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Overcoming Stuttering Blocks
Oh, the dreaded stuttering block.
You try so hard to get that word out, but the harder you push, the more the word gets stuck.
How do you get out of that block?
The surprising answer:
You stay in it.
In this post I will teach you how to move forward through those painful stuttering blocks, those silent stutters.
What is a stuttering block?
There are three main types of overt stuttering behaviors: repetitions, prolongations, and blocks.
Re-re-repetitions are, perhaps the most common. Proooooolongations, not as much. And blocks, where we push and push and push and no sound or air comes out, those are prevalent to varying degrees from person to person.
But many will agree they are the most painful type of stutter.
They are painful because when we are stuck, trapped, helpless, It feels like we will never get unstuck.
Maybe our face contorts. Our secondary behaviors are in full swing, including heavy blinking, finger tapping, jaw jerking, head nodding… We are trying anything and everything to get out!
Now, as Scott Yaruss so eloquently writes in this comment during the Ask the Experts segment of the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference, pushing is a natural reaction to something stuck (Yaruss, 2016).
But when it comes to blocks, pushing doesn’t work.
In order to get through blocks, we must respond differently than we have been responding. Instead of trying to escape, we have to stay in that moment of stuttering
The only way out of the stuttering block is through it
Like any difficult endeveur (childbirth comes to mind), the only way out of a stuttering block, is through the stuttering block. There is no escape.
Many experts in the field of stuttering have proclaimed that one must stutter one’s way out of stuttering (e.g. Sheehan, 1998 ).
This sentiment echos a particular approach to stuttering treatment, with embracing stuttering at its core. This approach argues that our very fear of stuttering fuels the pain that stuttering causes. By allowing ourselves to stutter, we are reducing our fear of stuttering. Without fear of stuttering, we don’t avoid doing the things we want to do and saying the things we want to say. We are free! (Sheehan, 1998 )
The concept of stuttering your way out of stuttering may sound counterintuitive, especially to the stutterer who believes successful stuttering management necessarily involves fluency!
But, let’s face it:
Pushing the word out fluently isn’t working. And the opposite of pushing is not pushing.
What do you mean, not pushing?
Instead of pushing and pushing and pushing and getting nowhere, we are going to get out of the stuttering block by staying in the stuttering block.
But we’re not just continuing to block.
We are moving forward, through the block.
If we don’t try to say the word fluently, but instead allow ourselves to stutter on the word, we won’t be stuck. We won’t be saying the word fluently, but we will be moving forward.
And we’d be cutting back on tension. A lot.
That’s the key here:
We want to create some forward-moving speech. Because feeling stuck just isn’t cutting it anymore.
Now, you might be thinking:
“I don’t know how to stutter!”
And, if that’s the case, you can get on that sound you are blocking on in a voluntary stutter.
There are many kinds of voluntary stutters you can use. You could even make up your own! I’ve outlined two of the most common types of voluntary stutters you can use to help get unstuck and reduce tension when trapped in a block.
The key to moving through stuttering blocks and reducing tension is to get on the sound of the word we are blocking on.
The easiest way to do this, in my opinion, is through a voluntary prolongation. This technique was introduced by Joseph Sheehan, one of the pioneers of the field of stuttering. I’ve learned from Dr. Yarus (personal communication, Feb. 20, 2019), that Sheehan wrote little about this tequnique, though his clients have reported its use.
All you do is get on the sound you are about to stutter on. And stay there.
So, let’s say you are blocking on your name: Lenny.
Used to, you tried to say your name, and felt like you were strangling, straining, no sound was coming out. You felt embarrassed because people thought you didn’t even know your name.
In practicing the Sheehan prolongations, you just get on that /l/ sound. And hold onto it, stay in that moment of stuttering. Sit in it. Stay in it. There’s no rush to get out of it.
And then, you’ll feel something. I can’t describe it, except to say you will eventually know that you can easily release the word.
And you do.
Now, this may sound long and ugly the first several times you practice. And that’s ok! It won’t be as long or seem as ugly to your ears as you practice more and more open stuttering.
In fact, part of the benefit of this exercise is practicing not giving in to time pressure, practicing telling yourself that you don’t need to rush and push the word out.
And it helps us become desensitized to hearing ourselves stutter.
The Iowa Bounce
The other option to move through a stuttering block. is to make a voluntary repetition. This technique is affectionately called the Iowa bounce, as it was created at the University of Iowa by Wendel Johnson, another pioneer in the field of stuttering (Bobrick, 1995).
So, let’s say you are blocking on your name: Jenny.
Instead of struggling and straining, you get on that first sound and repeat it until, again, you can easily release the stutter and continue moving forward.
Again, the key takeaway is:
Instead of trying – and failing – to push the word out fluently, you are going to allow yourself to stutter on the word. Stay in the stutter for as long as possible. And release it when you are ready.
Which strategy is for me?
Using voluntary stuttering that closely matches one’s real stuttering has been linked to more benefits than using voluntary stuttering that does not match one’s real stuttering ( Byrd, Gkalitsiou, Donaher, Stergiou, 2016 ).
But you may be thinking:
Catherine, I don’t know how I stutter!
That’s probably the case for lots of you out there.
So, pick one type of voluntary stutter – the bounce or the prolongation
– and try it out. Then try the other one. See which one you like best.
The important thing is that you are releasing tension, that you are moving forward, that you are making yourself unstuck.
The bottom line:
Use these voluntary stutters as a means of releasing tension, of openly stuttering, of getting on the sound and moving through a block.
Not as a means of changing your stutter into an easy pattern.
The long-term picture
You won’t always need to voluntarily stutter to get through blocks.
Once you start allowing yourself to openly stutter more and more, you’ll find that you don’t block anymore.
And that makes me think:
I don’t think blocking is real stuttering.
Stuttering blocks are a result of trying not to stutter. It’s a secondary behavior, an avoidance behavior, like our blinking and tapping and jaw jerking.
By allowing ourselves to stutter, we don’t find ourselves in blocks anymore.
We find ourselves stuttering our way out of stuttering!
Articles related to moving out of stuttering blocks:
Yaruss, J. S. (2016, October 10). Re: How to change stuttering from “no sound”(silent blocks) to audible(repetition and prolongations)? [Forum comment]. Retrieved from http://isad.isastutter.org/how-to-change-stuttering-from-no-soundsilent-blocks-to-audiblerepetition-and-prolongations/