Responses to "Walled Off"
The ASHA Leader received many responses to editor-in-chief Gary Dunham's description of growing up in rural Maine in a family living with stuttering ("Walled Off," Sept. 18). Here are a few.
I just finished reading the article "Walled Off," and I felt compelled to write to thank you for publishing it. My wife is an SLP, and these magazines are constantly coming to the house, but the front page about the stuttering genetic code made me open it up this time. I am a stutterer and have always wondered when doctors would break it down and figure out exactly what causes this life-changing condition. After reading that article, I flipped to the "Walled Off" article and, as I read, tears welled up in my eyes as if I were reading about my life. From my childhood to adulthood, I could relate to so many graphic descriptions of the scenarios faced in this wonderful story. Thank you again for just letting me feel as if I am not alone in my daily struggle to work around and put my stuttering behind me as best as I can.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
My wife, Susan Floyd, is a speech-language pathologist. She showed me Gary Dunham's article in The ASHA Leader, and I cannot remember when I was more moved by something that I read. His story resonates with me for several reasons. I grew up in the 1950s in rural South Carolina, and our schools had no special-needs programs of any kind. My best friend stuttered and silently suffered the taunting that children heaped upon him. Today he still suffers from the abuse, even though he no longer stutters. I spent 35 years as a public school teacher and administrator, and what I saw my friend endure greatly influenced my perceptions and philosophy. Susan also greatly influenced me and helped me understand.
I admire Gary's courage, resilience, and willingness to share his story. He is a true inspiration!!!
Lane N. Floyd
Lake City, South Carolina
Long and Scary Road
I just read Gary Dunham's heart-breaking story in The ASHA Leader. I am/was also a stutterer. I started in sixth grade. My mother told me that my father stuttered, but I never knew him because he died when I was a baby. I am so sorry he had to grow up with such abuse! Thank God for books and walls. I never got any help until I was 23; I wrote to Ann Landers in 1970 and she sent back the names of all the speech clinics in Kansas. The closest one was Kansas State University and I started on a path to freedom of speech. That line in the Constitution always made me angry—I didn't have freedom of speech. I did all the things he did—hiding, substituting words, constructing situations. It also made me angry that my weakness—speech—was in the area of my strength—language. I guess that happened to him, too. I once gave an oral presentation in high school English and substituted an H for a B in "Buddhism" because I knew I couldn't say "Buddhism." I am so glad he finally has some peace. His road was so long and scary. congratulations on surviving and thank you, Gary, for writing such a meaningful piece. You were writing for me. God bless you!
Sylva, North Carolina
Honest and Compelling Insight
I just finished reading Gary Dunham's article...It was amazing and so unlike anything I've read before in the Leader. I felt like I was reading excerpts from a beautifully written memoir. His honest and compelling insight was worth more than 10 hours of continuing education on stuttering. Thank you, Gary, for sharing!
Couldn't Stop Reading
I was touched by Gary Dunham's story and wanted to thank him very much for sharing some of his life experiences with me through The ASHA Leader. He wrote a beautiful story full of the emotions that many of the people I work with express. I also so appreciated the words he chose to express his story—I couldn't stop reading and felt so privileged to have the opportunity to read such exquisite prose. I am certainly glad he is part of the organization I support, and that supports me!
Sheryl R. Gottwald
Durham, New Hampshire
Evocative, Personal Narrative
I was so moved by Gary Dunham's article in The ASHA Leader this week that I had to write to compliment him, not only for having survived a horrendous childhood but for being such a skilled writer! That is certainly the most evocative, personal narrative on stuttering I have ever read. I easily relate to his experiences in school—carefully preparing workarounds that usually didn't work and the hot-faced embarrassment of classroom recitals. I recall one block that seemed like it lasted two minutes. (In fact, one time my therapist timed me for a block that actually lasted over two minutes.)
My history differed considerably from his, however, in that I was raised in an intellectual family with emotionally cool but very supportive and caring parents. I was fortunate enough (after being "worked on" by some inept and untrained "therapists") to have a wonderful summer at a camp for stutterers in 1956 after graduating from high school that has given me almost normal fluency since then. I was so inspired by that experience that I graduated from college with a major in math and a minor in speech pathology.
I went on to work with Van Riper for my master's and then had (have) a career in speech-language pathology—very rewarding.
I wish him the best of luck in what sounds like his continuing thoughts and efforts to battle this stutter-opponent. (I lack his skill with metaphors, but my super therapist used the Van Riper approach, and there you fight the monster and you win. It is a struggle and you overcome it, with occasional recurring skirmishes to maintain control.)
Columbia, South Carolina
Clarity of Voice
I just wanted to take a moment this morning to thank you for the terrific story in The ASHA Leader. As an SLP who stutters, and who came to live and raise my family in western Maine in 2000, I was struck by the clarity of Gary Dunham's "voice." And, as a result, I find myself taking pause from my morning work routine to reflect on my own complicated history with stuttering as well as now my role as a father to the one young son of mine who has recently begun his struggle with this damnable trait. Thanks again. I will now keep a keen eye open for more of his work.
Gary Dunham's article in the Leader was truly moving. Thank you, Gary, for sharing your heart so openly and in such a beautiful way. It helps bring SLPs a clearer perspective of what individuals with communication disorders and their families face daily. Again, thank you!
Ana Paula G. Mumy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
It seems to me that the sad tail continues to wag the Stuttering Beast. (My definition: The Stuttering Beast, with its neurological, physiological, chemical, and genetic underpinnings, along with its negatively enhanced developmental, environmental, sociological, psychological, and behavioral components, and that manifests itself in negatively reinforced episodic stuttered speech and disordered language, becomes a powerful, self-reinforcing habit that becomes totally integrated into a person's life.)
Gary Dunham writes a very compelling autobiography, which should alert people in general and especially SLPs of any professional age or demeanor that the Stuttering Beast—and not just what makes the motor work—is to be fought at all levels. Thanks for sharing his personal story. I remember in a high school history class, where I would slip into a mental vacuum, the teacher (an old biddy) calls my name and asks, "Jerry, who is buried in Grant's tomb?"—and I answered, "I don't know!!!!!" Being a charming, athletic, handsome, fluent singer, I was able to be liked and not bullied over all those years. Van Riper saved me from a stuttering slumber, and my wife of some 57 years, our kids, family, and friends gave to me all the loving support a person could ever want. I no longer had to deal with the Stuttering Beast, which defines to me all the complexities of the disorder and makes it clear to me why it is such a hanger-on. My best to Gary.
Gary Dunham's article caught my eye because my mother's family is from Maine. I was deeply moved by his story and I am glad he shared it with the world. His descriptions of rural Maine in the 70s are as I remember from my youth. I am impressed by his strength in moving his life forward with such determination. I am also sad to know that services were not available to help his family. He is solid, like the granite rock of Maine.
I wish the best to Gary in his life as it continues forward. I worked for Pine Tree Society (Easter Seals) in Bath, Maine, many moons ago. During that time, I had a friend who struggled with a distant relationship with her father because of his stuttering. I am hoping now with the Internet more people can share ideas and time without verbal language secluding the relationship. Most of all, I am writing because I want Gary to know that he is a hero in his own life story.
Lisa B. Kaye
A Gift to Share
Awesome personal story in The ASHA Leader. What a gift to be able to share this with our students! Thank you! I think what Gary Dunham says applies to so many communication disorders.
C. Melanie Schuele
I was most impressed with the message and particularly the writing found in your "Walled Off" in the Sept. 18 Leader. The rocks photograph ushered in Gary Dunham's message in a way that held me as a reader (competing with the other things I needed to do).
The article was one of the finest presentations I have ever read in an ASHA publication. And I've been an ASHA member since 1952.
Daniel R. Boone
Little Improvement in Maine
Gary Dunham's "Walled Off" essay reminded me pointedly that the children I serve here among the stone walls of western Maine often do go out successfully into the broader world. I am five years older than Gary, we grew up among our ancestors' abutting hill farms, and we graduated from the same high school. I remember well that our schools and community support organizations offered next to nothing for children with any sort of difference or disability. When I returned here with my MA and CCC-SLP to raise my family, I hoped to contribute to some improvement in that picture.
You might think that a child with a fluency disorder in Locke Mills today would have better attention paid—hey, I'm on the job (in early intervention)—and I suppose, when I step back for perspective, that's true. Most of the time, with my nose to the grinding wheel, I feel stretched and watered down, and severely professionally isolated. I love the children and these families, and feedback tells me that they enjoy me and consider the service to be of the highest quality. But I almost always feel that I—we—could be doing a whole lot better. There is a vast qualitative difference in services for children living in the Portland area (Maine's "urban" center), simply due to availability. That story hasn't really changed much in 50 or 75 years. I do have a standing opening for a full-time speech-language pathologist to work with my team in Early Intervention Services. Hard to fill; it doesn't pay much, and we drive many miles on bad roads. But Gary Dunham will tell you how much it feels like home.
I have been moved to write after reading Gary Dunham's testimonial. While he may feel that dysfluency is his defining characteristic, it is very obvious to me that, in reality, it is his writing skill. The one may very well have led to the other. Wherever the talent came from, I'm grateful to be a beneficiary. Thanks for putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?). I was truly touched.
Gritty and Stoic
What powerful, evocative writing! "Walled Off" was such a different experience for ASHA Leader readers. Gritty. Horrific. Stoic. Stark. And yet, triumphant. The photos were also remarkable—the opening pages with the huge stone wall photo was particularly masterful. It's no wonder the quality of The ASHA Leader is as high as it is, with Gary Dunham at the helm. Thank you, Gary, for baring your soul, and for your editing prowess, shared with us all.
Nancy Ruth Wainwright
Sewell, New Jersey
I am a speech-language pathologist and just read Gary Dunham's article on his life and the effects stuttering had on him. It was a profoundly moving and touching piece. His passion to fulfill his intellectual dreams was incredible and full of hope and resilience. The prose was poetic and most beautiful. I so enjoyed "picturing" his world with its beauty and pain and personal triumph. Thank you for sharing it with us all.
Delray Beach, Florida