The 300,000-plus Canadians who stutter now have a new treatment option: the SpeechEasy fluency device.
The battery-powered device, which looks like a hearing aid, is worn in or behind one ear. It echoes the user's voice a slightly different pitch, which creates the illusion that he or she is speaking in unison with someone else. People who stutter often speak more fluently when they sing or speak along with a group (a phenomenon known as the "choral effect"), and the SpeechEasy mimics this to improve fluency.
"SpeechEasy is not a cure," says Janet Gibson, director of speech-language pathology at Island Hearing Services in Vancouver, the company that distributes the device. "But it often makes talking more fluently much easier and seems to facilitate the skills that [people who stutter have] learned in speech therapy."
SpeechEasy is not recommended for children younger than seven because they can sometimes outgrow stuttering. As well, everyone should have speech therapy before they try the device. Each candidate must have a hearing test and a stuttering assessment. The patient then does a trial so a speech-language pathologist can assess whether there is a noticeable improvement in fluency.
The echo delay can be adjusted by fractions of a second until it's perfect for the user. Some wear the SpeechEasy all the time, while others use it selectively, such as at work or on the phone.
SpeechEasy is available through Island Hearing Services at various locations across the country. The device costs from $4,500 to $5,000, depending on the model, and is not covered under provincial health insurance plans. Like a hearing aid, it should last for five to 10 years if properly cared for.
For more information, call Island Hearing Services at 1-800-563-4327 or go to www.islandhearing.com.