Thursday, April 22, 2010

You May Know Mark...

A few years ago, I happened upon a segment of Oprah Winfrey that immediately caught my attention. The reason it caught my attention was that it was about stuttering. I don't watch Oprah on a regular basis. Ordinarily, because I am a stutterer myself, I find it difficult to watch television programs about stuttering and I'll avoid them at all cost. It's like a big mirror being erected before me and the last thing I usually want to do is to see and hear what I look and sound like when I stutter.

This segment was different, however. It was about the famed SpeechEasy device. If you aren't aware of this device, it's a tiny piece of expensive ($4000+) hardware that the adherent wears much like a hearing aid. It feeds auditory feedback to the listener in such a way as to "trick" the adherent into thinking that he is speaking in unison with another person. This act, like the device, usually produces instant fluency in stutterers. And for Mark, the focus of this Oprah segment, that is almost exactly what happened.

I could not find the Oprah Segment, but Mark was also featured on Good Morning America in 2002...same year. You can see the segment for yourself right here. Have some tissues handy.

The segment touched me very deeply...but it also sparked my imagination. My stutter isn't as severe as Mark's, but I still wanted the device terribly. After years of struggling through failed speech therapy, a childhood filled with taunts and bullies and daily struggles even to this day, finally here was a device that appeared to promise instant fluency. Is there a stutterer alive who wouldn't want this?

To my dismay, I learned that just the consultation visit was over $300. The device itself costs upwards of $4000. And it's not covered by insurance. That was far out of my budget constraints. I blogged about it some time later and some of my readers offered to take up a collection and donate so that I could afford it. Now I am glad I never took them up on that offer.

Like many professionals and researchers who have decades of experience with stuttering suspected, it seems the device is only a temporary cure. For many, like Mark, the effects of the device wear off pretty quickly. And many, like Mark, are left disillusioned, embarrassed, ashamed and they often blame themselves for the failure.

Today, from a link on a stuttering website, I found that Mark has a blog of his own. I am linking to his post about the SpeechEasy device, but you can navigate from that page to his current posts. I'm glad to hear and read that Mark is doing well, has overcome the disappointment and self-loathing he felt when the device failed him and he has gone on to finish his education, get married and is living a happy and productive life. His blog should be advertised more so people can approach devices like the SpeechEasy fully informed and so those who, like Mark, were failed by the device, can be assured that they aren't alone and they do not have to live a life, laboring under feelings of failure and disappointment. Good for you, Mark, and thank you for sharing your story.

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