Nominated for several Academy Awards including best picture, “The King’s Speech” has introduced the movie-going world to the profession of speech-language pathology.
Tucked into a corner of California State University, Northridge is the university’s Language, Speech and Hearing Center, where speech-language pathologists help stutterers learn to speak freely and at the same time teach and mentor those interested in entering the field. The work that takes place in the center can be life transforming.
“People walk in here thinking that nothing can be done to help them, and they walk out with a totally different perspective on their lives,” said Janice Woolsey, the center’s coordinator.
Former client Devin Billingsley, 27, of Los Angeles, can attest to that. He attributes part of his success in life to the therapeutic training he received from communication disorders and sciences professor Gail Lew and her students. Lew is one of 32 faculty, who, with their students, work at the center.
Billingsley came to the center about two and a half years ago with such a severe stutter that he said it had a direct, negative impact on his ability to do his job and his chances of promotion at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where he worked. Billingsley said he is “amazed” at the progress he has made since seeking help.
“Gail Lew’s approach improved my attitude toward speech,” he said. “I’d been ashamed and hesitant, afraid to voice an opinion or even order the foods I wanted at restaurants.”
He said Lew, who has been nationally recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for her work as an educator and clinical practitioner in the area of stuttering, taught him that the first step to overcoming stuttering was to accept himself as a person who stutters.
“Ironically, that allowed me to start to speak more easily,” he said.
Billingsley said Lew’s skills in helping her clients lie in her academic expertise and the fact that she too is a stutterer.
“I couldn’t rely on old tricks with her because she knew them all,” he said. “That’s what makes her an ideal speech-language pathologist for stutterers. The techniques she teaches are techniques she uses herself.”
Lew, who has taught at the university since 2001, said the ideal time to begin dealing with such language issues as stuttering is in preschool or early in elementary school, but CSUN’s Language, Speech and Hearing Center works with people of all ages.
“There are different techniques in play when we work with children,” she said. “Different techniques are used depending on the age of the child. For adults, the objective is to help the adult come to terms with stuttering, and speak through it. Resistance actually makes it worse.”
Both Lew and Billingsley described the work as a journey of a lifetime. “There is no instant cure,” Lew said. “But there is free, easy and more confident speech.”
Established in 1962, Cal State Northridge’s Language, Speech and Hearing Center provides evaluations and treatment to adults and children with a variety of needs. The center’s programs include early intervention, adult post-stroke rehabilitation, articulation and language therapy for school-aged children, accent reduction, auditory rehabilitation, voice therapy, therapy for those who stutter and much more.
For more information about CSUN’s Language, Speech and Hearing Center or the university’s Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences, visit the website http://www.csun.edu/hhd/cd/cdlshc.html.