A woman talks to a friend using a voice enhancing device

Voice-Enhancing Device

Over the past few years, my verbal communication skills have slowly diminished. My diagnosis has had negative impact on my speech. The muscles in my mouth and throat have become extremely weak, increasing my inability to speak clearly.

Most times, early in the day, I can successfully get my point across. But as the day continues, I grow tired and feel exhausted. Then my voice flattens and becomes faint.

Turning to a speech therapist

In an effort to open all channels of communication, my neurologist sent me to the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Speech Department. During my first visit, the speech therapist considered teaching me sign language. But she quickly learned my hands lacked the fine motor skills needed to converse using the non-verbal dialect.

The next step was to secure me some type of personal voice amplifier. But after a few tests, my therapist realized that amplifying my voice will not solve my problem. Clarity was the issue. Sometimes my words were completely muffled. But mainly my slurred whispers seemed to be my biggest hurdle.

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Everyone I talked to had to dissect my unintelligible communication. It was frustrating and challenging when I was trying to express an important request or just have a basic exchange of ideas. Even my husband, who seems to know what I’m going to say before I say it, was having trouble deciphering our conversations.

Discovering a machine that speaks for me

At my next appointment, my speech therapist suggested an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device. She explained it as communication equipment that people use without using verbal speech.

So, it’s a machine that speaks for you without you having to speak.

She placed a thin flat screen tablet computer in front of me on a table. Then she showed me how the device worked. It spoke with a robotic mechanical voice. I immediately asked if I could change the way it talked.

She described an upgrade that creates a digitized version of my voice called voice banking. But after a brief conversation test, I was told it would not work for me because I had trouble with the pacing of my speech. Every other word I uttered I either slurred or stuttered. She assured me we would work on exercises to increase my chances of using the voice banking option in the future.

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Trying it out

Over the next month, up to three times a week, I practiced on the voice-enhancing device for a couple of hours each day.

I controlled what the device spoke by using a function called eye gaze. I could look at a letter and spell a word. Then it would say that word out loud.

I could also look at a pre-programmed phrase, and the device would audibly verbalize the expression.

Four months after placing an order, I finally received my own personal AAC device in the mail at my home. I now have a home health speech therapist who helps me continue to learn how to use the machine.

Utilizing it in public settings

I am not quite good enough to effectively operate the communication aid in society yet. But I have utilized it a little in a few public settings to try and boost my skills and more importantly my confidence.

Fortunately, my voice has built up some strength and I sound clearer. It looks like I am physically getting better. But it was recommended to me by my medical advisors to keep up my practice on the AAC device. They said I may have a relapse. I have had multiple exacerbations since I was first diagnosed. And a couple of times after severe aggravations, I was left with no way to effectively communicate.

I don’t like to think about regression, but I do want to be ready just in case. I look forward to ongoing practice using this Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device. It’s me being prepared for whatever happens.

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