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Recent Innovations in Speech Therapy

As in all areas of medicine, exciting new advances are being made every day. In this blog, I will recap some of the most intriguing and exciting new developments going on in the field of speech pathology today.

The Role of Cerebral Blow Flow in Stuttering
The first innovation is research being done at Miseracordia University in Pennsylvania on the potential role of cerebral blood flow in stuttering Dr. Tellis, Professor and Chair of the Speech-Language Pathology Department there, is using the principles of physics to propel his research. Tellis told Advance for Speech & Hearing: “We use noninvasive methods, near-infrared spectroscopy and diffuse correlation spectroscopy, which map transcranial recordings to derive changes in oxy- and deoxyhemoglobin concentration from tissue absorption changes, as well as changes in cerebral blood flow. The methods are so noninvasive they can be used on children and infants.” In layman’s terms, this means that we may be close to identifying differences in the blood flow and concentration of individuals who stutter and those who speak fluidly. Tellis’ research seeks to identify differences in the blood flow and concentration of individuals who stutter and those who speak fluidly. The results may be able to “improve diagnoses and treatment for those with communication disorders.”

Spreading the Word
With 160 million blogs as of 2012, there certainly is a blog for everything and that includes speech language pathology. Experienced providers, students, and researchers are writing on everything from games to help autistic children to the use of technology in the industry. If you’re looking for a new resource on the latest and greatest innovative happenings in the field—or maybe just a laugh from someone who gets it—you’ve got plenty of blogs to choose from. Here are just a few:
Crazy Speech World
If I Only Had Super Powers
Olivia SLP
Pathologically Speaking
Speech Peeps

WebPT is an excellent source for great SLP blogs and websites. Check out this list of the best speech-language pathology blogs from A to Z, or their list of 100 great SLP websites.

Spanning the Globe
Most people think of globalization in terms of international trade, but this example shows how electronic communication is spreading the impact of speech therapy to countries that have historically offered little or no help to their children and adults with speech disorders. On her first volunteer visit to Vietnam (as part of Operation Smile),Charlotte Ducote, PhD, CCC-SLP, head of the Division of Communicative Disorders at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, “fell in love with the country,” according to Advance for Speech & Hearing. Over her next 18 visits, Ducote learned that the people of Vietnam have little to no access to speech-language pathology services, but they did have access to the Internet (in cafés). As a result of this discovery, she and fellow speech language pathologist Giang Pham, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, created a website to improve speech therapy access in Vietnam. Through the site, users can access information in Vietnamese on topics important to the field. Drs. Ducote and Pham also offer to answer questions and consult through a “contact us” form.
Preserving the Voices of our Most Talented Singers
Robert E. Hillman, PhD, CCC-SLP, Co-Director and Research Director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at the Massachusetts General Hospital, has developed an ambulatory device that unobtrusively monitors daily voice use, similar to existing heart monitoring technology. The device includes a penny-sized miniature accelerometer, which mounts on the user’s throat, above the sternal notch and below the larynx, and measures vibrations for up to one week. When the user speaks, a corresponding cell phone application records the vibration and transmits the data to the clinic for pitch, volume, and duration analysis. Hillman explains: “Once we know what patients are doing wrong, another app lets us set the device to remind them not to do those things using the vibration mode on the cell phone as biofeedback.” Who is currently benefiting from the high-tech biofeedback loop? Along with Co-Director Steven M. Zeitels, MD, FACS, Hillman has worked with many famous performers, including Julie Andrews, Adele, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. “Singers are 500 times more likely to develop a voice disorder than anyone else,” Hillman says. However, because “a lot of the common voice disorders are related to how people use, misuse, or abuse their voices,” there are other professionals who may also benefit from the device, including teachers, clergy, salespeople, lawyers, and healthcare workers.

These are very exciting times indeed for speech therapy innovations. We are now exploring how cerebral blood flow may create a major breakthrough in the treatment of stuttering. Modern communication technology is disseminating a cornucopia of new games, techniques, and approaches in the blogosphere around the world. Smartphone-based biofeedback techniques are teaching our greatest singers how to preserve their voices for the pleasure of us all. And, best of all, this is surely just the tip of the iceberg for the accelerating advancement of speech pathology.

Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
Allied Health Professionals, LLC

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