The intensity technique with its exaggerated movements and force runs directly counter to what standard fluency courses teach. These courses stress gentler than normal movements. The concern is that the use of extra force during practice sessions will worsen the already jerk-like movements and abrupt speech onsets characteristic of stuttered speech in some PWS.
But think about it. An analogy might be an exercise workout with weights. The use of extra (exaggerated) weight requires your muscles to use more force and work harder. Afterwards, the muscles feel more relaxed than before the workout. And, over time, the muscles become stronger for everyday activities. So using extra force during practice sessions can condition your body to use less force than it would normally need in everyday situations. More importantly, intensity is designed to get the new programing into the brain more quickly and effectively.
After one of my neuropatterning workshops at a National Stuttering Association (NSA) convention, a PWS voiced concern about my weight-training analogy. She said she had heard that weight-training made your muscles “tighter.” She was worried that the intensity technique might cause an increase in tension in her larynx or vocal folds and make her stuttering worse. First, I don’t think that weight-training causes muscles to become tighter; it makes them become firmer (less soft) and stronger. As the muscles begin to grow, they might stretch the skin so that it would be natural to experience some skin tightness or soreness at the beginning of any new workout regimen, but the skin and muscles quickly adapt. That’s been my own experience when I went through periods of weight-training. Second, and most important, tension or tightness in the larynx or vocal folds doesn’t cause stuttering, though this idea is pervasive and widely believed. It seems to be one of those myths that many people have come to accept unquestioningly. This idea apparently got started by observations that a stutterer tensed and tightened his articulator muscles during a speech block, and the simplistic conclusion was drawn that this must be what caused the stutter. Again, the observable external struggles of stuttering are the result or symptoms of stuttering, not its cause. The struggles occur because the stutterer is trying to force out word sounds that are being blocked in the brain. The block in the brain is the cause of stuttering.
Intensity is a key exaggeration technique for effective neuropatterning.
You might liken intensity to the exaggeration techniques taught in memory improvement courses. You’re asked to associate a ridiculously exaggerated mental picture with what you want to remember. It works! Exaggeration helps carve new brain pathways more quickly and effectively. New neural pathways that are only weakly formed may fade back into the old ruts over time.
Failure to make intensity a part of therapy may be a primary reason that the “clinic fluency” experienced by some participants during fluency-shaping courses does not transfer outside the clinic setting.
The idea is that you must intensely over-activate the brain to dig new, deeper, fluent neural pathways and then keep doing it for a time period to achieve any kind of permanence. That’s the reason for intensity.
By the way, although I developed the neuropatterning technique of intensity independently, I discovered later that others had thought of it first.
Hugo H. Gregory, a PWS and speech pathologist, wrote: “Possibly we should consider giving stutterers practice in the rapid initiation and termination of vowels and consonant-vowel combinations.” (You’ll recognize this as the abrupt onset part of the neuropatterning intensity technique.)16
Then there was Erasmus Darwin, a PWS and grandfather of the evolutionist Charles Darwin (also a PWS). He wrote on stuttering: “The art of curing this defect is to cause the stammerer to repeat the word which he finds difficult to speak, eight or ten times with the initial letter, in a strong voice, or with an aspirate before it, as ‘arable’ or ‘harable’; and at length to speak it softly with the initial letter P, as ‘parable.’ This should be practiced, for weeks or months upon every word which the stammerer hesitates in pronouncing. To this should be added much commerce with mankind, in order to acquire a carelessness about the opinions of others.”17
Notice that Darwin’s strong voice is part of my intensity technique (the neuropatterning version of intensity is more refined and effective, as you’ll see when you take the course). The “much commerce with mankind…” line is a way to help desensitize yourself to excitation feedback. And of course, most fluency shaping courses use the speak it softly method as easy onset.
What I don’t recommend, however, is to deliberately put an “aspirate” or any other letter or sound before the word sound you want to say, as Darwin advises. Many PWS stutter on these sounds as much or more than on the sounds they are supposed to help you say, and you risk muddling the issue if you do this. You should work directly with the sounds as they are–as the neuropatterning Home Course presents them to you.