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Device Helps Fight Stuttering

Posted - Jun. 9, 2003 at 8:21 a.m.



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It's estimated that more than three million Americans stutter. But now a new device called the speecheasy is helping many of them overcome the problem.

It looks a lot like a hearing aid, but instead of helping people hear it helps them speak.

For the majority of us, talking is the most natural thing in the world. It's something we do everyday without thinking.

But for people like Terry Leake and Marty Fowler, talking has been a lifelong struggle.

Terry and Marty stutter.

It has had a big impact on their lives.

TERRY LEAKE/ HAS A STUTTER: "I JUST KIND OF KEPT TO MYSELF, AND THAT KIND OF THING. I WAS VERY QUIET, VERY WITHDRAWN, VERY INTROVERTED."

MARTY FOWLER/ HAS A STUTTER: "OH YEAH, THERE'D BE THINGS THAT I'D GO, 'OH NO. I CAN'T EVER DO THAT BECAUSE OF MY SPEECH.'"

Over the years they both tried everything to overcome the problem

TERRY LEAKE: "WHEN I WAS A TEEN I TRIED HYPNOSIS, BIOFEEDBACK. WHEN I WAS IN MY 20'S I WENT THROUGH PROBABLY ABOUT 5 YEARS OF SPEECH THERAPY."

MARTY FOWLER: "WELL, I STARTED THERAPY IN GRADE SCHOOL, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL."

Marty even became a speech therapist, helping others overcome their speech problems.

But she could never overcome her own. Neither could Terry.

"I COULD CU CU CU.. COULD GET THROUGH BLOCKS."

So they came to speech and language pathologist Elaine Stevick to try a new device.

It's called the speech-easy.

MARTY FOWLER: "IT WAS RIGHT AWAY. IT WAS AUTOMATIC."

The device is a tiny computer that works by mimicking what is called the choral effect.

For reasons we don't fully understand, when people sing or recite with a group, such as when saying the pledge of allegiance, they don't stutter.

The speecheasy mimics that effect, in a sense creating another voice for the individual to talk along with.

ELAINE STEVICK, MA SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: "SO THAT WHEN THEY SPEAK THEY HEAR THEIR OWN VOICE COME BACK A FEW MILLI SECONDS LATER, AND BY DOING THAT COMBINATION IT GIVES THEM THE SUPPORT THEY NEED TO CREATE FLUENCY."

Studies show the device has a success rate of about 80 percent.

It's not a cure. It only works while you wear it. But it can be very effective.

TERRY LEAKE: "I'M NOT 100% FLUENT, WHICH WAS NEVER MY GOAL IN THE FIRST PLACE. BUT I'M A LOT MORE FLUENT THAN I WAS BEFORE".

"I'M FROM NEW, NEW, NEWARK CA CA CA CA.... CALIFORNIA."

But the speecheasy is by no means the only method that can help overcome stuttering. There are other techniques that can help.

Some, like the McGwire method, use breathing to help increase fluency.

PENNY WAYTE/SPEECH THERAPIST: "CONSISTENTLY WITH SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN THE PROBLEMS ARE WITH THINGS LIKE S, R AND L."

Speech pathologist Penny Wayte says different methods work for different people.

The key is identifying the problem early on.

PENNY WAYTE: "THERE IS NO PRESCRIPTION, THERE IS NO PILL, NO LOTION OR ANYTHING THAT CAN ADRESS THAT. BUT TEACHING AND TRAINING AND LEARNING CAN DEFINITELY REDUCE, ELIMINATE AND PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FLUENT SPEECH."

While we still don't know prescisely what causes stuttering, neuro imaging is helping us identify and understand the different parts of the brain that it affects.

In time those studies may lead to more effective treatments.

Till then, devices like the speecheasy are giving people like Marty and Terry a confidence they never had before.

TERRY LEAKE: "IT HAS GIVEN ME THE OPPORTUNITY ABOUT MY SPEECH THAT I NEVER HAD BEFORE."

MARTY FOWLER: "IT'S REMARKABLE TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT FOR ME, TO DO WHAT EVERYONE ELSE TAKES FOR GRANTED, BUT IT'S A REAL GIFT."

he speecheasy costs between $3,600 and $5,000 depending on what features you want. And it's not covered by insurance.

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