Lang Stuttering Institute uses evidence-based clinical therapy to help people who stutter

Sarah Seraj

The Lang Stuttering Institute helps persons who stutter become confident and effective communicators using evidence-based clinical therapy.

The Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute was founded at UT in 2014 under the leadership of communication sciences and disorders professor Courtney Byrd. The institute provides evidence-based clinical therapy free of charge to those who stutter. In exchange, clients participate in research studies which guide future clinical practices and further scientific understanding of stuttering.

“The challenge with stuttering is you can be more fluent at times and sometimes less fluent,” said Elizabeth Hampton, associate director of the Stuttering Institute. “But you can be a highly effective communicator, and that’s our goal. Let’s talk about what stuttering is, what strategies you want to work on as an individual to stutter with less tension, or how you can stutter where you feel better about it.”

The institute places emphasis on communication skills because there is no cure for stuttering, and it is something people usually have to live with for the rest of their lives, said Zoi Gkalitsiou, doctoral student in communication sciences and disorders.

“You can manage to be very fluent, and with hard work, it’s not that you will have to struggle all the time, but there is always that possibility that you will wake up one day and the stutter is going to be more severe than the day before,” Gkalitsiou said.

Stuttering is a neurophysiological disorder, which can be genetic for some individuals. However, according to Bailey McGill, an ACC student and institute participant, one common misconception is that it can be caused by anxiety or nervousness.

“Some people have told me to take my time in the past, which is well-intentioned, but it doesn’t really help me that much,” said Mayank Johri, participant and UT chemical engineering senior.

Nathan Moore, participant and UT mechanical engineering freshman, had similar experiences.

“People will say the word for me when I’m stuck on a word, because they think I need help,” Moore said.

McGill, Johri and Moore all reported the positive impact of the institute on how they view their speech. Moore was previously in the habit of constantly switching out words he might stutter on when he was speaking. Now, he feels more comfortable saying what he wants to say. McGill and Johri used to dislike interactions that were not face-to-face, such as on the phone, because they couldn’t see the other person’s reactions and gauge whether they were still listening, but now feel better about that.

Last year, the institute published a study on the impact of self-disclosure on people’s view of stutterers. It found that stutterers are perceived more positively when they disclose their stutter from the beginning. Moore said that reading about this study made him less nervous about meeting people for the first time.

The institute also provides training and hands-on experience to undergraduate students who want to be future clinicians. This is particularly important because stuttering continues to be an area that speech pathologists are less confident about, with few programs having courses specializing in stuttering, Hampton said.

“Coming in, I had no previous clinical experience,” said Jolisa Barberena, student clinician and CSD junior. “I did volunteer work but I had never been hands-on in doing something. (At the institute) I got to feed off of my participant and we learned so much from each other in terms of stuttering modifications, therapy and practicing techniques.”