By Denise Elizondo and Kaitlyn Dalton
A tiny, hearing-aid-like device, attempts to stimulate choral reading. The "choral effect" occurs when people who stutter speak or sing in unison with others and their stutter is dramatically reduced or even eliminated. By allowing the user to hear their own voice with a pitch shift, a slight time delay or a combination of both, SpeechEasy creates the illusion of another speaker speaking at the same time. Delay is in milliseconds and is software driven. The idea is that almost simultaneous echo engages so-called mirror neurons (brain cells). As a result, it proposes that this innate mimicking ability overrides whatever in the brain that causes stuttering.
SpeechEasy Mission Statement:
In creating the most advanced fluency devices in the world, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity. We are focused on working with allied healthcare professionals in order to create devices that provide real therapeutic value in relation to helping people who stutter speak more fluidly and with less effort. By doing so, we achieve our mission of helping people communicate more effectively and, in turn, enjoy the heightened sense of confidence, freedom and self-reliance that naturally stems from being able to more fully participate in all life has to offer.
How the SpeechEasy works:
SpeechEasy devices are worn similar to a hearing aid. However, rather than amplify sound, they use a technology called Altered Auditory Feedback (AAF) to recreate and optimize the choral effect. So when someone speaks while wearing a SpeechEasy device, their words are digitally replayed in their ear with a very slight delay and frequency modification. As a result, the brain perceives that it is speaking in unison with another person. This perception of ‘speaking in unison’ creates the choral effect, thus reducing or even eliminating the stutter.
The Different SpeechEasy Models:
SpeechEasy comes in two models, Basic and Advanced. The basic model is an updated version of the original Speech Easy product which was first offered to the public in June 2001. While it does not contain all the features of the Advanced model, it is still a very robust and functional device. The Speech Easy Advanced is the latest model, and integrates several new pieces of technology into an already effective fluency tool. The combination of these new technologies and the availability of added options make this model high user friendly and more comfortable for the client.
Different Shell Styles:
The Behind the Ear (BTE): is an external device that fits over the ear and attaches to a mold that fits in the ear. This is the largest and most durable of the devices.
In The Canal (ITC) style: fits in the ear canal and is relatively inconspicuous, with only the outer shell visible in the ear. The ITC also features external gain volume control.
Completely In Canal (CIC): sits completely in the ear canal. It is almost totally inconspicuous, and due to wide dynamic range compression does not require external gain control.
ALTERED AUDITORY FEEDBACK:
Altered auditory feedback (AAF) simply means hearing one’s voice in a manner that is slightly different from the way one normally hears it. The use of AAF in helping people who stutter become more fluent remained essentially a clinical phenomenon for such a long time due to large bulky devices that were used to provide the effects. Only with recent technological advances have these effects been captured in a device so small and inconspicuous, allowing them to be used outside of clinical environment. Altered auditory feedback allows the SpeechEasy user to listen to his/her own voice with Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF), Frequency Altered Feedback (FAF), or a combination of the two. Using DAF allows the user to hear his/her own voice with a slight temporal delay, similar to an echo. FAF allows the user to hear his or her own voice with a shift in pitch, so the signal heard is either at a slightly higher or slightly lower pitch than the person’s own voice.
Delayed Auditory Feedback & Frequency Altered Feedback:
For years, it has been known that when people who stutter speak the same material in unison with another speaker, they become fluent. This is known as ‘Choral Speech’. By allowing the user to hear his or her own voice with a pitch shift, a slight delay, or a combination of both, SpeechEasy creates the illusion of another speaker speaking at the same time. It is ultimately an emulation of choral speech. The use of DAF and FAF can significantly enhance fluency levels in a variety of situations including reading, monologue, using the telephone and speaking in front of an audience.
FREQUENCY SHAPING BANDS:
Each Frequency Shaping Band represents an area of resolution within the range of sound. The advanced model contains twice as many of these bands as the Basic model, thus allowing the provider to fine tune the device to ones specific needs. This feature can be compared to those of a digital camera. Within digital camera technology, high resolutions will result in a better and clearer picture; likewise, more frequency bands used to alter the sound in a SpeechEasy device will resulting a richer, more robust effect.
Intelligent Noise Attenuation Strategy (INAS):
INAS enables the SpeechEasy to analyze incoming sound for information content, like speech, and instantly accentuates the frequency ranges associated with these sounds. At the same time, it reduces the volume of the frequency ranges that contain noise. The end result of this technology is that the user experiences less distracting background noise and can wear the SpeechEasy with great comfort.
Effective Voice Activation Technology (EVAT)
This feature of the SpeechEasy is based on the strength and distance of sound waves. Stronger waves (from closer sources) are used to activate the SpeechEasy device, while weaker sounds (from more distant sources) are muted. Ultimately, the stutterer’s voice is delayed and altered instead of others. This allows the person to hear normally when he/she is not speaking.
1. Ambient noise-(i.e., restaurant, bar, cafeteria, shopping mall, etc.) May render it useless. The user must be able to listen to the signal (their voice) in one ear which is hard to hear in those situations.
2. Phone- Hearing their own voice delayed in one ear and listening to someone else on the phone is overwhelming.
3. The speaker hears his own voice and other voices, altered to sound either higher in pitch (like a chipmunk) or lower (Darth Vader)
4. Blocking- The device requires hearing oneself. If you produce silent blocks, this may be difficult. Some soft sounds like /h/ can be a challenge to hear.
5. Anxiety- May overwhelm the ability to attend to the signal.
6. Are you comfortable being seen with it?
7. According to a Stuttering Foundation of America 2004 survey, less than half of the owners of these devices are happy six months after purchase.
8. It’s very pricey! It runs between $4,000-$5,000 and is not covered by health insurance.
9. If you can’t handle an in ear device.
10. If DAF does not work for you.
11. If you are not willing to practice.
12. Does not cure stuttering.
13. Only works when worn and it’s so new that no one knows if it will work indefinitely.
Development of the SpeechEasy:
The drive for developing the SpeechEasy came from research at the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department, East Carolina University by inventors Joseph Kalinowski, Ph.D., Andrew Stuart, Ph.D., and Michael Rastatter, Ph.D. Its conception was based on ten years of peer reviewed scientific research on the fluency enhancing effects of altered auditory feedback (AAF) in people who stutter. Upon request from East Carolina University, a Canadian company named Micro-DSP developed both the algorithm and the hardware which power the Speech Easy device. SpeechEasy employs the most advanced digital technology on the market and possesses the power equivalent of a desk top computer.
While some who are fitted with a SpeechEasy device experience immediate dramatic improvements in fluency, others may not. Most initial users will experience moderate to significant improvement over time, with maximum benefits occurring as they become familiar and comfortable with the device. In addition, receiving follow up therapy from a certified speech therapist can play a vital role in achieving the highest degree of fluency possible. These certified professionals can offer therapeutic training exercises and advice that can help the user get the most comfort and benefit from their SpeechEasy Device.
* * * More and More speech therapists are finding SpeechEasy devices to be an appropriate and valuable tool for improving fluency. When used in conjunction with therapy, speech therapists have reported that progress is enhanced and made less stressful for their patients. For this reason, it is appropriate for speech language pathologists to determine who is an appropriate candidate for a fluency device as well as what therapies and techniques will enhance the device’s success.