Medical Minute 4-4: Stop Stuttering for Good!

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

The drama of stuttering that played out in an Oscar-winning performance is what Dave Barnett lived with every day of his life.

"I had people laugh at me, mock me. It was rough," said Dave Barnett.

And he would have never read a book to his son.

"He was looking at me differently. He was trying to figure out is that the way Daddy talks."

The word "seven" was particularly hard for him, but But not anymore.
Another tough word: "firefighter." After speech therapy and even hypnosis, Dave's now found his voice with a small hearing-aid type device.

"For many people, this is their last resort. I've tried everything else," said Jennifer Peacock, M.A., C.C.C.-S.L.P., Speech-Language Pathologist at Henry Ford Hospital.

Speech pathologists at the Henry Ford Hospital are using the Speecheasy to not amplify sound, but instead, alter it, echoing a person's voice in a different pitch, with a very slight delay.

"You're hearing your voice just milliseconds after you actually say it. And the change in frequency makes you feel like you're talking to another person instead of just listening to your own voice," said Peacock.

"As I speak, there's a computer voice in my ear, which I hear all day long," said Dave.

It creates a choral effect, which resembles when you speak or sing in unison with others -- allowing Dave to speak without stuttering.
A lesson learned from Kings… to the common man.

"It's completely changed my life."

Everyone should be heard.

"He loves reading stories. He'll just keep on reading stories. It's cute."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500, jcherry@ivanhoe.com.

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MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS
RESEARCH SUMMARY

TOPIC: STOP STUTTERING -- FOR GOOD!
REPORT: MB #3278

BACKGROUND: SpeechEasy is a portable and inconspicuous device that is designed to enhance fluency for people who stutter. According to the National Institute of Deafness and other Communications Disorders, stuttering occurs most often in children between the ages of two and five. Developmental stuttering occurs while children are still learning speech skills. Neurogenic stuttering happens as a result of a brain injury and psychogenic stuttering is caused by emotional trauma. There is no cure for stuttering, so it is often treated with drug therapy, self help groups, and or specialized devices, like SpeechEasy. SpeechEasy was first offered in 2001. It was developed by a team of researchers at East Carolina University. The device is currently available at more than 130 locations nationwide, and is widely used in other countries.

THE DEVICE: The SpeechEasy device looks similar to a hearing aid. However, unlike a hearing aid the device doesn’t amplify sounds. Instead it alters sounds that go through it, so that an individual can hear their voice at a slight time delay and at a different pitch. The reason for the delay and pitch change is to recreate what is called “choral effect.” The choral effect is a well-documented, natural phenomenon that occurs when an individual’s stutter is reduced or even eliminated when they speak or sing in unison with other people.
SpeechEasy comes in four different models which are tailored and programmed for each individual user. The first style is the Comfort Fit. This model type features a natural sound passage, and reduced background noise. The next is the Completely- in-Canal model. It is the smallest fluency device available, and is more discreet than the other models. The third is the In-the-Canal model, which has an easily accessible volume control. The final model type is the Behind-the- Ear model which is good for dexterity issues, and is supposed to be very durable. In order to obtain a device, consumers must first set up an appointment with a SpeechEasy provider. All SpeechEasy Providers are licensed, American Speech Language Association certified pathologists. During the first appointment, the provider will help the individual user decide which model type is most appropriate. The device costs between $4,100 and $5,100 depending on the model. (SOURCE: www.speecheasy.com)

RESULTS: According to SpeechEasy’s client satisfaction poll, Over 75 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their decision to get the device. Nearly 85 percent said they would recommend it to others, and more than 70 percent indicated that SpeechEasy had made a positive to very positive impact on their life. (SOURCE: www.speecheasy.com)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Jennifer Peacock, M.A., CCC-SLP
Henry Ford Hospital
(313) 916-4612
http://www.henryford.com

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THE FOLLOWING IS AN IN DEPTH-INTERVIEW WITH THE EXPERT IN THE STORY ABOVE:

Jennifer Peacock, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, discusses speech impediments and how SpeechEasy has given patients their voices back.

What was Dave like the first time that you met with him?

Jennifer Peacock: He was a moderate stutterer. He had lots of blocks and prolongations. A block is when you can’t get anything out. You would basically go to say something and not be able to form the words and get it out. A prolongation is when you go to say something and you get stuck on a syllable and ultimately stay on it for an extended period of time. It was significantly affecting his ability to communicate, to advance in his job, and was moreover affecting his ability to socialize in the way that he wanted to (i.e. church events).

By the time that people generally come to you, are they tired and moreover fed up with their particular impediments?

Jennifer Peacock: Yes, very often they are. Most of the people that I see are in fact adults. I occasionally get teenagers, but for the most part they are adults. It is kind of, for many people, their last resort. ‘I’ve tried everything else. I’ve been through therapy. I’ve tried everything that people have told me and nothing seems to work. I’m trying this now as my last resort.’

Is there a reason for his stuttering?

Jennifer Peacock: Well, there is not one specific cause for stuttering. There are actually a multitude of things that have to come together. There’s neurophysiology, there’s genetics – a lot of people who stutter have other people in their family who also stutter – plus there are environmental factors in addition to personality. People’s personalities can play a major factor into whether or not they actually become somebody who stutters. Many exceptionally young kids stutter, but personality really comes into play when determining if they will continue their speech impediment through their teenage as well as their adult years.

What do they hear inside of their heads when they talk?

Jennifer Peacock: It very much depends on the person that stutters. I constantly ask people that. ‘What is going through your head when you are in the middle of a sentence and you start to stutter uncontrollably?’ The answers vary dramatically. Some people don’t even realize. They sort of black out and have no idea how long the stutter is lasting. On the other hand, some people are very, very, very aware. They can tell you and ultimately mimic their stuttering patterns for you. They know exactly what happens and for how long it lasts. They are moreover very in tune to how people react to their stuttering.

Do they hear themselves stutter?

Jennifer Peacock: Yes. Many people hear their stuttering. Like I said, there are countless people who aren’t aware of it at all, but many people do. They hear their stutter, and they know that it is happening, but no matter how hard they try they can’t help but continue doing it.

What do you do for people who just come in?

Jennifer Peacock: We do an evaluation. Essentially, I have them do lots of talking as well as reading, and attempt to figure out when their speech is the worst and try to put them in those situations as much a possible. A lot of people have difficulty on the phone, so I will have them talk on the telephone quite often. This will allow me to further evaluate their speech, and evaluate how their stuttering sounds and when it is most prevalent.

How do you treat them?

Jennifer Peacock: For the treatment phase – if I am just doing speech therapy – depending on the issues that they are having, I will implement various strategies to help them control their stuttering. I will have them pull out a few words to get them going and to get them started rather easily. We will do things to help them realize the times that they stutter the most, and help them realize how long the stutters last and what kind of stuttering they are actually doing. Most people feel such a lack of control when they are in the middle of a stutter, that showing them they can control it gives them a lot of power and confidence. They then will do a much better job controlling the stutters and learning to shorten the length of each block and / or prolongation.

After speech therapy, how are you able to help?

Jennifer Peacock: Most people that come to me about the Speech Easy have been through lot of therapy in the past. It works for them for a while, but they sort of fall away from it after a period of time. Yes, certainly a form of digital technology such as the SpeechEasy is the way that a lot of people go who haven’t been helped as much as they would like to in speech therapy.

What exactly does the SpeechEasy do?

Jennifer Peacock: The SpeechEasy provides delayed auditory feedback as well as frequency-shifted feedback. In other words, it creates a sort of echo. You hear your voice milliseconds after you speak, and the change of frequency makes it seem like you are talking with another person instead of just hearing your own voice. The reason why both of those are important is because the delayed auditory feedback is what has been shown to aid people with stuttering in their fluency. There is really not any definitive research that shows what is happening in the brain that causes this to happen. The change in frequency is because we don’t want the patients to get so used to that signal that they don’t listen to it anymore. If you are listening to your own voice, eventually you start to tune it out. However, if you are listening to someone else’s voice, it becomes much easier to keep paying attention to it.

Are you amazed with the results that the Speech Easy offers?

Jennifer Peacock: Yes. Unfortunately, the results are variable. It is certainly not a miracle cure and not something that works for everybody, but for the people it works for it is very amazing and often times life changing.

Is there a learning curve, or does it just happen for some of these people?

Jennifer Peacock: It just happens for some people and it doesn’t for others. There is a little bit of a learning curve obviously. There are some strategies that we can implement with the device that can enhance their fluency even further. For many people who get the SpeechEasy, I will recommend speech therapy as well, and thus we are training some strategies along with the device so they can enhance their fluency even further. As you saw with Dave, this device isn’t correcting the stuttering completely. He still had little periods here and there where the stutters are obvious. The therapy is there to help people work through the times that they do in fact stutter even with the device.

How many people percentage-wise does the SpeechEasy work for versus not work for?

Jennifer Peacock: When looking back at the patients that were seen for evaluations for the SpeechEasy over a 2-year period of time, 51 percent of the people we evaluated actually purchased the device. That doesn’t mean that it only worked for 51 percent of the people, some of them weren’t able to purchase the device because they weren’t able to afford it. With others, it worked but not enough that they felt it was necessary to purchase the item for themselves and wear this device in their ear all of the time. Also, there are some background noises associated with the device as well. They don’t just hear themselves but all of the background noises and everyone else for that matter. Some people can deal with that just fine where others struggle with it.

For the 51 percent of patients who purchased the device, are they able to maintain that fluency without the device?

Jennifer Peacock: Some people say that when they take the device out for a short period of time, they still do maintain that fluency. I attribute that mainly to their confidence. They have improved their confidence in their speaking ability, and so they are able to continue that fluency for a short period of time. However, I tell people that it works the same way a hearing aid does. When you wear it, it works. When you don’t wear it, it’s not really doing you any good. It’s not meant to be worn for a short period of time.

How exactly does the echo work?

Jennifer Peacock: Essentially, it is almost like standing in a shower talking. You hear the echo of your voice. The difficulty is with those who have a silent block (when they attempt to say something and nothing comes out). You have to work with them a little bit in an effort to get them started; very often you have to introduce a strategy early on because if they can’t get voice out ... the SpeechEasy isn’t working. It only works when your voicing.

Basically, you are giving people their voice back.

Jennifer Peacock: Yes. I have heard that time and time again. People feel that they can actually go out and be the person that they want to be and essentially the person that they are. I ask people a lot of questions when doing an interview, and one of them is, ‘Are you an outgoing person or are you a shy person?’, Many people will say ‘my personality is that I am very outgoing, but if you were to ask my friends and family they would say that I am very reserved. I don’t do much talking and that is because of the stuttering. Even though I have a lot to say, I don’t because of the stuttering.’


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