Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stuttering on TV Mission Accomplished

The presentation of stuttering on TV is like the unfortunate Mission Accomplished banner of the Iraq war. The proclaimed victories over stuttering turn out to be just slightly more complicated. But you wouldnt have thought so watching TV shows on CNN, Oprah, or Jauch (a German talk-show). My message: Making a treatment decision based on these shows is foolish. And if you are a parent, plainly irresponsible. Unfortunately, that's exactly how most people choose their treatment. I have to confess that I am also drawn by such TV interviews, and my rational mind needs to fight the emotional manipulation which goes as follows.

a) Create an emotionally painful situation for the audience
- cutie shot of a child that stutters turning in desperation to a female who has this look of "I wish I could help you darling", or
- freak shot of a stutterer with severe symptoms, favourites are head movements, drooling, or 5-second silent (longer is no good as audience might switch to other channel).

b) Get the expert to rationally describe what has just happened. Therefore find an expert that has academic credentials that have vaguely something to do with stuttering, but is very telegenic. If not possible, just label the person "stuttering expert". Experts are often someone the TV crew know, like the sister of the friend of a colleague. If you have to chose between semi-expert but telegenic or "nerdy" real expert, always go for the telegenic person.

c) get the interviewer to engage with the sufferer and show compassion.

d) present a magic unexpected simple and fast solution to relieve the audience from this uncomfortable untenable situation, and explain in black and white. Humans absolutely adore fast, simple and obvious solutions, which obviously do not exist in reality.

e) show child or adult stutterer again but now speaking fluently, talking about how their life has changed. Not very difficult to achieve. Take the most successful patient from a stuttering treatment. Make sure the patients has just finished treatment so to benefit from carry-over fluency. If he still stutters a bit, let him talk for 10 minutes, and only take the 20 seconds where he is fluent! Children are best, because 80% recover anyway. So if you wait a few months, you have a fluent child.

f) now often the sales part kicks in. Where can I get this magic device? Where is this therapy offered? When is the medication available?

g) mention some disclaimer like long-term relapse possible, and my favourite is "talk to your doctor". These words are typically completely ignored as euphoria of the miracle still persists. But legally speaking, you cannot be not sued for your misleading sensational portrayal.

Consequence: The mothers, grandmothers or friends watch the interview, and tell you how stuttering can be cured. You say: But it's not that easy, but they insist and claim you are not doing anything and self-defeating. The fact that you are actually more of an expert than they are is conveniently ignored. After all, it's on TV and CNN and especially Oprah must know better.

Let me say it again: THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO CLUE AT ALL. They are journalists out there to sell a story, and they rely on the experts that they have choosen. I am not saying that some experts are no experts. I would guess 50% are real experts. But even if they actually make subtle statements with disclaimers, the recodings of say 20 minutes are cut down to 2-3 minutes and typically over-simplified.

So if you decide on a treatment, DONT RELY ON THE TV INTERVIEWS. Get in contact with a national stuttering association, and inform yourself. Not only do you make a more informed decision, you also have realistic expectations of your potential progress or that of your son/daughter.


tim said...

very good comment about the telegenic treatement of stuttering; what would you advice a father of a 3year old stuttering and drooling boy? He has been diagnosed for a "tongue thrust" but his oral apraxia evaluation was negative.

Tom Weidig said...

I have never heard about the diagnosis of "tongue thrust". Do you mean that he is stuttering and part of his stuttering symptoms are that his tongue goes out while he tried to say some words?

As I wrote, most kids recover from stuttering, but some dont. There are children therapies like Liddcombe (google the term), but I am not convinced that they are truely effective. However, I do think that they might reduce secondary symptoms and improve the social behaviour of the kids. Sorry I cant give you an easy answer. Why dont you check out the website of the national stuttering association?

Anonymous said...

You nailed it right on the head, Tom. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at some of these sensationalist, feel-good, stuttering stories in the media. Then again, our affliction is so complicated, that I don't expect some reporter or TV personality even to begin to understand it. They probably mean well and buy into the hype themselves, just like our embarassing Mangler-in-Chief (aka "The Commander Guy", aka "The Decider") does, when it comes to the neocon global agenda.

By the way, is it just me or does the guy have a disfluency problem himself? I do notice blocks whenever I watch him ramble on TV, especially when he is not reading off of a script. Maybe that ear piece that he was wearing during the debate with John Kerry wasn't Karl Rove telling him what to say. Maybe it was a fluency aid device, eh?

-Silent P.

Anonymous said...

A tongue thrust might not be a part of stuttering, but an earlier developmental movement of the tongue that has not been replaced with more mature/ controlled movement. It can happen if a young child has used a pacifier (esp. greater than 18 months) because that movement is reinforced. This is an area that a speech therapist would be able to help a child improve. The awareness of needing to swallow, and frequency of an automatic swallow may be a cause for the drooling, as well as strength of various tongue movement or lip closure.
This is an area that OT's and SLP's overlap a bit, so I have seen improvement, especially if the swallowing frequency can improve.

Einar said...

Nice post! I like the analogy with Mission Accomplished... Also the comments of telegenic presentation of stutting... Yesterday I saw a interview on Icelanic tv with a stutterer, just a normal interview, the stutterer answering questions. I think that's maybe the best way to portray stuttering on tv, ie to give an idea of what stuttering is by interview and let the person share his views and experiences... The persons comments were quite easy to follow as his stuttering was relatively mild and he had a long history of treatment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing the "shameless advertsing" link. Interesting that they would give the devise to pretty blonde girl free as "outreach." Plus, what's up with that frickin' news guy. No etiquette!