Saturday, October 23, 2010

iPhone App: DAF Assistant

I refuse to shell out $4000 for the SpeechEasy, not only because it's far too expensive, but also because there is strong evidence that the device's beneficial effects eventually wear off for most of those who use it. The strongest piece of anecdotal evidence comes from that of Mark, a young man whose life was initially changed by SpeechEasy as he was thrust into instant fame by being featured on American national television on The Today Show and Oprah Winfrey (I believe). It seems that the American media was a bit hasty, however, because, to hear Mark tell it, the effects of the device began to rapidly decline until it had virtually no effect at all. He spent a fair amount of time in a depression because of the experience...thankfully, however, he eventually recovered and is now in grad school, I think. You can check out his blog in the link above.

Despite this, I was still curious, if for no other reason, because I wanted to see if the device would work for me, even if only initially, and because I wanted to feel what it is like to be fluent.

It seems Apple has come up with the solution for this. Well, not Apple, but an application designer named ARTEFACT, LLC. The application is sold in iTunes and is called DAF Assistant ($9.99!). Essentially, it operates exactly like The SpeechEasy device, absent the carefully and personally-tailored ear piece. The application offers Audio Delay from 20-320 milliseconds and Frequency Shift from tones ranging from -10 to +10 (half octave down to half octave up). You can use the application with either Bluetooth headset or a simple headset with a built-in microphone. I don't recommend the type of headset with an extended microphone, as you would look silly walking around with that on your head all day. Just buy the ones with the microphone built in to the cord that extends from the earphone itself. That way, you can even just use that one side of the earphones without having two earbuds in at the same time.

The intended effect is to "trick" the stutterer/stammerer into thinking that he or she is speaking in unison with somebody else because, for some stutterers, doing so virtually eliminates the stutter. That is the case for me. If I am reciting The Pledge of Allegiance or any other verse in unison with one or more persons, I will not stutter. Why is this so? I haven't the foggiest clue. *shrugs*

The application does work for me. When I placed the earbuds into my ears and launched the device, I immediately was able to speak freely to a friend of mine with hardly any stammering or blocks. It was a tremendous feeling and I kept talking nonstop for about 5 minutes. The small blocks I did have were almost inconsequential and I was able to get past them almost by sheer will. My settings are Delay of 140 and Frequency Shift of +3. I tried a few others and they worked nearly as well, so I can't say for sure which works the best.

The downside: As expected, not only do you hear your own voice with delayed feedback and frequency shift, but you hear everything else in the room (including your own typing) in the same manner. My friend tried it and said it would drive him crazy. It doesn't bother me all that much, simply because the benefit of fluency outweighs any noticeable distraction. If I am not talking, I do find the noise annoying, so I just take out the earbud or turn the application off. The only time I ever found it annoying (disturbing, actually) was when I suddenly laughed out loud in response to something my friend said and suddenly was subjected to a loud, high pitched, crazy-sounding laugh directly into my own ear. I immediately yanked out the earbud!

My own advice is to only use the application in instances where you will actively be participating in a conversation. If you are only going to speak occasionally, like when you are watching television with others...turn it off. The feedback will be distracting. Overall, I am very pleased with the results. The application is exceedingly inexpensive at just 99 cents and the results were/are immediate. And if they aren't for you...well, you've only lost ten bucks. :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

An Award & A Difficult Academic Task

Apparently, my blog was one of 10 winners for the 2010 Top Stuttering Stammering Blogs (see the badge in the right-hand column). You can read about who hosts this selection at at this link here. I really do appreciate those who voted for this blog, appreciate the organization who sponsors the yearly distinction, and certainly am humbled to be included with my fellow bloggers on that list, most with whom I have become familiar over the years of maintaining this blog. To be listed right below Tom Weidig is a true honor, given the time and tremendous work he expends every year in the study of stammering and given his impressive academic credentials. You may have read before that he and I had the chance to sit and talk in a coffee house in San Diego a few years ago. He is just as charming in person as he is in his writing. And just as passionate about the study of stammering/stuttering.

I am currently back in school again...yes, again (actually, I think I mentioned this already). It seems I have become addicted to being enrolled in school. Otherwise, I feel lazy and unproductive and I hate both of those things. For one of the courses I am required to take (Language and Communication) I was required to develop a thesis statement and then provide research and an outline for a live presentation of my subject and thesis, write an APA-formatted outline, at least one visual aid, and then I was required to VIDEO TAPE the presentation without editing and have at least one person in the audience ask 2-3 questions at the end, followed by my answers.

Let me start by saying that I am a very comfortable public speaker. I am most fluent when I am at a podium or if there is a microphone in my hand. I facilitate many psychoeducational groups at work with at least 10-15 teenagers in attendance. Most of my groups are educational in nature and consist of me lecturing and asking questions of the teens. I feel most comfortable, speaking-wise, when I am in front of an audience. Unless...unless...unless...there is a camcorder running and it is being recorded. Then, I turn into a stuttering, fumbling, sweaty-palmed jackass. And that is what happened with this project. It took me 5 times to finally get all the way through it. Each of the four times, I would get nearly through the presentation and then suddenly, I would block irrevocably and I would just turn the camera off because I can't bear the thought of my college instructors seeing how I look when I stutter. Further, I have no desire to immortalize such an event on film, digital or otherwise.

Ultimately, I was able to get through it, with stuttering, and decided that, since it was a required part of the course, I had no choice but to live with it. I did let the graders know of my stuttering condition, however, and informed them that the stuttering was unavoidable and that I sincerely hoped I would not be penalized for it, grade-wise. Turns out, I was not. I passed the task and was told the work was excellent.

What stands out in my mind, however, about this event is how traumatized I felt after each failed attempt. My hands were sweaty and shaking, I was depressed, embarrassed with myself and felt like a complete failure. After the second try, I was almost ready to give up on the prospect of even trying again. I literally felt very invaded and traumatized. I felt like I was being forced to put my disability on display for others to view and that is a horrible, terrible feeling.

Okay, I'm done being a victim. :)

Stuttering can be a real pain in the arse at times!