Now, device to help stutterers improve quality of life

Updated: Oct 21, 2012, 15:48 PM IST

Washington: A trio of University of Mississippi faculty members from different areas of campus has created a patent-pending device that could change the lives of people who stutter.

Paul Goggans, an electrical engineering professor, developed the prosthetic device, about the size of a cell phone, with Greg Snyder, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, and Dwight Waddell, associate professor of health, exercise science and recreation management.

The friends began working on the device after Snyder, himself a lifelong stutterer, demonstrated how he could speak much more fluently simply by feeling his throat while he and Waddell chatted over coffee.

“By feeling my throat vibrate when I speak, I get tactile speech feedback, which significantly reduces my stuttering. Dwight immediately understood my application of speech feedback and neural circuitry, and he then approached Paul, who agreed to make the device development a senior-level design project in his class,” Snyder said.

Since that time, the team has been focused on supporting and empowering the stuttering community by fighting social stigma and challenging the normal remedies associated with stuttering.

“Our device is portable, battery-powered and easy to use. These are important attributes because other behavioural treatments for stuttering are more intense; they require too much concentration and are exhausting,” said Goggans, professor of electrical engineering and lead partner in the instrument`s design and fabrication.

Even after a long day of speech therapy, a stutterer might have no progress to show the next day, but the patient is tired because he or she worked so hard, Goggans said.

“This creation is offering a promising alternative that can be discreetly and easily used every day by adults,” he said.

While the device does not cure stuttering, it helps the user reduce his or her stuttering frequency and can improve the client’s quality of life, Snyder said.

“The team plans to include the prosthetic device within a holistic therapy program to better serve the real-life needs of stuttering clients,” he said.

Though the new device is still being developed and tested, its potential benefit for people who stutter is clear.

A prototype of the device was presented as a “Hot Topic” at the 2012 Society of Neuroscience conference, which runs Oct. 13-17 in New Orleans.