As a person who stutters and graduate student in stuttering, I am struggling with finding a scientific explanation for a somewhat abstract phenomenon that I observe in both myself and to some extent also in many other PWS. I myself frequently experience that the variability of stuttering can be strongly dependent on attentional (e.g., monitoring) factors. For example, when I silently rehearse or simply think about a particular word, syllable or phoneme, it seems to become more difficult to produce it fluently. When this occurs in more challenging situations, stuttering is almost certain to happen in my case (and in some other PWS too, as I verified).
An extreme example of this is when I participated a while ago in a pilot-experiment about learning Japanese, more specifically learning the /tt/ sound (basically holding the /t/ somewhat longer). When I was specifically focusing on correctly producing this sound, I found myself heavily blocking, so much that I simply had to stop proceeding with the experiment as I couldn’t produce any word involving the /tt/ sound when it occurred at the beginning of the syllable. This is remarkable as normally I am a very mild PWS, where even SLP’s and other PWS have many times difficulty to note (or sometimes just don’t believe) that I stutter.
The opposite, i.e., attempting to distract from thinking about a word or verbal message often reduces stuttering for me. The distraction can basically be anything as long as my focus is not anymore on the specific word or letter.
I am aware of the literature that suggests that speaking while carrying out a secondary (non-linguistic related) task can have a beneficial effect on stuttering; I also know of several theoretical accounts that posit (excessive) speech/language monitoring and lack of speech automaticity as a factor in stuttering. Still I am not sure why simply awareness of sounds and letters triggers my stuttering. Is this perhaps a psychological issue (e.g., I once stuttered on a word involving a /t/ sound and subsequently every time I think about this sound I stutter again)? And is there any way to go around this problem?
It is maybe interesting to mention that when I focus on the color or timbre of the sound (mostly a vowel), stuttering as well as any anticipatory feeling of stuttering seems to disappear completely regardless of the situation. In this case, there is a slight stretching out of the vowel as well (prolongation); but, importantly, just prolonging or speaking slower doesn’t quite produce the same effect in my case, suggesting that, it may be the attentional component that causes the effect, not the slowing down (although for many PWS the latter increases fluency as well).
As a final note, it may be interesting to mention that I started stuttering relatively late (about when I was 8 years old) after being treated for a speech articulation problem. Not sure of that could somehow have been a trigger for developing stuttering, but in light of my experience it would make some sense.
Does anyone have any experience with this issue (both from a personal, clinical or scientific perspective)?
I will provide here my email address as well, as other people not listed here as professionals (and thus not able to respond in this thread) may have valuable input as well.
Thank you for any insights,
Robert van de Vorst
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