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Fixing speech problems by visualizing them

During his elementary and teenage years Jake Goodwin was sometimes overlooked in class. It wasn't that he didn't have anything interesting to say. In fact, the Mariemont High School sophomore has a lot to say, but sometimes he isn't understood. He suffers from a speech disorder that makes it hard to say the "r" sound.

"It always bothered me but after so many years of just no success at changing it I more or less accepted it as part of myself."

For years Goodwin worked with school speech therapists who tried to instruct him on how to place his tongue and then recognize when he said a sound right or wrong. Goodwin had limited success.

But then last summer he participated in a two-week session at University of Cincinnati Medical Center using ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that allowed Goodwin to visualize his problem.

Here's how it works:

  • The ultrasound shows the patient the shape of their tongue when they make certain sounds
  • The MRI shows the whole vocal track so patients can put the shape of the tongue into context
  • When working with a therapist the patient is instructed on what shape the tongue should be making when making certain sounds

The therapy is working for Jake. He even has a speaking part in his school play.
Dr. Suzanne Boyce, PhD, UC professor of speech language pathology, theorizes children who have speech disorders have not learned to separate the action of the front of the tongue and the back of the tongue in the same way that most other children have.

Boyce is one of the principal investigators on a five-year study to determine how ultrasound and MRI technology can be utilized to tailor speech therapy to specific disorders in children.

The $650,000 annual study (for children ages 8-11) is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It is shared by the University of Cincinnati and City University of New York (CUNY), Haskins Laboratories and New York University.

To participate in the study or come to the clinic:

Sue Schmidlin

CSD Dept., University of Cincinnati

513 558 8531

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.