The National Stuttering Association Convention in Cleveland, Ohio is over. Approximately 600 people attended. Most of the participants were adults and children who stutter and their families. There were also clinicians who stutter and a few like me – clinicians who were there because we specialize in treating people who stutter. It was really a wonderful gathering, a tribute to the NSA and all the wonderful people who made it happen.
The NSA convention is fun, interesting, and a place for both people who stutter and clinicians to meet and make friends with others who don’t want stuttering to negatively affect the lives of people who stutter. At this year’s convention there were also tones of that old controversy between those who think fluent speech should be the goal of people who stutter and those who believe that the goal of people who stutter should be to be open about their stuttering and avoid avoiding speaking.
The controversy was stimulated when Sander Flaum, a person who stutters and the CEO of Flaum Partners addressed the 1st general session. Sander Flaum has many credits to his name including books and numerous articles on marketing, management and leadership, as well as a podcast on leadership that can be found at the itunes store. In short, Sander is a man with a highly successful career who has achieved so much.
Today Sander virtually does not stutter when he speaks, but it was not always that way. He described the effects that stuttering had on him as a youth and how it affected his career. The message that he wanted to get across is that a person can make great achievements both career wise and in speaking fluently through determination and hard work. The intent was clearly motivational. However, many people took offense with his belief that people who stutter can speak fluently, albeit as the result of hard work and continued practice.
I believe that the reason that so many people who still stutter, and clinicians were upset by Mr. Flaum’s message is that their experience in achieving fluency has been unsuccessful. In fact, one clinician commented that only “treatment virgins” believe that fluency is possible.
This argument between the stuttering modification and fluency shaping camps seems never ending. However, it will no longer be relevant when people stop looking at stuttering as a speech disorder characterized by the blocks, repetitions, etc. Instead they will see that stuttering is the result of the way that the brain functions during speech production. When this happens, the frustration felt when trying to get speech out fluently by using artificial techniques that have nothing to do with the principles of normal speech production will no longer be experienced. The belief that the only alternative to chasing fluency is to accept stuttering as a lifelong condition will be unnecessary. The alternative perspective that fluency is the natural outcome of a normally functioning speech production system will be universally understood. It will be known that people who stutter can make internal changes that lead to effortless fluent speech. I know from experience that this is possible. It is the message that I went to the NSA to make heard.