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Health Team

Device helps smooth speech for stutterers

Posted July 8

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— About 3 million people in the United States stutter, a speech disability that affects their career, social life and self-esteem.

Robbie Passell, 27, said he last tried speech therapy in the second grade, but he stopped receiving treatment because he didn't think it helped.

Still, stuttering made it almost impossible for him to go through a job interview or even talk to strangers, he said. After years of struggling, he went to speech-language pathologist Amber Snyder to see if a device she markets, called SpeechEasy, would help.

"SpeechEasy is based on choral speech, and choral speech is nothing but people saying the same thing at the same time," Snyder said.

The device is worn like a hearing aid and creates something akin to an echo, although the pitch can be changed higher or lower so it sounds like a different person. The effect is similar to a speech therapist reading something aloud along with a person who stutters.

"It's kind of like they're using my voice to feed off of, to push through their blocks a little more easily," Snyder said.

"If I have somebody next to me who is speaking the same time as me, I would not stutter at all," Passell said.

The device alone doesn't decrease stuttering, however, Snyder said.

"We certainly see that, when people pair speech therapy with the device, they're going to see greater benefit," she said.

Most health insurance policies don't cover the cost of a SpeechEasy device, but many speech pathology practices that offer it also offer funding or financing options.

Passell's stuttering problem hasn't completely disappeared with the device, but it helped him get through one job interview, which earned him a job as a videographer. As he develops more confidence, he said he wants to start his own video business.

"Even though I'm still having blocks, they aren't as bad," he said.

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