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A Couple’s Gift Establishes a Unique New Resource to Help Those Who Stutter.

Aiming to fill a sizeable gap in U.S. health care, a pair of donors has helped establish the first nonprofit institute within a university setting devoted to stuttering intervention and research. Housed in UT’s Moody College of Communication, it is also the only specialized research center in the nation to provide treatment services free of charge to children and adults who stutter.

The Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, made possible by a $3 million gift from San Diego’s Michael Lang, BBA ’67, JD ’70, and his wife, Tami, offers advanced clinical training to undergraduate and graduate students and the latest research-based treatments to people from across the country.

Individuals who stutter face a number of barriers to receiving treatment. Few insurers cover the cost of treatments, leaving clients and their families to pay out of pocket or forgo speech therapy entirely.

Additionally, there is a nationwide shortage of clinicians qualified to treat stuttering. Although approximately 15 million children and 3 million adults in the U.S. stutter, as few as 1,250 clinicians — less than 1 percent of the total number of U.S. speech-language pathologists—treat the condition.

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The university offers a summer camp where children who stutter are able to advance their communication skills in a fun and supportive environment.

Courtney Byrd, Lang Institute executive director and associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, says the Langs’ gift ultimately will increase the number of speech-language pathologists who can effectively assess and treat people who stutter.

The institute, she says, “will further promote our understanding and the public’s awareness of the complex, multifactorial nature of stuttering.”

Those outcomes, Michael Lang says, are the guiding principles behind his donation. “To me, it’s a crime that there are children and adults who stutter but cannot find or pay for effective treatment,” he says. “In supporting the work of the institute, Tami and I dream that within 20 years there won’t be anyone in the U.S. who cannot get free, competent help for stuttering.”

The institute builds on the efforts of Byrd and Moody’s existing Jennifer and Emanuel Bodner Developmental Stuttering Laboratory, which has provided treatment to more than 450 clients and advanced clinical training to more 350 students since its founding in 2006. These numbers will increase substantially with the new funds.

A recent review of 115 accredited undergraduate programs in speech-language pathology shows that 97 percent of them allow students to graduate with no academic or clinical exposure to stuttering. Moving forward, nearly all undergraduates in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders will be educated and clinically trained in stuttering.

Research will focus on the cognitive and linguistic development of children who stutter and on innovative assessment and intervention techniques, as well as interactive clinical training programs. Byrd is developing video games as treatment tools for children who stutter, Web tools for clients of all ages, and virtual reality training modules to help students enhance their clinical skills in working with clients who stutter.

“This gift means that children won’t feel alone, and they’ll be given tools to build their confidence and skills,” says Courtney Alcott, whose daughter received treatment through the Bodner Lab. “It means that adults who weren’t given the opportunity as a child to address their stuttering will be able to improve their communication.”

“We are tremendously grateful,” says Moody College Dean Roderick P. Hart, “for the generosity of Michael and Tami Lang and the tireless work of Dr. Byrd to establish this first-of-its-kind resource.”

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Learn more about the Lang Institute’s research opportunities and treatment services at moody.utexas.edu/stuttering.

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