something that had simply happened.

      If I experienced difficulty when reserving a theatre ticket, I took heart from the fact that I had chosen to order by telephone, rather than taking the easier option of booking online.

      If I stumbled while purchasing petrol (gas), I focussed on the fact that I had deliberately chosen to pay (in person) at the filling station kiosk, as opposed to using my debit card at the pump. To add to the challenge, I also commenced a practice of selecting a pump with a number that held an emotional charge (namely one which I would generally avoid). 🙂

      I have never failed to find a positive (however small) in every speaking situation, regardless of the outcome. It’s simply a question of looking for it and reframing the circumstances. But, let me quickly stress that it’s not a case of denial. I accepted that the struggles had occurred but recognised the futility of dwelling upon those memories. I knew that every time I re-thought such a thought, I added fuel to it.

      By accentuating the positive (and discounting the negative), my recollections (and impact) of the latter decreased. I suspect that some who read this post may be less enthusiastic about (what may appear to be) my “Pollyannaish” approach. It’s their prerogative to think whatever they choose – I fully respect their viewpoint. We are all different. That strategy was appropriate to MY personal circumstances at that time in my life. It enabled me to successfully achieve the specific goals that I had set myself.

      I have completely relinquished my long-held stuttering mindset by readjusting my beliefs and self-image. My life is totally free of thoughts about stuttering – they are simply non-existent. Today, I simply pluck whatever words I wish from the extremities of my vocabulary and look forward to every speaking opportunity.

      Samantha, I wish you every success, whatever path you decide to travel.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  38. This was such an inspiration! I’m a graduate student in speech-language pathology, and this is definitely a story I would share with those who really need to know that avoidance is only a temporary fix, and is detrimental in the long run. This is also advice that I think everyone (including myself) needs. I’ll definitely try to challenge myself more often instead of avoiding the things that make me nervous.

    Thanks again!

    Rachel
    Idaho State University Graduate Student

    • Hi Rachel,

      I’m always delighted to receive feedback from future speech-language pathologists. I truly believe that such interaction is mutually beneficial.

      You wrote:

      “…this is definitely a story I would share with those who really need to know that avoidance is only a temporary fix…”

      I’m not sure that I would necessarily describe avoidance as a “temporary fix”. For some (if not many) it is a permanent part of their lives. When the implications were explained to me, I came to realize that it was perpetuating my stuttering behavior and imposing considerable restrictions upon my life.

      My extensive use of word substitution prevented me from saying exactly what I wanted to say; whilst an array of other strategies ensured that I either avoided (or never properly fulfilled) certain challenges and roles.

      In effect, I was accepting second best and denying myself the opportunities to achieve my full potential. In 2000, I made the decision to sample the experience of being my true self.

      But you don’t change behaviours by retaining the status quo. I knew that I would have to challenge my self-limiting beliefs in order to change the way in which I viewed myself. You see, our beliefs and self-image play such an important part. They create the script by which we act out our lives: they set the boundaries to our accomplishments. Throughout my life, everything that I did was in accordance with what I believed about myself and what I thought I was capable of doing. This personal blue-print restricted me from undertaking tasks/roles that I considered lay outside my scope.

      But not everyone who stutters has the desire to change. We are all unique. We come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems. That is why we should never attempt to compare our progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path.

      Rachel, it would be totally improper of anyone to question the motives of those PWS who continue to rely upon avoidance strategies. I did it for so many years. It’s entirely their choice. Who can blame those who wish to avoid the adverse reactions that sometimes occur simply because we are unable to communicate in a manner that is acceptable to some sections of the community? Who can blame those who wish to escape ridicule, isolation or lack of respect? Who can blame those who wish to avoid the erroneous perception that they are of a nervous disposition, uneducated or unsociable? Who can blame those who simply wish to converse with a friend; commence a relationship; or contribute to discussions at work, school, or social events?

      We should never berate ourselves for indulging in avoidance. I leaned heavily upon such strategies for more than half a century – it was the only way I knew how to cope So many people evade things that cause them fear or discomfort. Such behaviour is not exclusive to PWS.

      Each of us is responsible for the paths that we choose to tread in life. The decisions we make are personal and, invariably, relevant to our own unique circumstances. My stance against avoidance seemed appropriate for me at that particular time in my life.

      Many of us have difficulty letting go of the past. We cling onto our old self-image because we (and those around us) derive a sense of security from the familiar face that it presents. Self-concept is at the very core of our life experience – it can cause us to resist attempts to embrace change, even though it may be to our advantage to do so. The moment I relinquished my old self-image, I discovered incredible opportunities for growth.

      You also wrote:

      “I’ll definitely try to challenge myself more often instead of avoiding the things that make me nervous.”

      I have benefited immensely from acquiring an understanding of the principles (and advantages) of expanding our comfort zones. Many people (not just those who stutter) rigidly cling to the belief that they should be comfortable at all times, and avoid situations they feel may create discomfort.

      Fear is the gatekeeper to our comfort zones; it holds us back from doing things when we cannot guarantee a successful outcome. By not venturing outside our comfort zones, we eliminate risk but severely limit our personal (and professional) growth.

      If you have a moment, you may find something of interest in the following papers that I contributed to past ISAD Online Conferences:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      Rachel, I wish you every success with your studies and also your efforts to follow a more expansive lifestyle.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  39. Hi Alan,
    Thank you for sharing such a motivating story. I am a second year graduate student studying speech and language pathology. I found your paper very interesting, and really commend you on your honesty and courage. It must not have been easy for you to put aside your fears and tackle them every single day.
    I enjoyed reading about your use of visualizing. I personally used visualization in sports in high school. I remember my mother walking into one of my competitive cheerleading practices. She walked over to my coach who was beside herself because my team could not seem to hit any of our stunts. My coach gave the floor to my mom and my mom described positive visualizing. We did our entire routine as if everything was perfect. Needless to say, it became a part of our daily practice routine, and it was utilized even more when we were having rough practices. To this day, I still use visualization skills before tests, or any time I become stressed and experience negative emotions. Were there any specific times you felt visualization really helped you overcome your negative emotions? What were the other techniques you used combined with visualization to gain this success?
    Reading your personal story about avoidance was very inspiring. You inspire individuals who stutter every day with your success story (as well as individuals who do not stutter). It is amazing that you can give someone hope that if they stand up to their fears, they will be able to take control of their life. Your poem was extremely clever and was a great way for you to not only share your story, but also give you something to remind you that remaining positive and avoiding avoidance worked to help you.

    Thank you for sharing your story,
    Susie

    • Hi Susie,

      Thank you for your generous comments – it was kind of you to write in such a vein.

      I’m always heartened when I receive feedback from future SLPs. I truly believe that such exchanges are of mutual benefit.

      I was interested to learn of your success in using creative visualization. Prior to entering challenging situations, I would create an internal movie that depicted me speaking in the manner of my choice. In effect, I became the director, producer, script writer and principal actor. But, most importantly, I always created a positive outcome. 🙂

      When you imagine yourself achieving a goal in your mind, your brain accepts the experience as authentic. You will even experience emotions and sensations similar to those that would occur had you achieved that same goal in real-life. By using visualization techniques, I was able to generate images of success that allowed me to build up a pattern of positive behaviour in my subconscious mind.

      I duped it into believing that I had already successfully spoken in certain situations (or undertaken specific roles) that I had always considered lay outside my scope. As a result, I was able to reduce (and then eliminate) anticipatory fear.

      If an unhelpful movie happened to be playing inside my head (for example, one that contained negative self-talk), I simply pressed the eject button and replaced it with a positive movie that I had created. The latter provided far more enjoyable viewing. 🙂

      I found visualization useful in advance of my public speaking engagements, particularly when I first joined clubs (similar to Toastmasters International) and, subsequently, when I became active on the public speaking circuit.

      I later learned how to re-create such feelings and emotions (from real and imagined successes) by means of an NLP technique known as ‘anchoring’.

      In addition, I utilised affirmations – positive statements about myself. This further fed my subconscious with positive messages. In isolation, I don’t know if these would have had a significant impact but, combined with many other positive actions and deeds, I felt my mindset changing.

      You then wrote:

      “Your poem was extremely clever and was a great way for you to not only share your story, but also give you something to remind you that remaining positive and avoiding avoidance worked to help you.”

      Thank you – I really enjoyed writing it. Incidentally, it is listed as an official ASHA resource and is used by SLPs and PWS in many parts of the world.

      Since early childhood, my stuttering was fuelled and perpetuated by the difficulties, setbacks, pain and catalogue of lost opportunities that I encountered. I had constantly reminded myself of what I could NOT do, and/or the dire consequences of attempting to speak in certain situations. I spent a lifetime accumulating, recounting and giving far too much prominence to the memories of negative speaking experiences. As a result, my stutter flourished and thrived.

      I make no excuse for having reversed that trait. In direct contrast, I now constantly remind myself of my successes. You should never shirk from telling yourself how much you have achieved. When we savour and foster positive experiences, it intensifies our responses to them. The longer those images are held in our awareness, the more emotionally stimulating they become. When we focus on positive happenings, it lifts our mood and increases optimism, resilience and resourcefulness.

      Another spin-off (of speaking about our successes) is that it can encourage others to emulate our actions and confront obstacles in their own lives.

      Susie, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  40. Hi Alan, I wanted to thank you again for sharing your story! It is very inspirational! Your message is so universal and has made me step back and realize that if there is something that I want to make a change in my life, I am the only one who is standing in the way of that change. I shared your poem with a family friend(he is like a brother to me) who is person who stutters. He really enjoyed it and also enjoyed reading about all of your accomplishments, as did I. He is not someone who openly talks about the fact that he stutters. I thought sharing your story and poem with him might show him that he is not alone and it is never too late to take control and live the life you want to live. I am in my last year of graduate school and am enrolled in a fluency class. I truly enjoyed reading your paper. Thanks again!
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I’ve combined my reply to this post with my response to your earlier post dated October 14. (Please see above)

      Thank you, once again, for contributing to the threaded discussion.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  41. Hello Alan Badmington!

    My name is Molly Cleary and I am a graduate student from Illinois State University. (I believe you know my professor, Dr. Jean Sawyer)

    First off, I would like to say that I really love that you used your full name as a personal fluency goal. I think this task is a great example to inspire other PWS because it is so motivating and applicable to anyone. I really love your mindset. You challenge yourself on a rocky area until it’s no longer a challenge for you.

    You story is inspirational because of how proactive you are. I hope that other PWS come across you story and try to utilize the techniques you benefitted from.

    I noticed in your bio, it says that you are involved in stuttering public awareness. This is something that I am very interested in and would like to know more about. I think that if the general public was educated on stuttering, it could lead to more positive and enthusiastic attitudes about stuttering. Do you have any suggestions for me on how to get involved with stuttering public awareness?

    Thank you for sharing your story! I would love to hear back from you.
    Molly

    • Hi Molly,

      I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion.

      Incidentally, please feel free to call me “Alan” – “Mr Badmington” makes me feel a little old. 🙂

      Yes, you are correct – I do know your professor Dr. Jean Sawyer. I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance at last year’s annual ASHA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, having previously communicated by email and telephone.

      You wrote:

      “First off, I would like to say that I really love that you used your full name as a personal fluency goal. I think this task is a great example to inspire other PWS because it is so motivating and applicable to anyone. I really love your mindset. You challenge yourself on a rocky area until it’s no longer a challenge for you.”

      Thank you for your generous comments. It has been my experience that many persons who stutter encounter difficulty when saying their own name. I guess it relates to the fact that (from an early age) we are regularly called upon to identify ourselves (often in the public gaze). There is no real alternative – we can’t (generally) resort to avoidance/substitution.

      My surname (Badmington) held a highly emotional charge for many years because I struggled immensely with words commencing with the letter “B”. I would avoid saying my name unless it was absolutely essential. As a result, my fear level grew to such an extent that (when the situation demanded that I had to say it) I invariably stuttered more severely.

      That situation prevailed for most of my life– until I learned about the implications of avoidance (namely that every time we avoid something, our fear level increases). When I acquired this understanding (in 2000), I decided to address the situation. Today, I am able to tell people who I am, without any fear or thoughts of avoidance. It is SOOOOOOOOOOOOO liberating. (Incidentally, that was NOT a stutter) 🙂

      You then wrote:

      “I noticed in your bio, it says that you are involved in stuttering public awareness. This is something that I am very interested in and would like to know more about. I think that if the general public was educated on stuttering, it could lead to more positive and enthusiastic attitudes about stuttering. Do you have any suggestions for me on how to get involved with stuttering public awareness?”

      Those who were present during the ‘open microphone’ session at the annual British Stammering Association conference in London, in 2002, will have heard me speak of the need to create a greater public awareness about stuttering.

      How can we expect others to understand what is happening, or know how to react, when we suddenly block or display secondary behaviours? In many instances, even members of our own families have little knowledge about the difficulties that we experience.

      So, I told them that it was time that we did something about it? Who better to relate our stories than those of us who have encountered the problem for so long, very often since childhood?

      I decided to do just that – I felt it was time that others should become better acquainted with what it is like to be a PWS. I also saw it as a means of expanding my comfort zones, by placing myself in those challenging speaking situations that I had always avoided.

      I initially prepared for the venture by joining the Association of Speakers Clubs (similar to Toastmasters International) to improve my confidence and presentational skills. Having stuttered since childhood, I knew I had to change the belief that I could never successfully perform such a role. I needed to revise my self-image, so that I could fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming a public speaker.

      Ironically, one of my earliest external public speaking activities happened quite by chance, when a former police colleague had occasion to hear me being interviewed on a live BBC radio programme. During the exchanges, I spoke about how stuttering had impacted upon my life and career, as well describing some of the steps that I was undertaking to deal with my avoidance and communication issues. I also expressed a desire to further expand my comfort zones in other areas.

      Unknown to me, the former police officer suggested to the secretary of his local Probus Club (a country-wide network comprising retired professional and business persons) that they might invite me to speak at one of their meetings.

      The rest is history, as they say. 🙂 I spoke for one hour about my lifetime of stuttering (entitling my talk `LOST FOR WORDS’) and was overwhelmed by the degree of interest that it generated. That speech had a huge impact upon my life.

      My speaking engagements escalated dramatically as news filtered along the extremely active community grapevine. The need for speakers is insatiable – those who join the ‘circuit’ become very much in demand. I have undertaken a full programme of speaking engagements in each of the past 13 years. Virtually all the recommendations have been via word of mouth. In that time, I have addressed hundreds of organisations, while also hosting a charity concert, and undertaking after-dinner speeches. I sometimes have to pinch myself to check if I’m dreaming. 🙂

      Since 2000, I have talked openly about my stutter in newspaper articles; on television/radio and the Internet; and to a wide variety of audiences on three different continents. As a result of this exposure, I have become totally desensitised. My beliefs and perceptions of what others think about my speech are now extremely positive. Such involvement has greatly assisted my passage to self-acceptance.

      Approaching the media (or addressing groups of total strangers) can present a sizeable challenge for someone who stutters (and even those who do not stutter). But the rewards are immense. It involves moving out of your comfort zone, widening your self-image and placing yourself in new situations. If a person is not ready to explore those uncharted waters alone, he/she might feel more confident if accompanied by someone else. I’m sure that there others who might wish to share the adventure.

      Living a safe and predictable life denies us opportunities to discover just how courageous and extraordinary we are. We gain strength and confidence each time we look fear in the face. Facing up to one’s fears requires courage but the rewards are immense. Quite apart from the personal satisfaction that you will derive, you have the added incentive of knowing that your actions could be beneficial to everyone who stutters.

      I earnestly believe that the lives of many people who stutter can be significantly improved by creating a greater public understanding of our difficulties. I feel that we all have our part to play in increasing awareness – it is to our mutual benefit. I hope that you (and anyone who reads this post) may be encouraged to take up the challenge? Hopefully, others will then be inspired to follow suit.

      Molly, you may wish to check out the following article that I contributed to the British Stammering Association quarterly magazine ‘Speaking Out’ in 2002. Although the nature, and extent, of my speaking activities have expanded/varied considerably during the subsequent 11 years, the principles (and guidelines) that I outlined in that earlier piece are still relevant today. 

      ‘Increasing Public Awareness’

      http://www.stammering.org/increasingawareness.html

      The following article may also be of interest:

      ‘My commitment to speaking about stuttering is opening so many new doors’

      http://www.stammering.org/newdoors.html

      One final point – whenever I fulfil a speaking engagement, I am invariably invited to return on a future occasion. As a result, it has been necessary for me to increase my repertoire to incorporate a variety of different subjects (totally unrelated to stuttering).

      The fact I have demonstrated to myself that I am able to speak (at length) about a wide array of topics has given me an immense amount of confidence and self-belief. My diary already has entries as far ahead as December 2015. It keeps me out of mischief. 🙂 

      Molly, I wish you every success with your studies and future career as a speech-language pathologist.

      Please convey my best wishes to Dr Sawyer.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  42. Hi Alan,

    Your story is truly touching. I love how your story describes the transformation of your self-confidence, and the steps you took to get where you are today. Not only is your story motivating for PWS, but it’s also a great life lesson for any person. You have proven to me that challenging myself and stepping outside of my comfort zone can lead to a more fulfilling life.

    As a graduate SLP student, stuttering is a topic that I am less comfortable with. I am very interested in stuttering, but the ambiguity of it is extremely intimidating! Are there any tips you could share with me to help increase my comfort level? I look forward to working with PWS in the near future and would love to hear your suggestions. Also, I read in a previous comment that you received a minimal amount of therapy during your childhood. I am very curious to know your opinion on stuttering therapy.

    Thank you for being so open and sharing your story!
    Maddie

    • Hi Maddie,

      It’s always heartening to receive feedback from a future SLP. I truly believe that such interaction is to our mutual benefit. Thank you for your generous comments; it was kind of you to write in such a vein.

      You wrote:

      “Are there any tips you could share with me to help increase my comfort level?”

      I’m pleased that my paper has apparently given you the encouragement to expand your own comfort zones. I think you may find something of interest in the following paper that I contributed to the 2004 ISAD Online Conference:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      You then wrote:

      “…I read in a previous comment that you received a minimal amount of therapy during your childhood. I am very curious to know your opinion on stuttering therapy.”

      I received minimal formal speech therapy during childhood and early adolescence. As it was such a long time ago, my memories are rather distant. 🙂 To the best of my recollection, it involved reading aloud in the clinician’s room, where I was reasonably fluent. I did not receive any guidance as to how I might transfer those gains from that safe environment into the outside world. The therapists changed regularly, so there was very little continuity. It was not a particularly useful experience.

      Conversely, during recent years, I have derived considerable benefit from my involvement with self-help organizations and (to a lesser extent) online discussion groups.

      I truly believe that we all possess the resources to deal with whatever life presents. But, when left to our own devices, some of us may find it difficult to summon up sufficient courage to confront the issues that impede our progress. However, as members of self-help organizations, we can gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge and collective support that are present within those groups.

      One further point; in my view, working on the mechanics of our speech is only of limited value. In order to achieve permanent gains, I feel that we need to change our stuttering mindset. If we continue with the same lifestyle (and fail to challenge the self-limiting beliefs and narrow self-image that have shaped our life for so many years), then the gains that we experience while in a safe environment will soon be cruelly snatched away. That’s why I used a holistic approach.

      Maddie, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  43. Alan,

    Your story is very encouraging. I love that you decided to face your fears head on. I am currently a SLP graduate student and was wondering if you had any advice or tips to helping other PWS when it comes to facing their fears. Thank you for your time. I greatly appreciate it.

    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      I’m grateful to you for reading my paper and contributing to the threaded discussion.

      You wrote:

      “I love that you decided to face your fears head on.”

      I feel that many people would benefit by following the advice offered by Eleanor Roosevelt (American First Lady 1933-1945):

      “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

      You then wrote:

      “I am currently a SLP graduate student and was wondering if you had any advice or tips to helping other PWS when it comes to facing their fears.”

      That’s a difficult one to answer because (as I have opined in several of my earlier responses) we are all unique. :-) Although I may be repeating myself, I think it is important to reiterate that the paths we tread are influenced by many different factors. We come from different backgrounds/cultures; have encountered different life experiences; are affected by different doubts and fears; and possess different aspirations. We also commence from different starting lines and operate in accordance with different values and belief systems.

      As a result, individual needs will vary from client to client. There is no single cap that fits everyone. That is why I feel PWS should never attempt to compare their progress with others, nor be surprised when someone else decides to tread a contrasting or less conventional path.

      I think it would be useful for your clients to realize that fear and self-doubt are NOT exclusive to persons who stutter. Likewise, avoidance is also practised by so many other people – it is not solely the prerogative of PWS.

      I feel it would also benefit them to understand that, as long as we continue to avoid something that we fear (or which feels uncomfortable); it will continue to restrict our lives. The more we fuel a fear, its influence increases.

      Amy, over the years, I have written several ISAD Online Conference papers in which I described how the decision to confront my personal fears has impacted positively upon my life. If you wish to peruse them, I think you may gain a far better insight into the diverse strategies that I adopted.

      Here are the relevant links:

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      How I Changed My Stuttering Mindset (2005)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad8/papers/badmington8.html

      You may also wish to consider allowing your clients to have sight of the papers, so that they may, too, become conversant with the principles that I embraced. If an SLP suggests a particular course of action, I think it is important that the client is acquainted with the reason(s) and purpose of such a request. If someone understands why he/she is being asked to do something, then there is a greater likelihood that they will come on board and comply.

      As I mentioned in my current paper, I suspect that it may be difficult for persons of tender years to grasp the true implications of avoidance. The concept that we may sometimes need to experience pain (or discomfort) in order to achieve gain is not an easy one to sell or accept. 🙂 The collaboration of parents is, therefore, essential.

      Parents may wish to shield their child from pain and discomfort. But, being overly protective can hamper personal growth and even lead to further avoidances. I guess it’s a question of treading a middle path – one that encourages independence, yet does not expose clients to the risk of too many early reversals.

      I think it is important that children (and adults) are encouraged to take “small steps” in the initial stages. Attempting to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance may prove a little daunting and difficult. (I know that’s what I did but I feel that I may have been better equipped to follow such a path.) As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”. Minor successes can help us to build our confidence, thereby allowing us to attempt (and cope with) more difficult challenges.

      Clients may need reassurance if things do not quite go according to plan. I found it useful not to view setbacks as failures but as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      And, one final point. 🙂 I recognise that every PWS is unique – so there is unlikely to be an approach that suits all. However, there may well be certain aspects, or general principles, that others may wish to consider/explore. When I speak (or write) about the paths that I have trodden during recent years, I describe (in general terms) what has been successful for me. I stress that I did what I considered appropriate for my own personal circumstances. I would never be so arrogant as to suggest that others should attempt to imitate my example.

      It would be improper for us to impose our views upon anyone else. All we can do is to speak about the experiences that we have encountered or witnessed. If individuals choose to take account of what we have written, then that’s fine. It’s also OK if they choose to retain the status quo. That is entirely their prerogative. I respect the fact that each of us is responsible for the decisions we make in our lives.

      Amy, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  44. How would you recommend initially discussing the elimination of avoidance behaviors with an individual?

    • Hi eerossman,

      Please forgive me for addressing you in such an informal manner but I do not know your name. Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion.

      You wrote:

      “How would you recommend initially discussing the elimination of avoidance behaviors with an individual?”

      From the nature of your question, I am (rightly or wrongly) assuming that you are associated with the speech-language pathology profession (either as a student or as an SLP).

      I suspect that most (if not all) persons who stutter have resorted to avoidance strategies at some time in their lives. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a PWS who hasn’t. 🙂 The degree of avoidance will differ from person to person (or client to client).

      I feel it is important for a clinician to discuss the issue of avoidance with a client. However, (based upon my own experiences), I doubt that he/she would (in the first instance) be in a position to provide a true indication of his/her reliance upon such a practice.

      Avoidance was my constant companion for so many years – it accompanied me wherever I went. Each time I substituted a word, or created some other innovative ruse in an attempt to avoid/reduce my oral struggles. I was blissfully unaware that such strategies were fuelling my stuttering behaviour.

      At that time in my life, I would go to enormous lengths to conceal my communication difficulties. My principal concern was to lessen/eliminate the possibility of “external” reaction/embarrassment. What I failed to appreciate was that I was still “stuttering on the inside”.

      My avoidances had become so engrained that I automatically defaulted to such strategies whenever I was confronted by specific circumstances. When we do things repeatedly (especially over a period of years), they become part of our subconscious behaviour.

      It was only when I focused on my actions (by deliberately bringing them into my conscious thoughts) that I came to appreciate the true extent of my dependency. I discovered that avoidance had insidiously infiltrated (and were influencing) different areas of my life.

      Identifying the nature and degree of a client’s avoidances would, I feel, be an essential prerequisite if you intend to suggest how he/she may combat such issues. You need to know what avoidances are being employed before you can recommend a plan of action. 🙂

      When I initially decided to abandon my lifelong practice, it was necessary for me to utilize my conscious brain to combat any tendency to fall back on avoidance strategies. After all, that had been my automatic default program since childhood.

      As time progressed, the urge to avoid grew less and less before finally disappearing. Today, NON-AVOIDANCE has become my unconscious behaviour. I simply select whatever word(s) I wish without any thoughts (or desire) of resorting to my former practice.

      I am aware that some SLPs have already chosen to share my paper with their clients. Maybe, you might wish to consider something similar as a means of “breaking the ice”? 🙂

      You may also wish check out the writings of the late and renowned SLP Joseph Sheehan, who (inter alia) wrote – “Theory and treatment of stuttering as an approach avoidance conflict”. Links to some of his work are provided on the Stuttering Homepage at:
      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/pioneers/jsheehan/jsheehan.html

      I am aware that SLP Vivian Sisskin, a clinical faculty member at the University of Maryland (and a member of this year’s ISAD Online Conference “Ask the expert” panel) has produced a DVD about approach avoidance.

      My earlier response to Amy may also be of interest.

      And, one final point – not everyone who stutters will wish to address the issue of avoidance. That is entirely their prerogative.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  45. Hi Alan,

    My name is Cassidy and I am a second year graduate student studying speech-language pathology. Your story is a great example of how facing your fears can help you to do anything! As I was reading your paper, I was just wondering when the turning point in your life occurred that made you realize you needed to start “avoiding avoidances?” At what point in therapy would be a good time to work with a client on “avoiding avoidances?”

    Thank you for your time,

    Cassidy

    • Hi Cassidy,

      Welcome to the discussion. 🙂 It’s always heartening to receive feedback from a future SLP. I truly believe that such interaction is to our mutual benefit.

      You wrote:

      “As I was reading your paper, I was just wondering when the turning point in your life occurred that made you realize you needed to start “avoiding avoidances?”

      You’re not the first person to ask that question. :-)

      On May 6, 1954, British medical student Roger Bannister became the first person to run the mile in less than four minutes. For so many years, it had been considered impossible – many had tried and failed. Yet, the moment he overcame that mystical barrier, the mindset of athletes worldwide changed overnight. They now had evidence that it could be achieved. Before long, others were regularly fulfilling the same feat. Such is the power of belief.

      Fast forward 45 years to April 1, 2000 when I witnessed a PWS recounting how he had successfully embraced public speaking. This had a profound effect upon me. It was such a defining moment that the date is indelibly imprinted upon my memory. Prior to hearing his story, I was convinced that such a role lay outside the scope of someone who stuttered. A catalogue of painful experiences fuelled my belief that I could never successfully undertake that task. Up until that point, I was resigned to the fact that my stuttering would remain an issue for the rest of my days. Everything changed when I heard him speaking – my whole outlook changed.

      He opened my eyes to possibilities that I could never have dared imagine. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to entertain the thought (and hope) that I might be able to do something meaningful about my speech. That fortuitous encounter sowed the seeds of an empowering belief that was to subsequently change the course of my life.

      Incidentally, I wrote about that episode in the following paper that I contributed to the ISAD Online Conference in 2011:

      ‘Sporting milestone helps to set my stutter on right track’

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad15/papers/turning15/badmington15.html

      Shortly after experiencing that “aha moment”, I also learned about the implications of avoidance, as well as gaining an understanding of the advantages of expanding our comfort zones. The rest is history, as they say. 🙂 The past 13 years have been so exciting and fulfilling.

      You then wrote:

      “At what point in therapy would be a good time to work with a client on “avoiding avoidances?” “

      I touched upon this matter in my recent responses to Amy and ‘eerossman’ (which immediately precede your post). Rather than repeat those lengthy comments, may I respectfully suggest that you check out those two replies.

      In addition, it is relevant to mention that avoidance was only one of the varied factors that were fuelling and reinforcing my oral struggles. Other examples of unhelpful influences were my disempowering beliefs; a restricted self-image; negative thoughts; conflicting intentions; and concerns about the views of other people. On the plus side, I was, indeed, fortunate that I already enjoyed high self esteem; an outgoing nature; and a strong sense of humour. 🙂

      I also possessed useful interpersonal skills, as a consequence of wearing a prosthetic Masked Auditory Feedback (MAF) device known as the Edinburgh Masker (now obsolete) for more than 20 years. Although the apparatus never eliminated my stutter, it gave me the confidence to venture into situations that I might, otherwise, have avoided.

      When I refer to interpersonal skills, I’m not talking about fluency – I’m referring to the ‘art of conversation’. Quite understandably, some PWS are deficient in this area because they tend to remain on the fringes of conversation, whereas fluent” people generally acquire communication skills (progressively) from an early age. (My comments are not meant to be disparaging – I’m simply making an observation based upon my personal experiences.)

      The point I’m attempting to make is that some PWS may not be in a position to follow the exceedingly proactive approach that I adopted. It is unlikely to be suitable for everyone. We are all different. I was at a place in my life where I wanted to explore uncharted waters and experience new challenges.

      I was a relatively outgoing individual with a wide experience of life. I considered myself to be a reasonably good communicator when I didn’t stutter. 🙂

      I’ve chosen to mention the above factors because I think it is important for a clinician to be aware that clients may need to address a wide range of issues that appear unrelated to the mechanics of their speech (for example many PWS experience social anxiety).

      The acquisition of physiological techniques (which I used for a limited period), coupled with an understanding of the psychologically-related issues (such as beliefs, self-image, thoughts, self-acceptance; assertiveness, comfort zones etc– and, of course, approach avoidance) proved to be the final pieces in my personal stuttering jigsaw puzzle. 🙂 I feel that I benefited immensely from the holistic approach I implemented.

      You may find it useful to encourage your clients to take “small steps” in the initial stages. Attempting to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance may prove too daunting and difficult. (I know that’s what I did but I believe I was better equipped (than most) to follow such a path.) As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”.

      Minor triumphs can help us to build up our confidence (gradually), thus enabling us to progress to more difficult challenges. My confidence certainly increased as my life expanded to accommodate the new experiences and roles.

      Your clients may also need reassurance if things do not go according to plan. I found it useful to view setbacks as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      Our ability to tolerate short periods of discomfort is the key to successful expansion. We must not give up at the first hurdle. Like the turtle, we can only move forward when we stick our neck out. But we can’t expect to get things right every time. That’s not how we change behaviours – it’s a gradual process.

      I found it helpful to focus on what I wanted to achieve, as opposed to dwelling upon what I didn’t want to happen. But, above all, I decided to let go and have fun. Life is far too short to do otherwise. 🙂

      Although I’m not one to dwell in the past, I certainly wish that someone had apprised me of the implications of avoidance when I was younger. Maybe I wouldn’t have been prepared to address the issue at that time but, at least, I would have known that such a course of action was available to me.

      Not all your clients will have a desire to change the status quo – but I believe that you have a responsibility to discuss the matter with them. 

      Cassidy, I wish you every success with your studies and future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  46. Hi, Alan:
    Thank you for such a thrilling article! I am a second year graduate Speech Language Pathology student and the information you have shared is not only interesting but also empowering to others. I wanted to ask you: You said you sound less fluent when you use those “troubling words”, how different do you sound now than when you used to avoid?

    • Hi aleolivencia,

      I apologize for addressing you in that manner but I don’t know your name. 🙂  I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my paper.

      You wrote:

      “You said you sound less fluent when you use those “troubling words”, how different do you sound now than when you used to avoid?”

      I have completely relinquished my long-held stuttering mindset by readjusting my beliefs and self-image. My life is totally free of thoughts of about stuttering – they are simply non-existent. Neither do I experience any anticipatory fear when faced with any speaking situation. Today, I simply pluck whatever words I wish from the extremities of my vocabulary and look forward to every speaking opportunity.

      How do I sound today? Maybe, the easiest way to demonstrate that is by inviting you to view a presentation that I was invited to give at the Annual ASHA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2012. 🙂

      Someone very kindly recorded it on her cell phone and posted it to YouTube. Although the quality is not exceptional, it is possible to view/hear the message that I conveyed. The couple of minor breaks/joins do not create too much distraction.

      During the initial couple of minutes, you may note my apparent preoccupation with the lectern. This was due to the fact that the technical team failed to comply with my request to provide certain equipment. Fortunately (and with the welcome assistance of two exceedingly helpful ASHA members), I was able to construct a make-shift lectern (held together, and supported by, several lengths of adhesive tape) at the eleventh hour. 🙂

      However, my concern about its stability caused me to direct a few worried glances in that direction at the commencement of the talk. I’m delighted to report that my fears were quickly allayed, thus allowing me to focus my proper attention on the presentation. 🙂

      Here is the YouTube link:

      http://youtu.be/FXxDZPO88IQ

      Thank you, once again, for participating in the threaded discussion. I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  47. Dear Mr Badmington,

    Your story is very inspirational. It means a lot to me personally because I stuttered all through childhood and I appreciate the ability to speak more than the average person. I met a wonderful speech therapist when I was younger who told me to do exactly what you talked about! Thank you for your message.

    “The thoughts that occupy our minds prior to engaging in a speaking situation are hugely significant. What we believe about ourselves”.

    This part of your article is the most inspirational to me because I think people need to change the way they think about their speech (this applies to all disorders) and who they are in general if they want to improve their lives. People seek therapy to improve their quality of life, but it must start with them! This also reminds me of my 2nd grade teacher who told me “Success is 90% attitude”. But that’s a random tangent.

    I am a 2nd year graduate student studying speech language pathologist and based on my observation and experience thus far, speaking freely appears to be very effective in therapy for people who stutter. Also, on a personal note, avoiding avoidance was the key to my free speech.

    Thank you again. I will remember this.

    Sincerely,
    Wa Yang

    Idaho State University Graduate Student

    • Hi Wa Yang (I hope I have addressed you correctly).

      Thank you for generous comments. I’m always heartened to receive feedback from a future speech-language pathologist. The fact that you have a history of stuttering makes this exchange even more interesting. 🙂 

      You wrote:

      “…because I stuttered all through childhood and I appreciate the ability to speak more than the average person.”

      That’s exactly how I feel. When, in 2000, I embarked upon a more expansive lifestyle, I joined three different public speaking clubs (similar to Toastmasters International). This necessitated travelling 500 miles each month to attend six separate meetings. I ALWAYS made myself available to give a prepared or impromptu speech, as well as volunteering for some kind of office/role in which I was required to speak in front of the group. Other members were far less enthusiastic about jumping to their feet.

      I also enrolled for drama classes, together with a wide-range of other workshops/seminars that allowed me to speak in front of total strangers. Having discovered rather late in life that the human voice is such a wondrous thing, I now use it at EVERY opportunity. If the opportunities aren’t obvious, I simply create them. :-)

      Today, I no longer view speaking experiences as challenges – they have become an integral part of my everyday existence. I don’t have to think about conversing with others, or push myself in anyway, it just occurs naturally. I simply adore socializing.

      Nowadays, I approach speaking situations with an air of excitement. When I began my transformational journey in 2000, I actively made a point of seeking out persons with whom to converse. Today, I don’t have to make any effort – it happens automatically. I habitually speak to anyone I encounter (in the street, in the coffee shop; at the supermarket; on the train; at the dentists’/doctors’/opticians’; in fact anywhere). 🙂

      A quick calculation suggests that today (to my best of my recollection), I’ve engaged in conversation with no less than 14 total strangers, plus in excess of 20 people that I know (with varying degrees of familiarity). On reflection – there were probably many more. 🙂

      During the past 13 years, I have undertaken an extensive programme of talks embracing three different continents. My diary of engagement already extends as far ahead as December 2013. Having allowed my fear of speaking to impose restrictions upon my life for more than 50 years, I’m intent on making up for lost time. 🙂 Public speaking (and, indeed, speaking in general) is an integral and exciting part of my life.

      You further wrote:

      “I think people need to change the way they think about their speech (this applies to all disorders) and who they are in general if they want to improve their lives.”

      I feel it is so important to appreciate that stuttering is not just about the mechanics of speech. It involves so much more than struggling to force the words out of our mouths. The way in which we speak is influenced by so many different factors. It’s about the beliefs that we have developed over the years; our self-image; the way in which we react with people; the emotional baggage that we have accumulated; and our reluctance to place ourselves in challenging situations because we cannot be certain of the outcome.

      When I decided to work on various aspects of my life, I found that my speech improved as a by-product of that holistic approach.

      I wish you every success with your studies, your future career and your life.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

      • Hi Wa Yang,

        ERRATUM

        In my earlier response, I wrote:

        “My diary of engagement already extends as far ahead as December 2013.”

        What I meant to say was:

        “My diary of engagement already extends as far ahead as December 2015”.

        Apologies for the typo. 🙂

        Kindest regards

        Alan

  48. Dear Mr. Badmington,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! It was a very interesting read and quite motivating as well. Your positive attitude is quite admirable and I think your message goes beyond helping people who stutter. It is beneficial for people from all walks of life. I’m currently taking a course titled, Disorders of Fluency in my graduate program and we have been discussing the temperaments of individuals. Temperament or rather, our inborn style of behavior, can be a key factor in our speech and our day to day interactions. Do you have any recommendations for people who might have a more sensitive temperament and also stutter?

    Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Warm Regards,

    Lauren Landre

    • Hi Lauren,

      Thank you, so much, for taking the time to read my paper and participate in the threaded discussion. I’m always heartened to receive feedback from a future speech-language pathologist – I truly believe that such exchanges are to our mutual benefit.

      You wrote:

      “I’m currently taking a course titled, Disorders of Fluency in my graduate program and we have been discussing the temperaments of individuals. Temperament or rather, our inborn style of behavior, can be a key factor in our speech and our day to day interactions. Do you have any recommendations for people who might have a more sensitive temperament and also stutter?”

      Although I have addressed cognitive/emotional issues in my own life, I know very little about the subject of sensitivity. However, my good friend John Harrison (one of the earliest members of the National Stuttering Project (now known as the National Stuttering Association) makes reference (in his own book entitled ‘Redefining Stuttering: What the struggle to speak is all about’) to the following resource:

      The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. By Elaine N Aron
      Published by Broadway Books.

      Under the heading “Books you’ll find helpful” (pages 600-601), John writes:

      “In her doctoral theses research, NSA member Libby Oyler showed that children revealed significantly greater sensitivity and vulnerability that the group of non-stuttering children. Now you can read more about highly sensitive people in a ground breaking book by psychologist Elaine Aron. Aron’s book defines a personality trait carried by 15-20% of the US population. The trait is manifested as a highly sensitive nervous system that is present from birth and probably inherited, much like other personality traits or physical features. People possessing this trait are much more sensitive to nearly everything they experience, from the sensory characteristics of objects and events to the subtleties of inner feelings and relationships between people. Aron offers suggestions for contending with a highly sensitive nature so that the individual concerned can flourish (and survive) in a society that often fails to appreciate this trait, particularly in boys and men”

      I hope that you will find this of interest.

      Incidentally, John’s book (to which he kindly invited me to contribute several chapters), may be downloaded free via the following link:

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/Infostuttering/Harrison/redefining-stuttering.pdf

      Despite having a limited knowledge of the topic of sensitivity, I genuinely feel that I possess empathetic traits. I suspect that this may well be as a result of the diverse difficulties I have encountered in my life.

      Laurent, I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful regarding the specific point that you raised. However, you may wish to check out the following papers that I have contributed to past ISAD Online Conferences. They touch upon such matters as beliefs; self-image; fears; comfort zones; and personal development

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)
      #
      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      Lauren, I wish you every success with your studies and your future career.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  49. Hi Alan, my name is Alan, and I’m a 2nd year SLP graduate student. Thanks for sharing our story, and your presentation video (very eloquent)! I thought your article was very informative, and I only hope my future clients can be as confident and brave as you are.

    I want to ask you, not about your avoidance behaviors that you’ve struggled with and conquered, but about your previous escape behaviors (if any). We learned that besides avoidance, escape was also another major secondary characteristic that many PWS do. So, I was wondering if you did so as well?

    Did you do any of the behaviors of eye-blinking, word changes, talking around words, etc. or did you try to avoid in order to not have to use escape? If you did use these escaping behaviors, were you able to conquer them as well, using the same mindset of zero-tolerance for escaping?

    Thank you again for the inspiration!

    Warm regards,

    Alan Bui

    • Hi Alan,

      May I first congratulate your parents on the choice of your name. It’s obvious that have very good taste. 🙂

      Welcome to the threaded discussion. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read (and respond to) my paper.

      You wrote:

      “I thought your article was very informative, and I only hope my future clients can be as confident and brave as you are.”

      Thank you for your generous comments. However, I don’t consider myself to be particularly brave. I simply arrived at a stage in my life where my mindset and behaviours were not serving me particularly well – so I decided to change them and live a more expansive lifestyle. 

      I was, indeed, fortunate that I already enjoyed high self esteem; an outgoing nature; and a strong sense of humour.

      I also possessed useful interpersonal skills, as a consequence of wearing a prosthetic Masked Auditory Feedback (MAF) device known as the Edinburgh Masker (now obsolete) for more than 20 years. Although the apparatus never eliminated my stutter, it gave me the confidence to venture into situations that I might, otherwise, have avoided.

      When I refer to interpersonal skills, I’m not talking about fluency – I’m referring to the ‘art of conversation’. Quite understandably, some PWS are deficient in this area because they tend to remain on the fringes of conversation, whereas fluent” people generally acquire communication skills (progressively) from an early age. (My comments are not meant to be disparaging – I’m simply making an observation based upon my personal experiences.)

      The point I’m attempting to make is that some PWS may not be in a position to follow the exceedingly proactive approach that I adopted. It is unlikely to be suitable for everyone. We are all different. I wanted to explore uncharted waters and experience new challenges.

      I was a relatively outgoing individual with a wide experience of life. I considered myself to be a reasonably good communicator when I didn’t stutter. 🙂

      I’ve chosen to mention the above factors because I think it is important for a future clinician to be aware that clients may need to address other issues that appear unrelated to the mechanics of their speech (for example many PWS experience social anxiety).

      The acquisition of physiological techniques (which I used for a limited period), coupled with an understanding of the psychologically-related issues (such as beliefs, self-image, thoughts, self-acceptance; assertiveness, comfort zones etc– and, of course, approach avoidance) proved to be the final pieces in my personal stuttering jigsaw puzzle. I feel that I benefited immensely from the holistic approach I implemented.

      Once I decided to take the initial step (to deal with my avoidance and other stuttering issues), I didn’t really require any motivation. You see, I was fulfilling roles that I had always dreamed of undertaking; I was speaking in situations that I had principally avoided; I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say. It was (and still is) so enjoyable. We only have one life – I truly believe that we should live it to the full. 

      You may find it useful to encourage your clients to take “small steps” in the initial stages. Attempting to adopt a policy of total non-avoidance may prove too daunting and difficult. (I know that’s what I did but I believe I was better equipped (than most) to follow such a path.) As the saying goes – “Great oaks from little acorns grow”.

      Minor triumphs can help us to build up our confidence (gradually), thus enabling us to progress to more difficult challenges. My confidence certainly increased as my life expanded to accommodate the new experiences and roles.

      Your clients may also need reassurance if things do not go according to plan. I found it useful to view setbacks as learning experiences – stepping stones to future success.

      You also wrote:

      “Did you do any of the behaviors of eye-blinking, word changes, talking around words, etc. or did you try to avoid in order to not have to use escape? If you did use these escaping behaviors, were you able to conquer them as well, using the same mindset of zero-tolerance for escaping?”

      Yes, at times during my life, I displayed secondary behaviours such as tension, tremors, head jerking, closing the eyes, coughing, humming, finger tapping, word substitution, eye blinking, tongue-thrusting etc etc, as well as a heavy reliance upon word substitution and circumlocution.

      During recent years, I have completely relinquished my long-held stuttering mindset by readjusting my beliefs and self-image. My life is totally free of thoughts of about stuttering – they are simply non-existent. Neither do I experience any anticipatory fear (nor consider using avoidance strategies) when faced with any speaking situation. Today, I simply pluck whatever words I wish from the extremities of my vocabulary and look forward to every speaking opportunity. As a consequence of working on various aspects of my life, my speech has improved as a by-product.

      And, finally, in response to your question, I confirm that I no longer experience any secondary behaviours.

      Alan, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan

  50. Hello Alan,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. My name is Chris and I am currently in my first year of graduate school, where I am taking a class on fluency. We have been learning a lot about counseling, and how important it is to understand how a person who stutters feels about their stuttering. You described how you viewed your avoidance behaviors as “stuttering on the inside”, and that it needed to come out to be resolved. Does that mean you would describe stuttering more in terms of the emotional/behavioral impact on an individual rather than describing how fluent someones language is?

    Sincerely,

    Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      I am most grateful to you for taking the time to read my paper and provide feedback.

      You wrote:

      “You described how you viewed your avoidance behaviors as “stuttering on the inside”, and that it needed to come out to be resolved. Does that mean you would describe stuttering more in terms of the emotional/behavioral impact on an individual rather than describing how fluent someones language is?”

      For the majority of my life, I held the self-limiting belief that I would experience difficulty when saying words commencing with 13 specific letters. In order to avoid the possibility of stuttering/embarrassment, I would avoid using them at all costs. Effectively, half of the alphabet lay outside my scope. When one of the words that held an emotional charge loomed large on the horizon, I developed the expertise to be able to provide instant synonyms commencing with letters that I perceived to be easier to say. I became a “walking thesaurus”. 

      As the result of my constant word substitution, I was (in many instances) able to conceal the true extent of my problem. However, I very rarely said the words of my choice – I succumbed to using words that I considered to be inferior. I accepted second best.

      Whilst it was a relief not to reveal my stutter, I inevitably felt frustrated because I knew that I possessed the intellect to use more appropriate (and/or superior) vocabulary. Although there may not have been any visible signs of dysfluency, I felt that the accompanying inner turmoil (of constantly searching for “easier” words) equated to “stuttering on the inside”.

      I feel it is important to appreciate that stuttering is not just about the mechanics of speech. It involves so much more than struggling to force the words out of our mouths. The way in which we speak is influenced by so many different factors. It’s about the beliefs that we have developed over the years; our self-image; the way in which we react with people; the emotional baggage that we have accumulated; and our reluctance to place ourselves in challenging situations because we cannot be certain of the outcome. In my view, it is holistic in nature.

      You may wish to check out the following papers that I have written about the subject:

      “Stuttering is not just a speech problem” (2001)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/Infostuttering/badmington.pdf

      STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives (2003)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

      How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering (2009)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

      How I Changed My Stuttering Mindset (2005)

      http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad8/papers/badmington8.html

      Chris, I wish you every success with your studies.

      Kindest regards

      Alan