Dr. Ken St. Louis is a former stutterer who grew up in a family of talkers and storytellerswhich might explain why today the West Virginia University speech pathologist is never at a loss for words.
Hes also setting an international standard in the treatment of another speech disorder: one that leaves its sufferers not at a loss for wordsbut rather, lost in the clutter of too many words theyre trying to get out.
All at once.
Thats why the disorder is calledcluttering.
And while stuttering can come off like the cars of a train clanging together after a sudden stop, cluttering is more like another train thats jumping from rail to rail, even as it speeds out of control.
If youre a stutterer,St. Louis says,and youre telling someone that youre going to go to the grocery store, you might say (affecting a stutter): �€~I w-want to go to the ssssstore and I dont have muh-muh-muh-money.Thats temporarily difficult to get out, but theres still a clear thought behind the stuttering.
Not so with a clutterer, he said.
A clutterer talking about the same thing might come up with, �€~I want to go to the st-stuh, place where you buymarket st-st-store and I dont have muh-muh ti-time money.
In other words: I need to go to the store but I dont have a lot of money, and now that I think about it, I really dont have a lot time, either.
To hear an audio clip of an actual clutterer, visit /www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad8/papers/dewey8.html . The speaker tripping over thoughts and words is Joseph Dewey, a business analyst from South Jordan, Utah, who credits St. Louis with helping him finally get a control on his cluttering.
Dewey, who founded an online support group for clutterers, wanted to present his conditionwhen its at its worst,as he put it, to show the frustrations he and others like him sometimes face when simply trying to communicate.
At his best, Dewey is a successful, college-educated professional, and he even spoke at an inaugural international conference in Bulgaria this past May that St. Louis helped organize.
That gathering, The First World Conference on Cluttering, was May 12-14 in historic Razlog, Bulgaria. Some 60 participants from across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia came to discuss what cluttering isand isntand how best to treat it.
The conference came on the heels of the production of an instructional DVD by St. Louis and others geared to both speech professionals and clutterers themselves. Their interview segments are intercut with tips and treatment techniques from speech pathologists including St. Louislongtime colleague, Dr. Florence Myers, of Adelphi University.
Myers also helped plan the conference and collaborated with St. Louis in 1986 on a textbook,Cluttering: A Clinical Perspective.Before that, the only other book written on the disorder was in 1964.
Cluttering was virtually ignored for decades,St. Louis said.When we were all in Bulgaria, we really had a sense that we taking part in something historic.
Therapy for cluttering often has similarities to certain approaches of stuttering therapy, St. Louis said. Slowing ones speech is helpful, he said, but that doesnt mean clutterers are admonished toslow downorstopbecausethat kind of thing makes them even more nervous and self-conscious,he said.
They are asked to focus on single thoughts, though, and again, to speak with an even exaggerated slowness, at firstgiven that clutterers can run syllables together (sayingferchly,in place offortunately,for example). Wearing a delayed auditory feedback device (known in the trade as aDAF), has also proven effective, St. Louis said.
The device looks like a hearing aid and wearers hear their speech at a split-second delay, much like the censor button in a live television show works. And one thing that really words, he said, is simple awareness. Knowing that its a common disorder. Winston Churchill was even said to be a clutterer.
If you know what it is, you can work on it,said St. Louis, who conquered his own speech disorder. He was a chronic stutterer from childhood through college. He tackled the disorder the way he does most things: with his motto,Get it right and get it done.
On cluttering, and clutterers
Those who clutter:
- Dont soundfluent,that is, they dont seem to be clear about what they want to sayor how to say it;
- Have excessive levels of interjections and mid-sentence revisions, known asdisfluencies(as heard in the Dewey audio clip);
- Talktoo fastand are disorganized in their languagebut often show temporary improvement when theyre being tape-recorded;
- Have sloppy handwriting;
- Often mispronounce or slur words; and
- Have blood relatives who stutter or clutter