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Janis Costello Ingham
Roger Ingham
UTSA researchers Janis Costello Ingham (top)
and Roger Ingham

New UTSA team to research stuttering treatments

By Lesli Hicks
Special Projects Writer, M.A., '07

(Sept. 27, 2007)--Two of the world's top researchers on stuttering are building on 15 summers of research in San Antonio by seeking participants for clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health. The team will investigate a treatment for stuttering in adults and adolescents.

Janis Costello Ingham and Roger Ingham, both professors at the University of California, Santa Barbara, combined their teaching and research with colleagues at the Research Imaging Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). They now join UTSA as research professors.

In collaboration with the director of the UTHSCSA Research Imaging Center, Peter Fox, M.D., the Inghams have focused their research on developing treatments for chronic stuttering in conjunction with brain-image techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

The treatment under investigation is a computer-based program designed to teach individuals to control precise aspects of their "phonatory behavior" and then gradually learn to do so regularly in order to achieve normally fluent speech. With careful evaluation of the effects of this program using PET and fMRI, the Inghams aim to learn if the known neurologic abnormalities associated with stuttering can be normalized.

"We believe San Antonio can become a hub for this kind of research as we continue to evaluate its efficiency and efficacy as a treatment," said Janis Costello Ingham.

She and her husband met years ago through a shared interest in speech sciences. They have worked together for more than 20 years in UCSB's Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

Daniel Gelo, dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, said UTSA's affiliation with the Inghams has practical and positive long-term implications.

"Research is at the foundation of what UTSA educators do, and this is one more example of that," he said. "This work has the ability to change lives. Communication is the crux of the human experience."

For more information, contact Robin Selman at (210) 567-8172, or visit Roger Ingham's Web site or Janis Costello Ingham's Web site.

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Misconceptions about stuttering

James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, John Stossel, Carly Simon and Mel Tillis... The two actors, television personality, pop singer/songwriter and late country-and-western musician share an irony, given their public professions -- all stuttered. Or maybe it's not ironic at all. Their stuttering could be precisely why they emerged as great communicators.

Among stereotypes about stuttering are:

  • Anxiety is the cause (In fact no tranquilizer has been shown to have an ameliorative effect on it.)
  • Stufferers stutter all the time (In truth, they typically do not when reading or talking by themselves.)
  • It is an intellectual deficiency (Yet the head of an international bank famously quipped about his stutter: "People listen to me anyway... they have to!")
  • Grammar is an issue (But, the fact is stutterers use the same syntax or word order as their non-stuttering peers.)
  • "We don't know the cause of stuttering; nobody does," said Roger Ingham, a scientist conducting research with brain-imaging techniques at UTSA/UTHSC that could result in life-changing positive treatment effects. "The answer may emerge within critical neural components, maybe even genetics, because stuttering does appear to run in families."

    Stutterers are found all over the world, with some estimates indicating 1 percent of human beings manifest it. They are more commonly male children. Some 4 percent of the world's population will stutter in childhood, and many grow out of it.

    Stuttering can be severe to mild; it often manifests with the speaker prolonging consonants and vowels such as "ss," "mm" and "oo" sounds or repeating consonants such as "t-t-too g-g-good." Sometimes these interruptions to the smooth flow of speech are accompanied by facial grimaces or bodily movements of which the listener may be more aware than the speaker.

    Fortunately, treatment has no language barrier. For instance, if a patient is multilingual and receives behaviorally based therapy to minimize stuttering in one language, the fluency of speech improves in every tongue.

    Of course, there are those who emerge from the teasing that often characterizes their childhood believing they are not impaired and that their peers can easily adapt to their speech -- and, in fact, should. Even so, Ingham and his partner in life and research, Janis Costello Ingham, say their research has shown that the lives of many people who stutter and who want to be relieved of this impediment, have been enriched by the treatment being investigated in this project.

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