According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, ” Over one million people stutter. Boys are five times more likely to stutter than girls. Most childhood stutters will not continue to stutter into adulthood.” To help understanding what stuttering is and the types of help that are available I have interviewed Dr. Fredric Levine.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a Northwestern U. trained Ph.D. in psychology who likes challenging conventional wisdom and had a 30 year long academic career at Harvard and lesser places, during which time several of my favorite research articles, including ones on stuttering, were rejected by professional journals.”
What is stuttering?
“Stuttering is an involuntary blockage or repetition of sounds that disrupts speech, usually with real stress on the stutterer. People who stutter usually dread speaking in public, and often become introverted in order to avoid embarrassments.”
What type of help is available for someone who is stuttering?
“There is help. Fewer people are having problems with stuttering now because we’re paying less attention to them while they are children. Formerly, children who stuttered were corrected, which added to their stress level and promoted more stuttering. Among the best treatments for children who stutter is to ignore the stuttering and allow them to mature. In the vast majority of cases, they will develop normal speech.”
“I devised a treatment, called, “Contingent Negative Practice” for those whose stuttering became a personal and social problem. The treatment involved the following: 1) Not fighting a stutter–if you stutter, ride with it, because fighting stuttering adds tension and makes it worse; 2) During a private time with the family, if the client stutters, have him repeat, as exactly as possible, the stutter (or block) for 30 seconds, contingent upon the event of stuttering. It is aversive to repeat the stutter, and kids will dislike doing it, and should be warned that although they will hate doing it, following through with this will have an effect. After having clinical success with this treatment, I did outcome research, with Rafael Ramirez and Evelyn Sandeen, during which we recorded dinner conversations in the family. We found that Contingent Negative Practice caused a profound decline in frequency of stuttering with time. This research was rejected by professional journals.”
“The research was based on the observation that the harder we try to suppress a response, the stronger it gets. For example, what do we think of when we try not to think of a pink alligator with purple poker dots.? I’ll bet we think of a pink ……… People who stutter, we found, amplified their problem by fighting a stutter. In fact, the teenager with the most profound stuttering problem we saw, when asked to voluntarily stutter while reading, read fluently. Indeed, during Rafael Ramirez’s doctoral orals, his whole examining committee started stuttering when they asked him questions. We laughed and thought it added evidence to our theory.”
What advice would you like to leave for someone who has a stuttering problem?
“If someone stutters, s/he (usually he), should relax and accept the stutter. Stuttering doesn’t make them bad people. If it makes others uncomfortable, tough, that’s their problem. If the person stuttering is sufficiently bothered, s/he may try Contingent Negative Practice, which, as explained above, involves repeating the stutter contingent upon its occurrence in a private setting. Give it two weeks to work.”
Thank you Dr. Fredric Levine for the interview. For more information about Dr. Fredric Levine check out his website at drfredlevine.com.