Alan Badmington: Voice of Hope

Alan’s story appears in every  International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) online conference from  2002-2011. It’s a story that deserves repeating.  Alan applies concepts of change with remarkable results. He is a living, breathing example of a person who began stuttering at age 3, reached a time in his life when he committed to change, and then engineered his own total transformation. “I had achieved increased fluency in a controlled environment,” writes Alan,”...[next] I had to deal with personal issues involving communication with others...I drew up a plan of action...I needed to do certain things over and over again until the behaviors became familiar ....” (2003) Alan is a voice of hope for our children.

All  of Alan’s ISAD papers, his poem (9), and his comic book story for children. Have a consistent message:


            “If you are in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out

            Remember, every stutterer was once consumed with doubt

            So don’t hold back - just take that step and seek those pastures new

Embrace your future with a smile, success is there for YOU.” (2003)

“Changing the Words Around” (2004) is a masterful children’s story written by Alan Badmington and illustrated by Chris Badgett-Richards. (8)  The main character is a hedgehog who copes with stuttering by avoiding sounds that are too difficult to say. Alan himself recalls avoiding half the alphabet. “I could not use words commencing with the letters ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘f’, ‘g’, ‘j’, ‘k’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘s’, ‘t’, and ‘v’... and “became a ‘walking Thesaurus’”. (2005) Alan used word substitution, replacing  words that were easier to say for the more difficult ones. “I did not appreciate the harmful implications of such behavior. No-one had ever explained that each time I avoided a word or letter, the fear level increased.” (2006) Alan’s hedgehog orders slightly burnt toast to avoid saying the /m/ in muffin, despite lots of mental rehearsal and the best intentions. He betrays a friend and delays emergency home repair help because of sound fears that escalate into automatic, uncontrollable, word avoidance. The effect this avoidance has upon others leaves him feeling guilty and creates a limited image of himself and his potential.

“As someone who commenced stuttering in early childhood, I developed many negative beliefs about my speech behavior. As I experienced continuing difficulties throughout my life, these beliefs became engrained...I learned avoidance techniques in relation to words, sounds and situations. I perceived anything that challenged my limited self-image as a threat to my well being.” (2003) See  “How I Changed My Stuttering Mindset” (2005) for a lengthy list.

Recognizing and then challenging avoidance is a central message in Alan’s writings. “Each time we avoid something, we strengthen its influence over us. We can evade for so long, but the time will come when the situation demands that we have to say a specific word, or speak in a particular situation. When that happened, I found that my fear level had increased so much that I stuttered more severely.” (2007) Alan applied “new techniques to the physical side” of speech to improve fluency. (2009) Then, “[I] adopted a holistic approach, and working on different areas of my life, my speech improved as a by-product.” (2009)  

I wondered what science might underlie Alan’s story. Stuttering is “a condition that is heterogeneous in its symptoms and behavioral patterns.” (1)  The onset and development of stuttering is different from person to person  “with respect to predominant disfluencies (e.g., prolongations vs. repetitions), onset characteristics (e.g., sudden vs. gradual), language skills (e.g., precocious vs. delayed), and relative profiles of strength/weakness (e.g., weak phonology/weak language skills vs. weak phonology/strong language skills)…” (2)  Could it be that Mr. Badmington had a stuttering subtype that was particularly responsive to his treatment approach?

Alan’s belief that stuttering is a multifaceted disorder (3) may be consistent with the scientific  theory that language is “a learned skill, based on a functional language system (FLS) that is distributed over many parts of the human brain.” (4) If successful communication requires many areas of the brain to work “in parallel, redundantly, in different anatomical sites” (5), then treatment addressing multiple aspects would seem to make sense. I may need to throw away my colorful plastic model of the brain highlighting how different parts affect behavior. It is outdated, akin to the ancient theory of phrenology. (6) “Neophrenological theories do not claim that a bump on a person’s skull can tell you that he is honest. However, they claim that activity confined to a particular part of the brain regulates a complex aspect of behavior.” (7) I view this as good news. It means our children can work to overcome stuttering in multiple ways.

Let’s make Alan’s achievements more than a testimonial. Let’s think about Alan’s story in light of the idea that there is no single disorder called “stuttering” but rather different subtypes.First, we do not know exactly the type, frequency, or severity of Alan’s disfluency. Would that have made difference? Second we do not know details about the onset of his stuttering other than it began at age 3 and he received early therapy but  “did not recall any major difficulties until…11 years” of age. (2005) Was early intervention somewhat effective, perhaps establishing early neural foundations for fluency? Third, how might Alan’s exceptional language skills have contributed to his stuttering and to his recovery?. He “edited several magazines; held secretaryship of numerous organizations; [was] advisor to a fictional crime series on British television…written humorous verse and other poetry…[wrote slogans] to win hundreds of prizes…[and wrote] speeches/poems for use by other people.” (2008) These questions might reveal important information; perhaps the subtype of stuttering Alan experienced might have predicted the kind of stuttering treatment he found effective.

We could consider the role of temperament as well. So as not to make a long article even longer, I will simply wonder aloud if Alan was gifted with an outgoing personality. Maybe this  amplified the devastating effect that stuttering had upon his quality of life. For example, he deplored being demoted to a desk job. Also, his role model was a public speaker. “…April 1, 2000 when I witnessed a PWS recounting how he had won several speaking trophies in formal competition…was such a defining moment that the date is indelibly imprinted on my memory.” (2011) I mean really - how many of us want to be a public speaker! Embracing a new vision of himself as a public speaker, drawing upon years of challenges he must have overcome as a police officer, and embarking on a rigorous action plan, Alan “discovered incredible opportunities for growth.” (2011)

I am truly grateful to Alan Badmington for being a voice of hope. I was thrilled to read that his ideas were preserved in a series of video-recordings at Arkansas State University. (2010) Yet, testimonials are not enough for speech language pathologists (SLPs) who now must work in a climate of Evidence Based Practice. There must be some science supporting treatment decisions. I recently read, once again, that an SLP practicing fluency therapy must know all of the current treatment options and for whom they will be most effective. I find this professorial advice intimidating and unrealistic. Until research clarifies stuttering subtypes and then prescribes corresponding treatments, how do clinicians know for sure ‘what works’ for any given individual? In addition, it seems to me humanly impossible to implement every possible treatment adequately. It seems more appropriate that I explain my bias’ about stuttering, support that bias with research articles, and outline my preferred therapy methods. Referring to other SLPs as needed demonstrates my respect for their specialized competence.

At the end of “Changing the Words Around”,  the main character buys muffins at a 2-for-1 sale, one for himself and one for his best friend.   The time had come: a decision to change, a vision of success, a rigorous processes of challenging fear, creative and persistent follow through, and just perhaps, a stuttering subtype responsive to this plan of action.

“One day, I decided, enough was enough
I made myself promise, (although it was tough)
To say what I wanted, whatever the letter
At times, I still struggled, but I felt so much better. “ (8)

(1)  Carol Hubbard Seery et. al., (2007)  Subtyping Stuttering II : Contributions from Language and Temperament,  NIH Public Access p. 14 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2082140/
(2)  Ibid. p. 2
(3)  John Harrison (2002) ”How I Recovered from Stuttering”  http://www.masteringstuttering.com/recovery-stuttering.htm
(4)  Philip Lieberman (2002) Human Language and Our Reptilian Brain, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 1
(5)  Ibid. p. 6
(6)  Phrenology: “The study of the shape and protuberances of the skull, based on the now discredited belief that they reveal character and mental capacity.” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/phrenology  
(7)  Lieberman, P.  p. 23
(8)  Alan Badmington (2004) “Changing the Words Around” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/badmington7/badmington17.html

Alan Badmington’s International Stuttering Awareness Day articles

2003:  STEP OUTSIDE: Why expanding comfort zones can improve our stuttering and lead to more fulfilling lives” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad6/papers/badmington6.html

2005: “How I changed My Stuttering Mindset” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad8/papers/badmington8.html

2006: “Technology: A friend or foe of someone who stutters?” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad9/papers/badmington9.html

2007: “TWO THINGS I WISH I'D KNOWN ABOUT STUTTERING WHEN I WAS YOUNGER” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad10/papers/messages10/badmington10.html

2008: “Thanks To My Stutter, I'm Never Lost For Words” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad11/papers/gift11/badmington11.html

2009: “How Beliefs and Self-image Can Influence Stuttering” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad12/papers/badmington12.html

2010: “Helping tomorrow's therapists gain a greater insight into stuttering” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad13/papers/tales13/badmington13.html

 2011: “Sporting Milestone Helps To Set My Stutter On Right Track” http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad15/papers/turning15/badmington15.html

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