Spasmodic Dysphonia Tips from Russell Townsley

I should point out , I did these steps without any noticeable benefit for months and months. I think for me the trick was to master all the techniques needed to get a normal voice. Once I did that, my voice came back pretty quickly, but it took almost a year. I seemed to developed my case gradually over a 10 year period of time and really believed my problems were not neurological, but due to bad habits. BUT, I sounded EXACTLY like a classic case of SD, and the doctors said I had SD… To me this is irrelevant since apparently it is very difficult to define different cases of speech problems. What I did will sound like Morton Cooper… now, I realize he is hated (not too strong a term to describe the sentiments) in the on-line community. But the fact, of the matter is, what I did was strongly influenced by a lady who was “cured” by him. And what she showed me saved me, too.
Somebody helped me once and I’m thrilled to try to help other folks too. Good luck!! Russ
Here’s what I usually send folks who ask:
My voice used to cut in and out as if I had a “short circuit” and I was very raspy. Often I could not be understood at all. I was diagnosed by 2 speech pathologists with “severe SD” and would never speak normally again without botox. In the end, though, I guess I was very lucky to have had a case that was beatable, or maybe I was misdiagnosed. If that’s the case, I’m certain many others are too, since I was told I was a classic case. I’m not a doctor or a speech therapist, but I know precisely what helped me and I share it whenever I have a chance. I’ve been problem free for about 2 or 3 years and don’t even think about it anymore except when trying to help people. If something here helps somebody, it would make me really happy.
Anyway here’s the approach:
1) Admit on a deep level that you have a voice disorder and commit yourself to declaring war on it. I regarded my situation as a battle for my life as I knew it. The way to channel this intensity is to begin giving gentle but relentless attention to your voice mechanics. Accept at the outset that you will need to pay attention to mechanics nearly every waking moment – even when not speaking. Don’t let go more than 10 minutes go by without checking your breathing, etc. This is up to you. Speech therapy won’t accomplish this for you.
2) Relearn breathing; lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. The hand on your belly SHOULD move up and down as you breathe. The one on your chest should not move. Become aware of this throughout the day, even when not speaking. Keep a hand on your belly. Try to fall asleep breathing correctly. If you do, you will get a whole night of good breathing in and you will start to form new habits. Relearning breathing has a lot of benefits, it will relax you too. Relaxation will help indirectly with the SD too, but proper breathing is crucial.
3) You have to make sure you are speaking from the nose and face. DO NOT speak from the throat. Practice speaking in the most nasal voice you can come up with. The idea is your new voice will settle in between. I’m assuming here that you probably speak down in your throat like most SD folks that I’ve been aware of. Is your voice raspy? Go get a kazoo from a toy store. Can you get a note out of one? If not you are speaking too far down in your throat.
4) You need to find a new “pitch”(as in a note in the musical scale) from which to speak. Speak either higher or lower. I can’t tell you which one, but I had to go lower. Now, be sure when you speak lower, that you are speaking lower in pitch not lower in your throat. It is easy to make this mistake. Speaking from the throat is the last thing you want to do.
5) Practice saying HMMM HMMMMM one, HMMM HMMMM two etc. Make sure you resonate each syllable.
6) Practice “breathing out your voice” CAREFUL: don’t speak down the throat when you do this (that’s an easy mistake to make, so be careful). Here’s an exercise to illustrate the concept: blow out a candle with a long slow, steady stream. Now do it again, only this time, say”aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. Now say aaaahhhh again only, vary the volume like this: AHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. Capital letters indicate more volume and small letters indicate quieter volume. It’s like a vibrato, in music lingo. Here’s the important part: Make sure this is driven from the belly (really the diaphragm). When you do this, you should feel the belly pulling in as you exhale the sound. You are driving your voice from the belly now. This may be a difficult thing for you because your vocal cords will try to shut. If so, this is directly addressing your problem. Practice doing this without opening your mouth very wide to begin with – experiment with it but keep at it.
7) The above may take many months. Again, being patient and diligent is crucial to making all this work. It took me 10 to 11 months, and sometimes it seemed like it would never work. But when my voice started coming back, it came back pretty quickly. The hard part was remembering all of the above simultaneously. You have to remember: Breathing, pitch, voice focus(nose and face) and finally, while you are doing this, relax your whole abdomen. It’s not easy to remember all this things. First you have to perfect each, then you have to perform them all perfected, simultaneously. It won’t be easy, but it will be a heck of a lot easier than living with SD.
8) You may feel like you are developing a “phony” voice. Please don’t worry about that. If this gets in the way of your improvement, it means you haven’t suffered long enough yet. So do yourself a favor and say “enough”. Somewhere along the line, you have to quit identifying with the old voice. The old SD voice is not you! Besides, trust me on this: when your new voice comes along, NOBODY will even notice it other than to say, gosh, John/Susan is sounding better these days”. But most people won’t even notice THAT unless you point it out. They’ll just be able to understand you better, but it probably won’t even occur to them. Fear of a new voice hold people back, in my opinion. Find a “place of poise” from which to speak if possible. I don’t think anxiety caused my voice problems, but it didn’t helped any when I was trying to relearn speaking habits. Don’t try to project a personality through your voice – be like Mr. Rogers: just speak slowly and resonate for the sake of getting your message out.
9) While you are relearning your voice, you should try to minimize speaking during the day. Some folks who have to speak for a living may need a life style change. I can’t suggest you quit your job if you have to speak a lot… but if you can avoid that sort of employment, it can only help. The ideal thing to do is to only speak when you are practicing and on a bad voice day, don’t speak at all. This is the IDEAL and probably isn’t going to be possible – but you get the idea, I think.
So: keep your hand on your belly until you relearn breathing and practice that AHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH exercise. The bottom line most important thing is that you relearn how to drive your voice from your “belly” and NOT from your throat. When you are speaking, put a hand on your belly and make sure it is pulling in as you exhale your voice. Do this all day long, if you can.
Another exercise: Put your hand on your belly and hum the “Happy Birthday” song. Make your version quick and “choppy”. The notes MUST be driven from the belly. They should begin and end as a result of breath flowing from your diaphragm. You should feel the belly pull in, in quick little increments, as you exhale the melody. BE SURE you are not cutting the notes off at your throat – if you do this you are practicing a bad habit. If your voice has been raspy, remember to speak through the nose.
I used to speak in as nasal a voice as possible to practice. This probably sounded bizarre to my wife, but it helped inmensly.
10) When you get as you have the above techniques down (and it may take months), practice speaking very slowly – make sure you resonate each syllable. At this time, do this even in public. If that’s too hard for you it probably means you are still identifying too heavily with the old voice. When you go to order food, etc. speak very, very slowly – yes, people will think you are “mentally impaired” (get used to the idea) but the important thing now is to RESONATE. I’d recommend keeping a sense of humor through all this if you can.
Russ