Most of you know that I was a severe stutterer for the first 35 years of my life before I found a stuttering treatment that worked for me. That included grade school, high school and college. While I was getting my M.A. in Communicative Disorders, I still stuttered. I remember being the example for other students when I took my class in Introduction to Fluency Disorders. I was also in the Fluency Clinic every Thursday, talking about my stuttering with other college students that stuttered. Unfortunately, we were not learning how not to stutter – just how to talk about our feelings, which helped some, I guess.
My first job as a speech pathologist was at a Rehabilitation Hospital. I worked on a team with patients who had lost their communicative abilities due to a stroke or a brain trauma. When I did speech therapy with these patients, I hardly stuttered. I think it was because they, because of their disability, were hardly able to understand me, much less be concerned about the way I talked. So it was a non-threatening experience.
But, every Friday, the rehab team had a staffing of their patients in a conference room sitting around a big mahogany table. The staffing included physical therapy, occupational therapy, the physician, the family members of the patient and me – the speech pathologist. For each patient, I had to read my progress notes of that week to the staff members around the table. I waited as each member discussed their therapy with the patient getting more and more nervous as it came nearer my time to speak. When the doctor called “speech therapy” I had a 30 second block. I just couldn’t get anything out. The rest of the team just stared at me. The doctor actually said, “Mark, just take your time and read your notes”.
It felt like a freight train was bearing down the tracks toward me as I struggled to speak! Needless to say, I was in panic mode and extremely embarrassed. Later, I found out that the physical therapist had spoken to the head of the hospital and tried to get me fired. After all, I was the SPEECH therapist!
At about that same time another speech pathologist told me about an intensive stuttering treatment program that had just been developed for severe stutterers. I jumped at the chance and took a plane to Pennsylvania, where the program had been developed. After a week of intensive stuttering therapy, I was able to speak fluently to department store clerks and graduate students at the university. After one year, I was asked to be on a TV show back in California to talk about my experience with stuttering during a half hour interview. Although I was nervous the night before, after I began speaking, I had no problem and really enjoyed the experience. The moderator said that he would never have guessed that I used to stutter.
After that success, I spoke at many conferences, trained school speech pathologists in workshops and opened my own private practice to help other people who stutter with the same intensive treatment that worked for me. I continue to help others who stutter with the latest research developed treatment programs that are available.