This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of the CSA Newsletter.
I am a lifelong PWS who became interested in the Speecheasy device a couple years ago.
This device is an “auditory feedback” aid that fits on or in the ear like a hearing aid and reduces stuttering in some people. Most people who stutter have probably heard of this but may not be sure if they can benefit from it and afford it.
First of all, I had to be tested to be sure that I would benefit from the technique. During the test my stuttering reduced considerably while I spoke with the device that fed my own voice back into my ear with a slight delay effect. Because of the positive results in the test situation, I decided to go ahead with it, and was fitted for the device.
The device comes in two models: one is fitted on the outside of the ear and is easier to volume control and turn on and off if need be. The other more expensive model fits right into the ear and is inserted/removed with a small tab. It is more practical for men who may not have long hair to cover the other type. I got the larger model that fits around the outside of the ear and liked the fact that I could adjust the volume and on/off switch without removing it.
As for the results in practical use I do find the auditory feedback effective in some situations. I do not wear it all the time, in fact the past year I have not worn it very much. If I am giving a presentation or a speech I will wear it but I stopped wearing it for regular day to day activities. Like a hearing aid, it picks up not only your voice but other sounds around you, which can make it difficult to use in loud environments. I do not find it particularly helpful with spontaneous or quick speaking situations, such as ordering a coffee at Tim Hortons or chit chat with friends. But if you have a job or are taking a course where you are required to speak in planned meetings or give presentations it can be quite helpful.
One thing I would like to point out to people who are thinking of getting this is to be careful about which ear you choose to have it fitted to. Before I got the thing I had heard theories about right and left hemisphere dominance in the brain and how it relates to stuttering. I read materials by researchers and neurologists that emphasize the right ear advantage in listening to language sounds, because it connects to the left side of the brain that is more adept at interpreting language sounds than the more symbolic-oriented right brain. Also, I took a type of therapy in 2002 (not PFSP), part of which had the subject listen to his/her voice with the right ear predominantly while they spoke, which was supposed to help reduce my stuttering. If you want to start researching this yourself, look on the internet or medical journals at the library.
I don’t know if the research is conclusive. The pathologist at the clinic did not think right/left ear dominance was pertinent, and recommended the left ear because, being left handed, it would be easier to hold the phone in my right hand and write with my left if need be. For whatever reason, I found the left ear hard to adjust to, maybe because of the therapy I took earlier that trained me to listen to my voice with the right ear. When I talked to the pathologist about it I found out that fortunately I can get the device switched to the other ear at no charge, but that it would have to be changed to the inside-ear model. I am going to make the appointment to do this in the next couple of months.
Another thing to mention if you are thinking of trying out the device is that it is costly (almost four thousand dollars) and not covered by OHIP or any known medical insurance plan. The hearing tests that cost about two hundred dollars might be covered, but that is most likely all the money you will get back.
So choose carefully, and good luck.