CSUN program helps students, community reduce stuttering

Christiaan Patterson

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Devin Billingsley receives voice techniques for his stutter from therapist Jessica Li. Photo Credit: Christiaan Patterson / Staff Reporter

The Acadamy Award winning film, “The King’s Speech” allowed audiences a glimpse into the struggles that stutterers. Such as  those King of England faced on a daily basis.

Stuttering is a communication disorder and at CSUN it is treated regularly at the Speech Center.

Since 1960, the center, located in Monterey Hall, has offered treatment for both students and community members with communication disorders such as aphasia, stuttering, voice orders and articulation.

Patients receiving therapy attend sessions either once a week for one hour or twice a week for 30 minutes. All sessions last 12 weeks during each semester.

According to Public Medical Health, stuttering is a speech disorder in which words and sounds are drawn out or repeated and cause pauses in speech fluency.

Boys are more likely than girls to develop a stutter and findings suggest genes play the biggest factor.

The site states that symptoms of stuttering can affect a person with throat or jaw tention may have restrictions on the amount of airflow during normal speech. These problems are accelerated by social stress, which can cause blocks in speech.

Early signs may include repeating certain letters before finishing the word or if severe, may continue speaking a word over and over.

“Stuttering can be debilitating because they can’t get a full thought out,” Janice Woolsey, clinic coordinator, said. “A person physically freezes up and can’t say it and the pressure to speak makes it worse.”

She said treatment for stuttering takes dedication as well as acceptance on behalf of the patient for better results.

Woolsey added that the first step to improving speech is having the patient accept the problem, similar to any other issue that requires self-admittance. From there, therapists attempt to teach techniques that allow a stutterer the chance to slow down speech and smooth it out.

“(At the center), we teach (to) prolong sound or how to stutter gently,” Woolsey said. “It’s easier for harder sounds and is softer which eases muscle tightening.”

The center offers treatment for children and adults that is tailored to their needs.

Therapists are usually students in graduate programs studying communication disorders and are supervised by Gail Wilson Lew, a teacher and recovered stutterer.

She has been at the center since 2001, assisting future therapists in the treatment of stutter patients in an effort to use her own experience to assist others.

“For me, the more fear of stuttering I had, the worse it got,” Lew said. “I couldn’t order food at restaurants or answer phones. Now, I don’t think about my stutter, I don’t have the fear anymore. The rewarding part of the job is inspiring students to get interested and excited to work with people who stutter.”

Lew said there is no cure for stutterers, but with continued therapy and personal motivation, a patient can become a recovered stutterer.

Devin Billingsley, 27, has been attending speech therapy session at the center for two and half years in an effort to overcome stuttering.

During the weekly, hour long meetings with a therapist, Billingsley works on different techniques such as being put on the spot to tell a story or answering random phone calls, to avoid blocks or repeated letters.

“Speech therapy has really helped me to enjoy talking again,” Billingsley said. “When you’re in a constant state of fear about communicating with other people, it really cuts out important aspects of your life.”

Due to persistent therapy sessions, Billingsley attributes the promotion he received at work to learning these methods for better management over stuttering.

“It definitely hasn’t cured my stutter, but that’s not the point,” Billingsley said. “It has made me more comfortable with my stuttering and it has given me tools which I can basically use to express myself.”