Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stuttering sign language

Greg Snyder wrote an interesting article The Existence of Stuttering in Sign Language and other Forms of Expressive Communication: Sufficient Cause for the Emergence of a New Stuttering Paradigm?: see here. Let me post a few extracts, especially as I am sharing some of his thoughts:
While reports of stuttering-like behaviors occurring in sign language have been available for almost 70 years, relatively little attention has been given to its existence and how the existence of stuttered sign may impact our understanding of the stuttering phenomenon. This manuscript provides a brief literature review of stuttered sign and offers a list of potential stuttered sign behaviors. Data is presented suggesting that stuttering is a phenomenon occurring in expressive communication, rather than speech and sign alone. Consequently, it is proposed that the prevailing theoretical constructs fail to account for stuttering in expressive modalities other than speech. It is suggested that the field of speech-language pathology reevaluate and possibly abandon the current pre-paradigmatic views concerning the nature of stuttering so that another perspective can emerge that better accounts for the stuttering phenomenon.
If the data presented in this manuscript does reflect reality, then we are forced to question the belief that stuttering is a speech disorder. On the contrary, the stuttering phenomenon appears to occur in a variety of expressive (communication) modalities. Further, if this suggestion is reality, then stuttering ceases to be a single (speech-related) pathology unto itself. Instead, it is suggested that the observable manifestations of stuttering behaviors are symptomatic responses relative to their corresponding expressive modality. These symptomatic behaviors may be in response to errors in the formulation, processing, and/or execution of expressive output, such as language; it is suggested that these symptomatic behaviors are natural compensatory responses at self correction from errors in processing or initiation at the central level.
In short, if the data and analysis presented in this manuscript do reflect reality, then the traditional views and definitions of stuttering as a speech disorder fail to account for the stuttering phenomenon. Consequently, researchers and clinical scientists may consider abandoning much of the prevailing paradigmatic (i.e., pre-paradigmatic) thought on stuttering, as it can no longer provide a truly scientific and falsifiable theoretical framework capable of accounting for the stuttering phenomenon. If stuttering behaviors are indeed symptomatic responses relative to errors in expressive output, including expressive communication, then a new paradigm will need to emerge to account for this new perceived reality.

Apart from his "making it sound more dramatic and complicated that it really is" style, I roughly agree with Greg, and see two necessary conditions needed for stuttering:
1) glitches in the speech system (leading to an temporary inability to initiate the appropriate speech motor sequence). However I do no agree that stuttering is not a speech disorder, because these glitches are not normal, and are due to defects in the speech system. Stuttering starts inside the brain.
2) compensatory efforts that develop and lead to overt stuttering behaviour and secondary symptoms. I agree that other glitches like in hand signing can lead to similar compensatory efforts, i.e. that these efforts are not specific to stuttering but a generic consequence to certain underperforming systems.


Anonymous said...

I agree with this. The key is self-confidence while we speak, which we must say, none of us stutterers don't have. Stuttering is only an output to our psychical condition we have while we speak. This link bellow can be VERY useful.

Tom Weidig said...

Yes, but why do we do not have such self-confidence, because WE KNOW THAT WE HAVE PROBLEMS WITH INITIATING SPEECH! And normal people do not have these problems.

Anonymous said...

yap.... so we have here chicken and egg problem.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, this problem already was solved. The egg appeared first. Reptiles were already putting eggs. And the birds appeared after the reptiles in the evolutive scale.

Stuttering is the egg.

Anonymous said...


I want to explain my way of getting self-confidence in the speaking, which helps me a lot these days.

When i speak, like stutterer, i feel some kind of luck of attitude, confusion, tension and most of all, fear of what and how should i say the word that comes. Feels, like Tom said, social, forced speech full of suspense. With one sentence, we stutterers have never felt what is the feeling to speak fluently and therefore we don't know how to act while we speak.

I will compare this with a man who walks perfectly while he walks alone, but when he understands that someone is watching him, his legs start to shake and he falls down. After 3-4 or many situations like this he gets phobia and every time when someone watches him, he comes to the same situation. Lets suppose that i, like most of others, am normally walking man, have full confidence while walking in front of 100 people. This means that, for the man that had walking phobia, i am a fluent walker. And, he is stutter walker:)Analogy is the same with the speaking. The only difference is in the referential system...(walking in the one and speaking in the other). The human subconscious doesn't distinguish that.It reacts the same in both cases. So:

The fluent person while speaking is reacting the same like I (a stutterer) while walking. This tells me how the shape, or the skeleton on my behavior should be like while i am speaking. So, while i speak i imagine like i am walking threw the red carpet in Can and all attention is pointed at me:). Very important here is to say that i don't imagine that i am speaking(because it fears me), but that i am walking full of self-confidence!! Of course this is stupid from the first reading, but when you get the point and feel the self-confidence it will not make you any difference is it walking or speaking. With one sentence: While speak get into a role of walker and act like that. If you don't have self-confidence in walking imagine some other situation where you have it. If you don't have that king of situation you are fated to destruction:)

Of course this needs time to be trained and it will not make you fluent over night!
This way of thinking helped me a lot, i stutter less and i am getting better and better:)

Ps. sorry for my not so good english

The Anonymoussssss

Tom Weidig said...

Well, there is the initial egg caused by genes and/or neurological incident which creates problems with initiating speech. And then the reactions kick in, which make the initial problem worse. And so on.

Greg said...

Hi Tom,

Glad to hear that you roughly agree with me; I’ll certainly sleep better at night. :)

The paper was rather fun to write, but I hoped it would serve as a wake-up call to whomever read it. What has been done over the past 70+ years clearly isn’t working very well. It is time to start thinking out of the box. While you may have perceived this as over-dramatic, my suggestion of abandoning the traditional stuttering models *is* a dramatic step.

The point of the paper was to suggest: (1) We can no longer call stuttering a speech disorder; speech just doesn’t have that kind of ownership over the phenomenon that has been documented to exist in other expressive modalities. (2) Whatever is perceived as stuttering behaviors does not represent the pathology, but rather the consequence of the pathology... whatever that pathology may be. (They’ve tried the psychological route, with little success; they’ve tried the speech-motor route, with little success. Can we just, at the very least, try something new?) (3) Our current stuttering models really do not account for points #1 and #2, so is it worth holding them as sacred? If our fundamental perspective of a (stuttering) speech disorder (which really isn’t a speech disorder) is behavioral or psychological (when the behavior & psychological aspects are merely consequences)--then maybe we *should* consider throwing the baby out with that bath-water, at least from a scientific (rather than clinical) perspective. Clearly, neurogenic is the only way to go. Sometimes, there’s no sense in saving (or amending) a theory, when--in its very nature--it is fatally flawed. Stuttering is not a speech disorder, thus stuttering cannot stem from speech-related anxiety or speech-motor incoordination.

Your perspective seems to assume that stuttering is due to defects *in* the speech system, thus making it a speech disorder. This is an assumption that I’m not prepared to make. Your perspective cannot account for the stuttering phenomenon in sign language, musical expression, or hand writing. So you’re forced to either believe that these other phenomenon are not stuttering, or modify your core beliefs. (Dramatic, no?) It may very well be that the stuttering “defect” occurs in a neural circuit activated before the “speech system”, or is parallel or adjunct to the “speech system”. We really have no way of knowing, so it’s unclear why we’d limit that as a potential option. What we’ve thought for the past 70+ years clearly isn’t workout very well, and it’s time to start thinking out of the box. (Darn-it, the drama and complication rears its ugly head yet again!)

Anonymous said...

My husband is late deafened. I am trying to figure him out as he has no formal diagnosis. At first I thought maybe its aphasia but then I thought maybe he stutters but maybe he has both! Also he has trouble processing visually alot of signs and I had to repeat then he finally gets it mostly on the third try! His intelligence and english skills are fine. I don't know who to look for to help me diagnose him. He sometimes try to look for word or sign, he start to sign then stop then start to use different sign then stop and I tell him just to go ahead and sign! He also makes same handshape error even though I model correct handshape. over and over. He also use wrong signs based on sounds instead of signs. I'll try to think of an example. Anyhow he is an unique case! So I need directions of where to get him correct diagnosis and treatment. thanks

kata said...

Hey, I have a question for the stutterers that's bugging me for quite some time. Do you guys have problems initiating speech while chatting, possibly using a videochat? Or can impersonalized conditions (like, not looking directly at someone, slight asynchrony) eliminate some of symptoms? Thanks.

Unknown said...

I really can't explain why, but I have always stuttered in sign language. I even stutter when signing my ABC's. Does anybody know what I can do to help with controlling the stutter? It only happens when I am with more than 9 people at one time. I don't have to be talking with them, just around them.