About: The National Center for Stuttering, founded by Dr. Martin Schwartz in New York City, practices airflow therapy.
Evidence: Studies o airflow therapy at other speech clinics found the treatment to be effective.
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I went to Dr. Schwartz probably 30 years ago or so. The Airflow technique didn't really help because I was so high strung. Yet, found/stumbled across another method that I discovered on my own which includes 1. purposely blocking/stuttering but on a far lesser scale, 2. then employing a soft approach on the first syllable and the talking normally. I practiced throughout the day and it did carryover. Yet, I still faltered at times. But what really assured my success was the Thiamin discovery. It was a Godsend as it just helps me stay in control like I have never experienced. I really don't have to use my technique as much any more as a result. I know the Thiamin helps because when I stop taking it, in a few days and up to a week I start to breakdown again. All in all, thank you Dr. Schwartz.
Course done: Initial intensive workshop in January 1981 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Two refresher workshops some years afterwards.
My experiences: Sadly Dr Schwartz has retired and no longer conducts workshops, though his course is still provided in CD format as self-help treatment. Even though he has retired I thought that I should write this as it may help others. It would be such a shame if, when Dr Schwartz and his institute are no longer around, his ideas disappear from the stuttering scene.
The initial workshop lasted for three days, and a large part was aimed at explaining Dr Schwartz's view of stuttering. According to him, stuttering is caused by stress-induced vocal-fold blocking. These laryngeal blocks, however, can be avoided by his Passive Airflow Technique, which aims at preventing the block by: 1) Slowing the first syllable or syllables 2) emitting a very slight, passive flow of air which should slip from the mouth before speaking, so as to open the vocal folds. In the workshop we were taught this technique.
At the end of the workshop Dr Schwartz organised a support group, consisting of the attendees, which would meet every two weeks. We were also given manuals and daily exercise programs to reinforce the technique, the idea being that we would record some of our exercises on audio cassette and send it every two weeks to Dr Schwartz's institute where it would be evaluated by qualified therapists and returned with comments and new assignments. This follow-up period was for two years. The manual provided guidelines for gradually applying the technique in real-life situations and for using it long-term (maintenance). Stress management was/is an important part of this approach.
I'm happy to say that all this worked very well for me. I attended most of the support group meetings, did my daily hour-long exercises faithfully and sent in my cassettes. I certainly made progress and in fact I've been using the Airflow Technique now for more than 30 years. I've also written a book about my experiences entitled Coping With Stuttering (1996). For me, this approach has changed my life. However, I know that others have not had the same success, and that some have complained bitterly about various aspects of the approach. Then again it seems that all stuttering approaches have their critics as well as supporters - that comes with the territory.
Though I'm pleased with this approach, I must add that it was a journey and not always easy. In my experience, stuttering therapy for adults is a long-term effort, requiring a lot of work, dedication and time which not everybody has. I have had terrible relapses, which Dr Schwartz ascribes to subconscious backlashes (where the "stuttering subconscious" tries to reinstate the status quo). Then also a correspondence course, such as we had, has its limitations, though this was not Dr Schwartz's fault - this was due to the fact that we were in South Africa, far away from Dr Schwartz's center in New York. Apart from the support groups which he created in our country, and the cassette mailings, no ongoing support could be provided. Though the New York institute did have a helpline, it would at the time have been very expensive to phone them from South Africa for advice.
In conclusion I hope that some other stuttering institution will learn from Dr Schwartz's ideas, applying them in their practices. Dr Schwartz's views on stuttering and its treatment have much value, but currently there is no vehicle to teach them to stutterers, apart from Dr Schwartz's self-help CD course. I am not sure if a self-help course is sufficient. A real intensive Airflow course is what is needed, together with long-term follow-ups and support, and I can only hope that someone will continue what Dr Schwartz has started. PS recently he has been involved with the vitamin B1 (thiamine) experiments, based on the hypothesis that the vocal-cord blocks result from malfunctioning basal ganglia that do not properly coordinate the vocal cords as they are supposed to. These experiments show some promise.
Cape Town, South Africa