Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blocks are the core of stuttering

Traditionally it has been thought that stuttering consists of three 'core' or primary components: repetitions of words / sounds, prolongations of words / sounds, and silent blocks. Other behaviours such as the use of starters (eg. saying "mmm" before speaking), shutting the eyes, stamping a foot etc. are known as 'secondary' behaviours, as opposed to the core or primary behaviours.

According to Dr Martin Schwartz, however, there is only one core or primary component, namely the block. This block, in fact, is what he calls a laryngospasm - an unnatural locking of the vocal folds in the larynx due to excessive tension. The repetitions and prolongations, which were also thought to be core behaviours, are merely the stutterer's way of coping with the vocal folds that have locked.

For instance, if you want to say 'bomb' and are only able to say b-b-b, it means that you are actually unable to say the sound(s) AFTER the b. Because you are unable to say these sounds, you continue to say b in an effort to finish the word.

Schwartz's view of the core block is a fundamental break with tradition and amounts to a paradigm shift - a change in the usual way of thinking about stuttering. Repetitions and prolongations are NOT core, primary behaviours. They are secondary behaviours. They have, in the course of time, become learned behaviours. They are, in fact, conditioned reflexes, fired by the contracting vocal folds.

This theory of stuttering is in line with my own history and experience of stuttering. I have, through the years, to a large extent managed to control my repetitions and prolongations (though they remain dormant and come to the fore in unguarded moments!); the laryngospasms, however, are something else again and much more difficult to control - my laryngospasms can only be managed by fluency techniques.


  1. Interesting. I can't wait for your book :)


    P.S. How's teh weather there, summer:)


  2. Hi Chata
    Many thanks for your kind comments. I hope you will like the book. Summer in South Africa can be hot, but not so hot as further north. You are the first person who has commented on my blog! Many thanks again and kind regards, Peter

  3. No problem, I always like to read about stuttering. You seem like a man who has been through a lot.
    Here we have long and cold winter, and I can't wait for spring....

    best regards