Last June, Heidi King was one of the first people in Britain to get the SpeechEasy device. Her increased fluency enabled her to speak openly and frankly in all kinds of situations. She describes how she uses it to best effect.
To my surprise, the moment my tiny custom made device was inserted into my ear, I felt the struggle of stammering lift from my body and mind. The experience was overwhelming, the voice of 'the little man in my ear' took the reins of my stammer and enabled me to charge through whole words, sentences and even paragraphs without even a backward glance or an intake of breath. Out of the speech therapist's office, I felt self conscious of my new found freedom of speech. During the proceeding weeks and months I gradually learnt that the secret of the device was to tune into the voice in my ear (which is higher and slower than my own) and resist the temptation to revert back to the battle of struggling through syllables.
But how can you measure the long term effectiveness of this device? My greatly increased level of fluency is an important part of the story. One of the main things to disrupt my flow of conversation in the past was the severity and length of the struggle I endured each time I got stuck on a sound. With the help of the device I have gained a new awareness of when I go into a prolonged block and start to struggle to get the word out. It has helped to unlock my speech, but ongoing speech therapy has helped me to understand how the change in my speech has occurred and helped me to tune back into the device when I start to slip. I have become aware of the times I enter into prolonged blocks and struggles and use the device in order to get through them in a calmer and quicker way. I have not experienced anywhere near the level of upper body tension that I did prior to getting the device.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of using the device with ongoing speech therapy support has been a growth in both my own, and of others' understanding of stammering and the issues surrounding my disability. I have found that strangers, the media and close family and friends alike have been able to bring up the often taboo subject of stammering under the guise of my trip to New York. This has led to many informative and lively discussions at pub, at my place of work, and even at the counter in Tesco's! This sharing of information and views has led to me receiving a wealth of support for my ongoing, lifetime battle with stammering.
Unfortunately, some people may judge my success on my level of fluency alone, and underestimate the impact it has had on my life. Since getting the device I have restarted a job that I stopped due to the impact of my stammer. I have joined a Toastmasters group where I am learning the art of public speaking and have won two awards for my speeches. I have not shied away from presentations at work and I have accepted offers to do various media work including live news programmes, a radio phone-in programme and a live talk show in Ireland.
These types of situations are perhaps the most challenging for my speech system to manage. I felt able to face new challenges because my relationship to my stammer has changed and I am now physically able to manage my stammer. This combination has empowered me to face challenging speech situations head on.
I believe the long term effectiveness of the device if used with speech therapy support is a complex picture. It may well be different for everyone. For me it has been a process of fluency, struggle, discussion of stammering with others and my new relationship with my stammer which has enabled me to truly test and move beyond my boundaries. What lies ahead for me and my stammer is unknown, however I am filled with excitement and ambition to find out!
From the Spring 2007 issue of 'Speaking Out', pages 14 & 18