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Clinic develops iPhone app to help stutterers

There's good news this week for the 66 million people worldwide (3.3. million in the U.S.) who stutter: the Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI) in Roanoke, Va., this week added software developed for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch to participants in the organization's 12-day speech therapy program to help people control stuttering.

The software, available only to HCRI clients, measures and records a person's speech patterns. From the iPhone or iPod Touch screen, users can see the number of utterances (or syllables) he or she makes as well as the percent of the time they used their tongue, jaw, mouth and throat muscles correctly (as determined by the measurement of the amplitude and frequency of their voice's sound waves). If the person deviates too far from the proper levels, the device will vibrate.

"You punch up the application, talk into it and the measurements are made," says HCRI founder and president Ronald Webster.  The info is then stored in the iPhone or iPod Touch and can also be sent to the clinic via e-mail.

The software reads the amplitude (or height of the waves) and frequency of the stutterer's voice as he or she speaks. "We're tracking what's happening in the vocal tract," Webster says. The information that the iPhone or iPod Touch collects is used to determine whether the stutterer is properly using  the muscles that control the voice or if he or she is changing their position too rapidly, which is a characteristic of stutterers.

Webster hasn't yet decide whether the software will be made available through Apple's App Store because the speech monitor is part of the HCRI's larger program. "As with any training program or therapy," he says, "you build basic skills in a safe environment and then determine whether these skill can be generalized to other environments."

HCRI developed a prototype of this software in July and has tested it on about 50 people since then.

The institute currently has nine people enrolled in the speech therapy program; all of them are set to take iPhones or iPod Touches out of the clinic Wednesday to get real-time feedback on the progress they've made so far. The participants will use the iPhones or iPod Touches for the duration of their treatment and then turn them back in for the next group the HCRI treats. The program normally costs $4,500, although scholarships are available. 

Image courtesy of HCRI

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