Torsten HesseI’m a stutterer. I stuttered as a child, and sometimes, in some situations, I still stutter in the present. No doubt, I have a disposition for stuttering. In some studies, differences in temperament were found between stutterers and normal speakers, and I think I have the typical temperament of a stutterer. However, I would not say that I am ‘a person who stutters’ because I speak fluently most of the time, and then I am a person who does not stutter. I am much more a person who does not stutter than a person who stutters. But I am a stutterer.

My stuttering began at the typical age of 3 or 4 years. From the age of 5 on, I attended a special kindergarten for children with speech disorders, and thereafter, a corresponding special school for 8 years, in the 60s and 70s in East Germany. At this school, some speech therapy took place in addition to the normal lessons. This therapy was not very effective for me. My stuttering persisted. The main advantage of the school was that all the teachers were familiar with stuttering and knew how to deal with stuttering children. And I early learned that I was not the only one—there were many others who had the same problem.

At the age of 15, when I left the special school, I still stuttered moderately, but without fear and, as far as I remember, without appreciable secondary symptoms. In everyday communication, I was widely fluent, but when speaking to an audience, or in an animated discussion, I often struggled with stuttering. After 12 school years, I chose a profession not requiring much talking: I became an artisan and worked alone in my studio, in a remote little village where I lived for 17 years. It was not easy for me to find my way, so I was a whittler, a toy maker, a watercolorist, a musician. Sometimes, I jobbed in a factory, or in an agricultural cooperative, or even as a gravedigger. Later, I moved to another village and worked in an outdoor museum, where I could apply both my woodworking and musical skills. My stuttering did not change much during that time.

One night, I accidentally sat at a bonfire with a prospective speech pathologist. Of course, I began a conversation about stuttering and asked him if the cause was known. He negated. I was surprised, but did not contemplate dealing with that issue. My interests were others. I have always been interested in philosophy, and at that time, I thought about some problems, among them the relationship between speaking, thinking, and the processing of information in biological systems. One day, the idea occurred to me that the automatic control of speech could require perceiving the self-spoken words and keeping them in memory for some time. From there, it wasn't far to the idea that this function could be impaired anyway in stuttered speech.

After the thought had occurred to me that stutterers may perceive their speech insufficiently, it was natural to make a simple experiment: I talked to myself aloud in my normal voice and listened to me attentively, just as I would listen to someone else to understand his or her words. The effect was remarkable: I clearly felt that I would never stutter in this condition. At this point, I should mention that I often soliloquize when I am alone, and that stuttering used to occur not rarely in these situations. It still occurs today if I forget to listen to my voice while speaking because I focus all my attention on the content I want to express.

In the period following, I tested my new-found method when I was talking to others. Stuttering did not occur, and I had the same clear feeling that I wouldn't stutter. That was in 2011. In the belief of having really found something new, I shared my experience in a web forum of the German stuttering self-help association. I learned that my method was not new, but had already been discovered; about 100 years ago, by a pharmacist named Oskar Hausdörfer in Breslau. However, he could not explain his discovery scientifically, and the method is not part of professional stuttering treatment.

My interest was aroused. I began to read the scientific literature about stuttering and found my hypothesis confirmed: Auditory feedback, that is, hearing one’s own voice and words while speaking, is a relevant input for speech control; hence, it is not impossible that a disruption of auditory feedback causes stuttering. Step by step, my ideas developed to a comprehensive theory. I published it on my German website in 2014.

Maybe I should mention that I have always been visually impaired, and that I’ve been almost blind since 2022. It's a bit tedious for me to read what I’ve written. Therefore, don’t be surprised by strange typos. I’ve tried to avoid them as much as possible using correction software, but maybe it hasn't always been successful. If you have objections or questions concerning my stuttering theory, or if something appears inconsistent or incomprehensible, please let me know. I will be happy to receive suggestions and criticism.

Torsten Hesse

Salzwedel, Germany

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