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Reflective practices may help stutterers

Reflective practices designed to help people improve their professional performance may help stutterers maintain or stabilize the skills they learned during therapy, said New Mexico State University professor Rod Wood.

professor of special education and communication disorders, presented the new methodology, based on Donald Schon's Reflective Practice, at an American Speech-Language-Hearing Conference on Fluency and Fluency Disorders in May.

Schon's concept of reflective practice features the notions of "reflection-in-action" and "reflection-on-action," which incorporates reflection into practice both while it's occurring and after it has completed. The goal is to gain insights into ways of improving the professional's performance as a practitioner.

Wood said he will test the new methodology with stuttering clients at New Mexico State University's Speech and Hearing Center.

Stuttering is the disfluent production of speech involving repetitions, prolongations and/or silent blocks. Wood suggests that the reflective concept would also work for stutterers who have completed therapy and learned fluency techniques. He said that once stutterers have completed therapy they enter a "maintenance" phase where they are expected to maintain the skills they learned in treatment. Wood said the success rate for this phase is not very high.

"Most people released from therapy are just not able to maintain the skills learned in treatment," Wood said. "I'm proposing a new way to work with clients at the maintenance phase using reflective practice."

Stutterers would be encouraged to reflect at all times on needed techniques during a possible speech block and then to reflect afterwards on what may have caused the block. Just as in Schon's theory for professionals, the idea is to reflect upon behavior for the purpose of improving one's self as a communicator.

Wood said this practice would work well with high school students because there would be many "popular culture" examples that could be used to teach them the concept of reflective practice. Examples may include athletes who must reflect on their practice to maintain or improve their game or musicians who must reflect on performances to improve concerts and recordings, he said.

Wood said that this reflection methodology would be easy to communicate to stuttering clients and possibly make the maintenance phase easier to adjust to. Maintenance is the time when clients really become their own clinicians, Wood said.

"In theory, it would seem plausible that a stutterer would be able to utilize a reflective practitioner approach to facilitate the maintenance phase of treatment and that reflection could be used to assist a client in self-monitoring the use of techniques learned in treatment," he said.

Wood was a speech-language pathologist with the public schools in Virginia for nine years before working in Nashville, Tenn., at a community speech and hearing clinic. He has served as the speech clinic director at Tennessee State University and as a professor and clinic director at Indiana State University.

Wood, who received his master's degree at New Mexico State in 1979, has been with the university for a year and teaches classes in language development and clinical methods as well as supervising student clinicians. He said the majority of his research deals with speech pathologists who work in public school systems, but he has a special interest in fluency disorders.

Wood said that any stuttering clients, especially high school age, who are about to enter the maintenance phase of therapy and would be interested in learning about reflective practice should contact New Mexico State's Speech and Hearing Center at (505) 646-3906 or him at (505) 646-4313 or lrodwood@nmsu.edu.

Julie M. Hughes
June 17, 2002