Device Helps Woman Overcome Stutter

ByABC News via logo
January 21, 2005, 8:32 AM

Jan. 21, 2005 — -- For most of her 26 years, Mandy Cowles struggled to communicate. Cowles has a serious stutter and has dealt with the frustration and embarrassment of being unable to say a simple sentence.

"For anyone who doesn't have the problem, it's like you totally start tensing up, you feel your face freezing up. It contorts and twists and it's humiliating," said Cowles.

Her stuttering began when she was just a toddler growing up in Nebraska and got worse as she grew older. Speech therapy didn't help and, despite being a bright girl, her teachers put her in special education classes, shattering Cowles' self-confidence.

Her mother, Dyanna Austin, recalled the ridicule her daughter endured. "When she was very young, we had neighbors, when she'd go outside, they'd say, 'There's the little retarded girl. We don't want to play with her,'" said Austin.

The teasing became worse in high school. "I was the person who the popular guys, like the guys on the football team, would ask me out as a joke," said Cowles.

The cruel taunts of classmates became so unbearable, Cowles left school after 10th grade. In an essay, she wrote about her darkest moments: "I believe high school was the worst time in my life. I would sit in my room, 16 years old, no dream for the future. I wanted to end my life right there."

"I wanted everything, all the pain, everything, to just go away," said Cowles. "I just hated myself. I didn't see myself through my own eyes. I saw myself through other people's eyes and how they told me I was."

Cowles has fought back from that dark place and now she is hoping a device called the SpeechEasy will change her life.

Previous research has shown that speaking in unison with another person inhibits stuttering, so the SpeechEasy device changes how the stutterer hears their own voice. The device fits into the canal of one ear. When the stutterer speaks, the SpeechEasy alters the pitch of their voice and delays the sound by just milliseconds, which seems to trick the brain into thinking that another person is speaking as well.