MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Jan. 5, 2004) — Over the past year, increased media attention has focused on auditory feedback devices for the treatment of stuttering, with dramatic testimonials on nationally televised programs including Oprah and Good Morning America.
Since then, hundreds of people have contacted the Stuttering Foundation seeking information on auditory feedback devices. Although the Foundation does not endorse any one therapy method, a packet of information on seven different devices was sent to anyone who requested it.
As our goal is to inform consumers about available treatment options and help them make informed decisions, the Foundation decided to follow up on the requests for information by sending out a ten-item survey designed by Barry Guitar, Ph.D., and Carroll Guitar, M.L.S., on electronic devices.
To date, this questionnaire has been sent to more than 800 people in 10 foreign countries, 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
One hundred and forty-nine (19%) respondents answered from 37 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Brazil and Kenya. (A response rate of 19 percent is considered a very high rate of return by expert pollsters for this type of survey. Surveys were sent and returned by mail only, no pre-paid postage. No incentive was offered for responding.)
Respondents were asked if they had followed up on the information received, and if so, whether they had purchased a device. If they had, they were asked numerous questions about their satisfaction with and use of the device. If they had not purchased a device, they were asked why not.
Responses are being analyzed carefully to determine trends regarding why someone would or would not decide to purchase such a device, and the satisfaction rate with such devices by those who did.
While responses are still being received, a substantial amount of information has been gathered.
An overwhelming majority—85.2 percent—of respondents who further researched auditory feedback devices decided against purchasing any type of electronic aid for stuttering. A commonly cited reason was expense/lack of insurance coverage.
"It's way too expensive to even try for a month; between the cost of initial mold and consultation I was risking to lose $700-$800 minimum even with my 90 percent money-back guarantee," wrote one respondent who decided against purchasing a SpeechEasy device.
Others cited concerns over the lack of long-term research on devices.
"Research data was inconclusive in regards to the long-term benefits of the SpeechEasy device," wrote another in response to being asked why he chose not to purchase a device.
'Devices were too expensive and they were out of state so we would have to incur travel costs as well," wrote one mother researching the devices for her son. "We are also reluctant to give him a crutch when we know he can speak fluently. He has shown in the past that if he uses his techniques that he can be fluent."
Yet others cited as a concern a shortcoming of delayed auditory feedback itself. "Device does not 'help' in situations where vocal chords 'lock'," wrote one respondent.
Only 15 percent of respondents to date have purchased a device. Of the 21 who purchased devices, 12 bought SpeechEasy, six bought Casa Futura, three bought Fluency Master and one bought an unspecified device.
Comments on training varied widely, from the fitters and trainers to being "very helpful" to "not at all helpful." Just over half report they use the device only on occasion: 16 are still using it, and five are not using it at all.
"For the first time in my life, I feel more sure of myself," said Martha Miller of Michigan. She notes that she also practices fluency skills daily, as did most of the respondents who reported being satisfied with the device.
Paul Schacher has now used his device happily for over a year in conjunction with therapy techniques. "It's still difficult in a crowd where it's noisy," said the North Dakotan, calling himself a "mild to moderate stutterer."
However, at the time of their response, most of those who had acquired a device had owned it less than eight months. To see how satisfied they were five months later, as many as possible were called.
We were able to follow up with eight of the 14 people who originally reported being happy with their devices, and who had by then owned the device for nearly year. Of those eight only three were still happy five months later: three were not happy, and two reported mixed results.
David Creek of Arizona said he wears it most of the time, does not rely on other therapy tools and is satisfied.
Jason Zawatsky of Maryland said, "The device worked for me for two months, then didn't work anymore."
"I'm most disappointed," said Paulette Merrillan of Wisconsin about her 17-year-old son. "It wasn't a quick fix. Since it wasn't, he quit using it."