UT unveils new stuttering institute

Wes Scarborough

While most treatment for stuttering comes at a high price, the University will now offer free stuttering treatment to people who need it.  

UT announced in a statement Wednesday that it received a $3 million donation to establish the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, a research center devoted to treating children and adults who stutter free of charge. 

“People get really uncomfortable around people that stutter,” said Courtney Byrd, director of the Lang Stuttering Institute. “They just don’t want to be around it. Nobody knows what to do.” 

According to Byrd, 97 percent of undergraduate students studying speech-language pathology leave their universities with little to no exposure to stuttering. Byrd said most clinicians feel uncomfortable treating the disorder altogether. 

“People who stutter are not getting proper treatment,” said Elizabeth Cravens, a UT alumna and speech-language pathologist who studied under Byrd. “And because it’s a specialized treatment, [patients] would have to spend a lot of time and money seeking it out.”

Treatment is inaccessible because of financial boundaries, such as insurance policies that lack the coverage, according to Byrd.

“When insurance doesn’t cover it, there’s so many people we’ve had to say no to,” Byrd said. “And that still haunts me.” 

Byrd said the institute would also allow students to have greater exposure to patients who stutter, giving them better understanding of evidence-based practices involved in stuttering treatment. 

“I think it’s going to be the beginning of more people investing into the communication sciences and disorders department,” said Roderick Hart, dean of the Moody College of Communication. “[The department] has just got a lower profile, but it’s some of the best work being done here at the college.” 

Byrd said she has established a method of using multimedia, like video games, to implement stuttering treatment for children. 

“I have three boys myself, and it speaks to them in a way you can’t understand,” Byrd said.

Byrd has established this and other methods in the University-affiliated Dr. Jennifer and Emanuel Bodner Developmental Stuttering Laboratory. According to Byrd, the methods will be implemented in the institute along with the development of clinical training tools and innovative treatment for stuttering patients. 

A celebratory event for the Lang Stuttering Institute will take place at the Belo Center for New Media next Monday. Speakers will include donors Michael and Tami Lang, Byrd, Hart and President William Powers Jr.