Physical Therapy for Speech

        William F. Katz, PhD, has started using a rare machine called an electromagnetic articulograph (EMA) to treat stroke victims. This machine is one of only about 40 in the world which tracks patients’ speech movements and shows them how to position their tongues to create speech sounds. Katz calls it “physical therapy for speech.”
        Katz’s experience with stroke rehabilitation is quite extensive. He has worked with patients with Broca’s aphasia, as well as apraxia of speech, and he has diagnosed and treated patients with foreign accent syndrome – a very rare disorder. Also, a professor of communication disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, he teaches courses in aphasiology, phonology, and speech science and phonetics.
        Katz has been conducting research and clinical treatment with stroke patients at the Dallas-based Callier Center for Communications Disorders. Katz has been doing research and clinical treatment with stroke patients. (Additional information is provided in the sidebar titled “A New Tool for Speech Therapists?”)
        In his research, Katz has discovered much about the speech patterns in stroke patients. For instance, to say the word “slant,” the tongue must touch a bit behind the teeth. When uttering the word “boot,” the mouth must be pursed. Although automatic to most people, speech is a complex process of tongue, mouth, and jaw, a combination of body parts known as the articulatory organs, which, because they are inside the mouth, are difficult to observe in action.
        Currently, Katz has been employing visual biofeedback treatment for people suffering from apraxia of speech. These stroke victims have no ability to produce words. They have to relearn how to use their combined speech organs – mouth, tongue, and jaw.
        As he explains, it can take one year of therapy to get these people to learn how to say a few vowels again. This is painstakingly, tedious therapy. Therefore, he says, EMA is a promising tool because of its visual biofeedback.
        “In the past, scientists used candle soot to mark the placement of these organs in making words,” says Katz. The UT Dallas Callier Center has two of these advanced machines. Wearing a metal halo over their heads, the patients sit in front of a computer screen. Small sensors attached to thin wires are placed inside their mouth.
        As they struggle to form a word, a magnified image of their mouth movements appears on the screen before them. The EMA machine helps patients with motor learning by showing them how to position their tongue to create speech sounds – a visual biofeedback process that Katz calls “physical therapy for speech.”
        Most of the people who Katz sees at the Callier Center suffer from apraxia of speech, a disorder marked by an inability to perform voluntary movements of the articulatory organs, which are necessary to produce spoken language.
        So, even though patients understand language, some stroke survivors are completely unable to produce any words or may use the wrong words, instead. Katz says, “it takes a lot of time to fix broken speech, but [the EMA] machine is giving us an important new tool.”

— Haley K. Jestice is a staff writer for Therapy Times. All questions and comments can be directed