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Confronting the Speech Monster


Cintamani Ellsworth, MS, CCC-SLP

I wiped my eyes with the cheap scratchy napkins that came with the popcorn - trying to conceal my tears as the lights came up. The movie was not a sad one. The protagonist fought against his demons and won. So, why did I cry? My intense reaction was not because the film was sad but was because as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), the movie, The King’s Speech, affected me on a different level than the average movie-goer.

The demon that King George vanquished on screen was the monster of his dysfluency, a speech disorder more commonly known as stuttering. His position in life was grand but his battle was not. In that sense, King George was a commoner.

Millions of people in the U.S. and around the world have a communication disorder. The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates more than 3 million Americans stutter, between 6 to 8 million have some form of language impairment, 7.5 million people have trouble using their voices and 5-percent of children have a speech disorder.

Certainly many of us know someone who has attended speech therapy – a child with a speech/sound disorder or a grandparent with difficulty “finding the right words” after a stroke. Every day many engage in the intimate battle of self against self as face, and hopefully prevail over their impairments.

SLPs treat a wide variety of patients and disorders. Although not all therapeutic strategies are as amusing as Lionel Logue encouraging King George to curse, modern day SLPs use both science and creativity to engage their patients in the therapeutic process:

· A treatment session for an adult with Parkinson’s disease may include using computerized biofeedback to increase loudness during speech, improving both communication and swallowing.

· An evaluation of a swallowing disorder might involve a moving X-ray (fluoroscopic) examination of the swallowing mechanism while having the patient ingest a variety of textures of food and liquid mixed with barium.

· A therapy session for a child with a language disorder may include the SLP and the child on the floor with a pile of paint and paper, using art as a tool to facilitate language.

· For a child who stutters, the SLP and patient might confront “bouncy” speech by practicing easy bounces, jumping purposefully and moving the body to reduce the fear associated with stuttering and increase control.  

The King’s Speech brought the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship that takes place every day between speech-language pathologists and their patients into the forefront and view of the public. It showed the challenges posed by the interaction between patient and therapist, and the vulnerability many patient feel when they must reveal, and then confront, impairments that often are a source of embarrassment for them.

May is Better Speech and Hearing month, a great opportunity to understand the speech and language impairments and associated therapies available. It is also a good time to seek professional help for those who are concerned they or a loved one may have a speech or language impairment. There is no better time than now to confront and beat “speech monster.”

Cintamani Ellsworth, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech and language pathologist in Therapy Services at FMC. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.



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