Vickroy: College-bound Marist grad tackles stuttering
DONNA VICKROY email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 August 17, 2012 9:46PM
Armed with his love for football and a little help from, The McGuire Programme For Getting Good At The Sport Of Speaking, Robert Picken is ready to leave for college at his home in Chicago, Illinois, Monday, August 6, 2012. The Marist graduate has struggled all his life with stuttering. This year he went through the new program that has helped him tremendously. Now, as he heads off to college in Wisconsin, he says he is confident enough to make new friends. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
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Source: The Stuttering Foundation
Updated: September 20, 2012 6:08AM
For most of his life, Robert Picken avoided the kind of situation that brought him to my attention.
“I wouldn’t do what normal people do,” the 18-year-old Marist High School graduate said. “I avoided social situations. I never answered questions in school.”
And he would never willingly call a newspaper to share his story.
Picken, of Chicago’s Beverly community, was diagnosed at an early age with articulation problems. By second or third grade, he said, the struggle had morphed into outright stuttering.
According to the Stuttering Foundation, stuttering is a fluency disorder in which syllables or words are repeated or last longer than normal. Stuttering typically begins in childhood. Most youngsters outgrow it, but 1 percent of the U.S. population, about 3 million people, struggle into adulthood, foundation president Jane Fraser said.
Causes include genetics, pace and balance of child development, and neurophysiology, Fraser said. If a child’s vocabulary grows faster than his motor skill development, he may stutter until the two are in sync.
Family dynamics also can contribute to the problem, she said.
“If a family’s expectations are high or they live a very fast lifestyle, that can aggravate the situation,” she said. “I have seen parents say, ‘Spit it out’ to a stuttering child.”
Even on good days, Picken’s speech was stunted, repetitive and deliberate. On bad days, when he was nervous or scared, it was painfully disruptive and prolonged. Naturally, he avoided situations that made him nervous or scared.
Despite speech therapy and ongoing support from his mom, Debbie, and his grandparents, who live across the street, as well as Marist’s head football coach, Pat Dunne, who often invited him to have lunch in his office so he could practice speaking, Picken said, “Every year, it got worse.”
With his high school graduation looming, Picken decided he needed to do something else. Though he never has struggled to make friends, many of whom were fellow members of the football team, Picken said he wasn’t sure what kinds of challenges a college campus would bring. He wanted to be ready.
In January, he enrolled in an intensive three-day course called the McGuire Programme — Beyond Stammering. Started in 1994 by Dave McGuire, it emphasizes costal breathing and physical fitness. Also called diaphragmatic breathing, costal breathing teaches patients to inhale and exhale by moving their ribs.
“You talk at the peak of the inhale, just before exhaling,” Picken said. It also prompts stutterers to practice often and to move outside their comfort zones.
The McGuire program is offered several times a year in different cities around the world. Costs start around $1,500. It will be offered in Chicago in October.
Picken said the program helped, but then he relapsed. So he signed up again, just recently, for a refresher course in Las Vegas.
This time, the method has stuck.
Picken said it has given him the confidence he needed to go away to Concordia College in Wisconsin, where he plans to major in either X-ray technology or nursing and where he is already practicing to play football.
Fraser said there are many approaches to speech therapy. The important thing to remember is that every stutterer is different, she said.
For some, she said, the short-term, intense McGuire Programme may be the best way. Others may need steady, long-term therapy. On the foundation’s website, she said, is a referral list of available therapies.
The flurry of newness that comes with moving to a new location has caused Picken a bit of a setback, but he said he now believes he has the skills and determination to work through it.
“I just need to practice, practice, practice,” he said.
Indeed, practice is one of the pillars of the McGuire Programme. Upon completion of the coursework, students are required to talk with 100 people.
Picken chose to include in that mix a call to the local newspaper.
I’m glad he did.
For more information on stuttering, visit www.stutteringhelp.org
For more information on the McGuire Programme, visit www.mcguireprogramme.com/