National Center for Stuttering (NCS)

About: The National Center for Stuttering, founded by Dr. Martin Schwartz in New York City, practices airflow therapy.

Evidence: Studies of airflow therapy at other speech clinics found the treatment to be effective.

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 4 reviews
 by Paul Goldstein
Some Limited Successes For a Short While

I attended Martin Schwartz’s week-long airflow program in Manhattan during the summer of 1977.  I had become excited after reading his 1976 book Stuttering Solved, and hearing about his appearance on national TV.  Some months earlier I had attended a fluency program in Chicago that had left me with a profoundly negative impression [see my review:  “An Operant-Based Fluency Program That I Failed”], and I was really eager to try something else to lift my dampened spirits.

Two others took the program at the same time as I did.  My stuttering was very severe, but one of the other clients had stuttering even worse than mine.  In his office, Dr. Schwartz first heard us all speak (and stutter) briefly, and then issued his opinion:  “Pieces of cake!  You’re all pieces of cake.”  He told us that treating us would be very easy.

Sure enough, it was.  Within 3 minutes, ALL of us were talking ABSOLUTELY fluently using the simple airflow method that Dr. Schwartz had taught us (within 30 seconds).

“Wow!”, I thought.  “This is so amazing!  I have been stuttering for 20 years, and now I’m totally cured in just a matter of minutes!”  I didn’t actually say those words, but I sure felt them! “Such a simple technique – I wish I had known of this 20 years ago!”

We all spoke fluently in Dr. Schwartz’s office for the rest of the day.  We even made some phone calls from his office to random businesses that Dr. Schwartz selected, and maintained our fluency.

But outside his clinic, my new amazing technique just didn’t work.  The other two clients had much more success than I did, in practicing their new technique on the streets of Manhattan and inside shops.

For the rest of the week, I could use the airflow method whenever I was inside Dr. Schwartz’s clinic, but not outside his clinic.

I returned home to Massachusetts very disfluent.  But I practiced the assigned exercises daily, and slowly I improved.  A month later I returned to Chicago for graduate studies, and my speech progress continued.  Ten weeks post-therapy, I was able to speak fluently in about a third of my situations, and had improved speech (reduced disfluency) in another third of my situations.

But then disaster struck.  Three months post-therapy, I rushed back to Massachusetts to attend the funeral of a close relative.  My speech completely collapsed, and my stuttering became worse than it had been before therapy.

During the succeeding months, back in Chicago, I tried to resume progress with the airflow technique, but I just couldn’t achieve the same success that I had before.  I was sending tapes to Dr. Schwartz’s office each week as required, with my exercises.  Those exercises were always very fluent, but my “real-life” speech was not.  Within a half-year post-therapy, I decided that the program was of no further use to me.

 by John Breslin

I went to Dr Schwartz 30 years ago. I had stuttered as far back as i could remember. School was a nightmare. Ordering food at a restaurant was impossible so much so that my mother would have to order for me or i didnt eat. I attended his class and it changed my life. Airflow technique worked for me!

 by Torsten Jess

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.

 by Peter Louw
This approach has changed my life

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.

Peter Louw
Cape Town, South Africa