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It's best if we tackle our phobias head-on

The blockbuster movie, "The King's Speech," was particularly fascinating to me, a retired speech pathologist. In fact, I found it to be a most revealing commentary on one of society's least understood, sometimes ignored and seldom discussed issues -- stuttering.

It must be noted that beyond the featured speech itself, the king's teacher did nothing to reverse or ameliorate the king's stuttering/stammering difficulties. His speech problem remained unchanged throughout his life, highlighting the fact that stuttering can be a major problem creating profound and harmful situations in the life of the person who stutters or stammers. It's important to note that both difficulties, stuttering and stammering, have the same root cause.

For more than 45 years I've been privileged to work with many who have suffered through the trauma of stuttering and with hundreds of post-operative cancer patients who have required assistance to relearn to speak. More to the point are the deep, personal insights that I have gained as one who overcome a stuttering/stammering problem.

To me, the question became: How do I confront my stuttering and, more importantly, how do I overcome it? Discovering all that could be known about the causes of stuttering was critically important. I chose a rather extreme approach and became a speech pathologist.

Scientists have attempted to explain the specific pathology of the human nervous system that causes people to stutter or stammer. The severity of stuttering varies in each case. However, unless the problem is related to a non-remedial learning disability or physical impairment, some level of improvement can be expected. Often, with close attention to more precise articulation, carefully controlled breathing and, in appropriate situations, with the help of a speech pathologist, it's possible to relieve many of the stutterer's difficulties.

Stuttering is associated with a fear of speaking, and one's fear of speaking is exacerbated by the stutterer's fear of stuttering. Here, we are dealing with two phobias. As each phobia reinforces the other, a continuing circular dilemma is created. If this pattern were to continue uninterrupted, one's life could be seriously and adversely affected.

In my personal experience, I realized that to achieve some measure of control, both phobias had to be addressed. In many stutterers who work to improve their speaking, results may be dramatic, and though neither phobia may be completely eliminated, any level of improvement in a recovering stutterer is cause for celebration.

When a stuttering problem begins to manifest itself, it's important to have a professional assess the degree of involvement early on and take remedial measures to correct the problem. Usually, outcomes are quite satisfactory.

Often, the answer to overcoming one's fear is to confront it head-on. When one falls off a horse, one should remount; when one is afraid to fly, the answer is to book another flight and fly again. It has been my experience that this is the precise technique to be applied to the phobia of stuttering.

One who stutters needs to understand that the root of the problem is based in fear -- fear of speaking and fear of stuttering. To a stutterer, I would say: Don't be afraid of stuttering, confront your fears, be confident, concentrate, articulate, breathe, speak often and persevere.

Salvatore P. Cardinale, a retired speech pathologist who lives in Snyder, overcame his own stuttering problem and helped others.

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