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Effects of the SpeechEasy

This article is a summary and review of the following:
Article: Effect of the SpeechEasy on Objective and Perceived Aspects of Stuttering: A 6-Month, Phase 1 Clinical Trial in Naturalistic Environments
From: the Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 52, April 2009
Authors: Ryan Pollard, John B. Ellis, Don Finan, Peter Ramig, University of Colorado at Boulder
This article studies the effect of the SpeechEasy under extraclinical conditions, and compares the findings with the results of previous studies.

The SpeechEasy is a device that looks like a hearing aid and feeds back the patient’s voice into his/her ear during speech, to inhibit stuttering. Delayed auditory feedback (DAF) and frequency altered feedback (FAF) are two types of altered auditory feedback (AAF). Other devices have used similar techniques to inhibit stuttering, but the SpeechEasy is the most recent and the smallest and, unlike other incarnations, can be virtually unnoticeable when worn. Also, because the rate of feedback can be adjusted to a comfortable interval, a slowed rate of speech was not necessary.

In 2003 J. Kalinowski, a PWS and the co-creator of the device, came under fire from colleagues for promoting the SpeechEasy in the media before studies appeared in peer-reviewed journals. Claims of its remarkable reduction of stuttering (up to 90%) were based on the noticed effects of AAF in laboratory environments dating back to the 1950s, and not on observations made during studies of the effects of electronic devices such as the SpeechEasy in extraclinical envirnoments.

Past studies

There have been studies since then, mainly in controlled laboratory environments, that show reduction of stuttering under certain conditions using the SpeechEasy, but not to the extent initially claimed. Significantly improved fluency was observed depending on the speech task, including monologue speech. Little extraclinical study was done, and no individual speech or self-report data was included. Effectiveness during formulated or conversational speech remained virtually unexplored.

Present study

For this study, 11 participants were involved. Samples were collected at the baseline phase (before installation of device), treatment phase (during wearing of device) and withdrawal phase (after study period when device is no longer worn). During the treatment phase articipants wore the device for 5 hours a day and visited the lab every two weeks to give speech samples – consisting of reading, conversation and asking a question of a stranger. (Speech samples from outside the laboratory were recorded using a portable digital recorder.) At the start and end of the treatment phase, participants completed self-reports consisting of surveys about general perspectives on stuttering, the impact of stuttering on one’s life, reactions to using it, etc., and gave a summary evaluation of their speech for the week in a logbook. This was to provide a fuller picture of the overall effects of the SpeechEasy.

Quantitative Results

Some of the quantitative results of the study are as follows: during oral reading there was a 58.2% reduction in stuttering during treatment phase, and 27% reduction during withdrawal phase. For conversation task there was 14.5% less stuttering during treatment phase and subsequent 6.8% reduction. In the question task, stuttering decreased 1.9% during treatment phase and 2.3% during withdrawal. When the results are combined with those of the earlier 4-month trial by Stuart et al(2004), using the treatment phase data only, stuttering reductions are reported at “22% during wearing of device in extraclinical environments.” (See article for complete results.)

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