Fluency Enhancing Techniques: Easy Onset

For many years, speech therapy has offered "fluency enhancing techniques" as one way to manage stuttering. Fluency enhancing techniques ('speech tools') are physical behaviors that the Person Who Stutters (PWS) is expected to practice rather religiously in order to establish a new way of talking that involves less struggle and more fluency. The premise is that reactions to the moment of stuttering - sound repeititions, prolongations, secondary behaviors - are learned and can therefore be unlearned. The block itself remains a mystery. That moment when the vocal cords refuse to vibrate - the precise moment of the stuttering block - is not learned, according to speech language pathologists. Current research suggests that this moment is neurologically based. Speech therapy addresses the myriad of behaviors a person does in response to the moment of the block.

Learning a new behavior means replacing an old behavior. In the case of stuttering, this means substituting more relaxed speech for tense speech. We continue to appreciate that stuttering is a puzzling involuntary motor movement. So, while the PWS learns a more relaxed way of speaking, we accept those times when speech is still stuttered. The speech language pathologist trains fluency enhancing techniques and at the same time measures the frequency and quality of this ongoing stuttering. The severity of stuttering should diminish as the PWS uses fluency enhancing skills more often and with more ease. Kay Monkhouse, Ph.D. describes this learning process in an Intenational Stuttering Awareness Day 2007 paper, http://mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/monkhouse/monkhouse7.html.

Easy Onsets: In my practice, I call this Slow & Gentle Beginning Sounds. It is sometimes called Easy Relaxed Approach Smooth Movement, Light Contact, Easy Speech...The point here is that the PWS learns to talk by saying the beginning sounds of words with very relaxed and slowed articulation. Why? Because it is at the beginning of words that most stuttering takes place. In addition, rushing through the articulation of sounds is a common behavior of PWS. First, it is practiced in a variety of single words, especially words beginning with sounds that the PWS fears he will stutter on. Next, it is practiced in phrases, where only the first word of a phrase is pronounced gently and slowly. Finally, phrases are combined to create sentences and it is at the phrase boundaries that this slow/gentle pronunciation is used. Stuttering is most likely to occur at the beginning of phrases because this is where there is often a pause in voicing. Starting up the voice, initiating vocalization, is a key problem for PWS. While practicing this way of speaking can sound very stilted at first, I have heard many adult PWS master this speaking style in a way that sounds quite natural. For others, their speech may sound different from fluent speakers, who tend to speak very rapidly and without consious awareness. However, the new style of speech provides a greater sense of control and greater fluency than previously known.

I will continue with additional techniques in future posts.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.