- Identify the exact nature of the automatic behavior, so that it can be broken up in smaller parts that are easier to eliminate
- Begin to change the behavior, thereby weakening it, instead of trying to eliminate everything at once. For instance, someone who experiences a nasty head jerk to the left, should try jerking it to the right, or backward or to the front.
1) The distraction momentarily reduces vocal cord tension, so releasing the locked vocal cords; and/or
2) The distraction prevents the conditioned stuttering reflex from firing. For instance, say that a teacher asks Johnny to state his name in class. Johnny knows that saying his name usually results in a stutter - similar bad experiences in the past have proved it. In other words, he has been conditioned to stutter on his name when in stress. Stated in terms of conditioning theory, he will stutter when two stimuli are both present: He is in stress (stimulus 1), AND when he intends to say his name (stimulus 2). However, a fraction of a second before he starts saying his name, another learner sneezes. This sneeze momentarily takes Johnny's attention off his name. As a result the conditioned stuttering response cannot be triggered, and he is able to say his name fluently.
Literally ANYTHING that will take your mind off the feared word or sound, can break the block. Intense emotions such as anger or aggression can serve as distractions. Even the block or the stutter can distract you from the source of the stress. Very fast speech can serve as a distraction. EVEN STRESS ITSELF, which usually aggravates stuttering, can distract one from stuttering, as is clear from the following example from The Nature of Stuttering, by Charles van Riper, as told by one of his patients:
When his patients returned, they more often than not said that their speech had been excellent during that period. One of them explained it this way:
What is happening now is of such magnitude that one’s personal problems seem insignificant. When the survival of one’s country is at stake, one’s personal difficulties become unimportant. (P Faber, Achtergronden van stotteren en spreekangst, 1979)
It is known that some PWS’s change their environment for the purposes of distraction, in an effort to be fluent. Dr Martin Schwartz mentions the case of an individual who not only changed his name, but his employment and city of residence as well – the novelty distracted his attention from his speech. Naturally the improvement did not last long, as his mind gradually became used to his new environment, so that the stutter re-emerged.