From Stuttering to Fluency to Teaching Public Speaking: How One Man “Gave Back” to Help Others After Receiving HCRI Stuttering Therapy

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A moving story about how one man, John Huff, with a life-long inhibiting speech condition learned to overcome severe stuttering and speak fluently. Then, he gave back by launching a public speaking forum at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to help others improve their speech and overcome public speaking fears.

For more than 30 years, John Huff’s stuttering inhibited his ability to excel in school, find meaningful work and enjoy a social life. Feelings of overwhelming frustration and embarrassment filled this Cherry Hill, New Jersey resident’s days. He avoided situations that required him to communicate with others, an ability that most people take for granted. Because of his stuttering, Huff didn’t finish college and chose a job that didn’t require a lot of talking.

Huff’s story is not unusual. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are 66 million people worldwide and three million in the U.S who suffer from stuttering. Stuttering occurs when speech muscles inappropriately contract and “jump out of control” during attempts to speak. The speech condition can severely damage self-esteem and inhibit people’s ability to reach their full potential.

“Stuttering is deeply misunderstood, with many believing that persons who stutter are less intelligent or have mental problems. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., founder of the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – http://www.stuttering.org) a leader in stuttering research and treatment innovation. “People who stutter are like everyone else; they just have a physical condition that gets in the way of their ability to talk fluently.”

HCRI research with more than 5,700 people who stutter has proven that stuttering is a physical condition that can be successfully treated with scientifically based therapy that helps people retrain speech muscles to produce fluent speech. Huff heard about HCRI and signed up to participate in the non-profit Institute’s 12-day intensive stuttering therapy program held at HCRI’s Roanoke, Virginia center. He had reached a point in his career where he had a chance to take on a management role with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Yet, this advancement opportunity required ongoing interaction with hospital staff, as well as the need to lead meetings and give presentations.

“I was terrified. I would have other people speak for me in meetings. I was head of the team, but couldn’t communicate on the department’s behalf,” Huff explained. “One day I was scheduled to give a speech in front of 60 people and experienced uncontrollable fear and stress-related chest pains when I was called up to the stage. I couldn’t give my talk and had to have someone else do it. It was humiliating and the turning point when I realized I needed serious outside help.”

Before deciding on HCRI stuttering treatment, Huff did his research. “I looked into nearly all the stuttering programs out there. I liked HCRI’s approach because it is different. It is based on scientific research and is intensive. You have to give 100 percent to make it work.” he added.

There are a wide range of approaches to treat stuttering, with the most common being weekly visits with a speech therapist designed to lessen speech disfluencies. “This non-systematic approach is effective among 25 percent of those treated,” according to Webster. “In addition, stuttering devices have shown to work successfully in only 20 to 25 percent of cases.”

In contrast, research shows 93 percent of HCRI clients attain normal fluency after participating in HCRI’s 12-day intensive stuttering program. Follow-up studies indicate 70 to 75% retain fluency for the long term.

With encouragement from his employer, Huff went through HCRI stuttering treatment in September 2008. CHOP covered the cost of treatment and gave him time off to participate. During the second week of therapy, he called his wife. “It was the first time I was able to talk with her over the phone and not stutter,” Huff said. “Then I called my mom. She cried when she heard me speaking fluently.”

Since participating in HCRI stuttering therapy, Huff has continued to speak fluently and has given back by reaching out to help others at CHOP improve their speech. He started an employee group to help people hone their speaking abilities and build confidence. It became so popular that CHOP incorporated Huff’s public speaking group into its employee training curriculum.

“I no longer feel the weight of my stuttering. It is pleasure to tell my story, encourage others and motivate them to achieve what they want in life,” Huff added.

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute, founded in 1972 by Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., has grown into a world-leading center for the investigation and treatment of stuttering. The 501 (c) (3) nonprofit institute is unique from other stuttering organizations in that work focuses on developing scientifically based treatment methods, as well as administering stuttering therapy.

HCRI offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually and has treated more than 5,700 people from across the U.S. and 23 other countries. Clients include John Stossel of Fox News; Arthur Blank, cofounder of Home Depot; and Annie Glenn, wife of senator and astronaut John Glenn. HCRI is located at 7851 Enon Drive, Roanoke, Virginia, 24019. For more information, visit http://www.stuttering.org. Contact HCRI at admin(at)stuttering(dot)org or 540-265-5650.

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JULES SOWDER

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