For Seth Frey, there is one friend who will never notice his stuttering. “My dog still doesn’t know when I stutter,” he says.
The poignant observation draws a sympathetic laugh from fellow stutterers and students of speech pathology attending the Successful Stuttering Management Program, which is conducted every summer at the Department of Communication Disorders at Eastern Washington University.
There is no cure for stuttering, although many children who stutter will stop on their own. However, as adolescence approaches, stuttering progresses and almost all people who stutter into the teenage years will stutter for the rest of their lives.
And for Frey and eight other stutterers at the workshop, life has not been easy.
Imagine being afraid of talking on the phone with a stranger, going on a job interview, or even ordering fast-food at a drive-up window. And then there is the self-doubt that every stutterer must deal with.
“There’s actually a lot of pain,” said Neil Morjaria, who came all the way from Kenya to attend the workshop. “We feel like there is something we lack.”
Over the course of the three-week workshop, the students relate tales of frustration about living a lifetime of uncommunicated feelings and desires.
“I don’t feel that many people know the real me,” said Lisa Lildholdt. She says her stuttering has colored even the simplest aspects of her relationships with friends.
“You can’t explain why you didn’t call them on their birthday,” she says quietly.
The workshop helps both the stutterers and the student clinicians develop stuttering management techniques, the first of which is coming to terms with stuttering, and “advertising” that fact to non-stutterers. One unique aspect of the course is that students go out in the field, to places like malls, movie theaters and restaurants.
As the students move from the classroom to real-life situations, they are watched by Dr. Dorvan Breitenfeldt, an instructor in communications disorders at EWU. He is also a stutterer.
“Therapy has failed so frequently in the past because it has been conducted in the therapy room,” said Breitenfeldt. “In the field, the students must talk at least 50 times in 3 hours.”
For many of the students, Breitenfeldt and other returning workshop students are the first “successful” stutterers they have ever met.
“We understand that he’s been through what we’ve been through,” said Morjaria. “Knowing that he was once like us, and what he’s like now. He knows the pain we’ve been through.”
Breitenfeldt stresses to the students that stuttering is cyclical, and while students will have periods of “high fluency,” there will be times that stuttering is unavoidable. Breitenfeldt wants the students to know there is nothing wrong with these cycles.
For many students, it is a big departure from the way they have been treated in the past.
“All my previous speech therapists have stressed the point of not stuttering,” said Morjaria. But in Breitenfeldt’s class, stuttering is expected, and accepted.
“At first I didn’t like it because I was ashamed of my stuttering,” said Morjaria. “But now I know that it is OK to stutter, you just have to manage the stutter.”
xxxx For more information about the Successful Stuttering Management Program at EWU, call Dr. Dorvan Breitenfeldt at (509) 359-2302.