Today, we have the pleasure to share the story of Carlo Aniballi, who spoke exclusively to Stuttering Society about his journey dealing with stuttering, his thoughts on speech therapy techniques and possible causes of stuttering, and what helps him to improve the flow of his speech.
Text Author: Carlo Aniballi
Like most stutterers, my speech impediment was detected around the age of five and six. As this was the beginning of my school years, I always considered it as one of the possible contributing factors, something that I will discuss further in this paper.
Since I was a lively talker at home, my father determined that I was too excited and was thinking faster than I could speak, consequently he instructed me to calm down and start over slowly. Needless to say, this only increased my awareness and I began to consciously choose words and conversations that were less likely to entrap me; factor number two.
Outside of the home, communication revolved around school situations which I kept to a minimum, never volunteering to answer a question even when I knew the answer, occasionally I would blurt out the answer without pre-announcement but this was excessively risky as the other person would usually ask me to repeat it which was one of the worst possible scenarios. Factor number three, when communication is expected, the stress multiplies exponentially.
Over time, various situations arose with different levels of difficulty and I found myself devising methods to overcome them. The first and most important obstacle was to introduce myself to an individual or a group. Every time we had a new teacher or classmate, we were asked to stand-up and state our name and surname; I have never found a successful method to overcome this situation and to this day it remains an omnipresent fear in my life.
At an early age, I learned to forcefully speak words that I had difficulty with, this is a partially successful method that consists in forcing the air out of your chest to ensure that the words are not stuttered. The downside is that the neck muscles are excessively, and visibility strained, and the tone noticeably changed in an unnatural way. Generally, this is sufficient to ensure an acceptable level of continuity, but in particularly stressful situations, can cause you to run out of air mid-sentence, or close the air passage completely resulting in no words coming out. This “tension method” solution has probably moulded me for the better part of my life, both physically and mentally.
Around the age of 7, my mother, on the advice of the school, decided to take me to a speech therapist. Initially their hopes were high that the problem could be resolved with a few techniques and a couple of sessions, but I had already understood that they were barking up the wrong tree. When no results became apparent, my mother would tell me that she too had stuttered as a child and that it would go away naturally with time. While this never materialized, it was an additional factor to consider; genetics.
Over the years I have consulted with numerous speech therapists that have tried to help me, mainly by teaching me breathing and relaxation techniques. Quite frankly I am very disappointed with the profession, I have always felt that I know a lot more about the problem than the lot of them combined. During my early sessions, I would convince myself that if I followed their instructions and implemented their techniques I would surely “heal”. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and while I may have picked up a few tips along the way, none of them came even close to understanding the problem, never mind solving it.
As with all stutterers, I have spent countless hours trying to figure out a reason why I stutter and what, if anything can be done about it. Non-stutterers of course have no idea of the severity and impact this has on the affected person. Stuttering has influenced almost every aspect of my life, choice of schools, job selection and even partners. While I have managed with time and experience to manage and handle the impediment better, I have never found a durable solution that has actually broken away at this mountain.
To be honest, I actually know what the problem is, and looking at all the factors, I’m quite certain that a lot of stutterers would agree with me; fear and confidence.
Since my mother was, and my son is a stutterer, I am quite sure that genetics do transmit some kind of pre-disposition to stuttering. But since none of my siblings or other relatives do, this is not the only factor. Another factor which I believed to be influential but which I have re-evaluated with time, was the initial reaction from people which I thought might have increased my self-consciousness. However, since I noticed the same pattern emerging in my son at around the same age, I was very attentive not to repeat the mistakes I believed my parents and teachers had made, without much difference in results.
So why fear and confidence? I’m guessing all stutterers speak perfectly fluently and freely in certain situations; when alone, talking to a pet, or shouting at the top of your voice on a deserted beach. I’ve tried enacting a difficult situation in a safe environment (alone), even by choosing the most difficult words I would never dream of using in a real-time situation and the results are astounding. My speech is clear, fluent and confident with the tone I choose; but why can’t I repeat this performance in the presence of others? There have been times when I have surprised myself and got-on-a-roll while speaking with someone, but as soon as I realised what I was doing, the fear and certainty of faltering crept in, and I soon returned to my normal pattern, almost a safe-zone.
As a continuation of my “alone” experiment, I repeated the same conversation in a safe environment, but this time I imagined that it was real, and the other person was actually there. The result highlighted just how powerful my conditioning was; even though I knew it was an experiment, I no longer had full control of my speech as I had a moment earlier with a different mindset.
So what can be done? I often compare this situation to smokers, who in some way have given-up on finding a solution but naively believe that somehow, they will one day wake-up and no longer smoke, of course this doesn’t happen and they end-up smoking till the end. The other two options are the one I am currently following which is gradual improvement through tranquillity and confidence, usually brought on by time, or alternatively a direct confrontation which I have always dreamed of. The first option does help a little since I am now, at the age of 52, fairly in control of my speech. This option though is definitely a far “second-best”, and nowhere near what I have always wanted, which is to overcome my fear of speaking freely. So why haven’t I ever tried option 2? Honestly, I don’t have the strength and confidence to risk an all-out and I have never met a therapist/hypnotist or councillor who had this either. I guess I’m hoping to wake up one day and find it, but the idea that this might never happen is starting to creep-in.
I know that this is entirely a phycological mind-bender. Why is it that I find it almost impossible to say more than two words to my father, while I can converse almost freely for hours with my children? At some stage of my life, I triggered this subconscious pattern which I am not able to undo.