An inspiring speech therapist and friend
I’ve stuttered since I started talking, and over the years I’ve worked with a handful of speech therapists to learn how to control the blocked sounds and repetitions that interrupt my conversations. The first were speech therapists who pulled me out of elementary classes several times a week. During college, I worked with a speech therapist in a group and after graduating I enrolled in individual classes at a speech clinic in the city where I was hired as a reporter. But none of those relationships was inspiring until I met Ross Barrett more than 30 years ago.
In the Oscar-winning movie “The King’s Speech,” the relationship between British King George VI and his speech therapist Lionel Logue plays a significant role in the king’s success in learning to manage his stuttering. According to historians, the king and Logue remained friends for many years. Similarly, Ross has played an important role in my life.
We met in 1979 when I attended a residential speech program for stutterers. During that first three-week session, he was not my therapist but I learned his story. Ross is also a stutterer, and after his success in the fluency shaping program, he left his career as a stock broker and studied to become a speech therapist. His ability to manage his speech was proof to me that I could learn to do it too.
When Ross set up a new office offering the same therapy techniques, I followed him. For the past 21 years, I’ve been going annually to his Precision Fluency Shaping Program at the Eastern Virginia Medical Center in Norfolk, Va. The one-week refresher offers a chance to spend seven hours a day working intensively on sharpening use of specific speech strategies under Ross’s caring but tough guidance.
About 15 years ago, a group of us who were attending different sessions with Ross began attending at the same time each fall. Our annual gatherings have been powerful connections in our journeys to controlled fluency.
It hasn’t been easy to always use the speech strategies successfully but Ross has been an inspiration to keep going. There is no cure for stuttering, but with lots of practice, he says, it can be managed. So I practice. I hear his voice on the CDs he created for us to use during practice sessions at home. I talk to him throughout the year by telephone. I hug him when we greet on the first day of the annual gatherings.
Over the years, he’s become my friend.
(I’ve been blessed in my journey and recently started Unlock A Voice, a nonprofit which offers support services to children and adults who stutter and others who have speech differences. For more information, email unlockavoice @gmail.com or go to Facebook. Let me hear from you.)