An Illuminating Partnership To better prepare next generations of speech-language pathologists in stuttering treatment—and bolster clients’ access to services—a new institute serves as a training, research and treatment ground. Features
Features  |   February 01, 2015
Courtney Byrd, director of the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, with campers at the 2014 “Camp Dream. Speak. Live.”
An Illuminating Partnership
Author Notes
  • Gary Dunham, PhD, is director of Indiana University Press and Digital Publishing, and former ASHA director of publications.
    Gary Dunham, PhD, is director of Indiana University Press and Digital Publishing, and former ASHA director of publications.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   February 01, 2015
An Illuminating Partnership
The ASHA Leader, February 2015, Vol. 20, 54-58. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20022015.54
The ASHA Leader, February 2015, Vol. 20, 54-58. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20022015.54
Sometimes, clients themselves help turn on lights in dimly lit corners of communication sciences and disorders practice, sparking powerful collaborations that boost teaching and training in areas where some have less experience.
Case in point: the 2014 launch of the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. The benefactor? A life-long stutterer who’s giving $3.2 million to help those like him. The CSD professional? A passionate associate professor who’s determined to raise awareness and increase clinical training and research in stuttering. The result? A potent center of translational research and the first nonprofit stuttering institute affiliated within a university. Treatment for adults and children is free.
Yes, you heard that right.
With the establishment of the Lang Stuttering Institute at UT, Michael S. Lang’s long journey with stuttering has come full circle. An untreated undergraduate there in the 1960s, he wrestled with the anxiety and loneliness so familiar to disfluent college students: too embarrassed to ask someone out on a date; constantly struggling to reach out to others; repeatedly skipping classes to avoid being called on by professors. When it came time to rush a fraternity, “I was not exactly the number one rushee,” he remembers. “I couldn’t say a word.”

When it came time to rush a fraternity, “I was not exactly the number one rushee,” Lang remembers. “I couldn’t say a word.”

The need … and a seed
Nevertheless, the native of Fort Worth made friends and persevered. After earning a law degree at UT, Lang embarked on a successful career in law and finance. Among many other accomplishments, he founded seven companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Throughout those many years of enterprise and growth, the disfluency remained. He recalls in an interview even being afraid to read to his grandson, worried that the boy would learn to stutter from him.
And then, the time came to transform that challenge into an opportunity to give back. “To me, it’s a crime that there are children and adults who stutter but cannot find or pay for effective treatment,” Lang announced. He and his wife, Tami, sought to endow an institute to do just that.
Enter Courtney Byrd, an associate professor in UT’s department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and director of a program that became endowed as the Bodner Developmental Stuttering Laboratory in 2012. An energetic teacher and dedicated researcher, Byrd has made it her mission, as she tells it, “to train our students in a way that inspires them to train others so that we will be able to make a meaningful contribution to our understanding and treatment of stuttering.”
Working with hundreds of clients over the years in the Bodner Laboratory supported that first objective. Byrd, however, never stopped seeking even more opportunities to bring CSD students together with disfluent children and adults in clinical settings to improve understanding and treatment of the onset, development and maintenance of stuttering. She sees a great need for CSD students, especially undergraduates, to encounter disfluency in real-life clinical settings as early as possible in their careers. Respondents to a 2014 survey of more than 100 undergraduate CSD programs by University of Pittsburgh master’s student Jieun Lee indicate that many CSD majors graduate without taking a course in fluency disorders.
Byrd’s second goal was equally sweeping and dearly held: unobstructed access to treatment. Many adults who stutter face an additional impediment securing third-party reimbursement for treatment. Costs are high and insurance claims are often denied—a stark reality difficult for Byrd and her team to tell clients. Paying out of pocket discourages adults who stutter from even seeking help in the first place, let alone participating in a lengthy clinical program.
As it turns out, though approaching disfluency from different directions, Byrd and the Langs had goals that converged. Michael and Tami Lang learned of Byrd’s work at his alma mater. When she heard of their interest, Byrd confesses, “I was nervous but excited. When I learned he stuttered, I knew in my head and heart I just needed the chance to talk with him and share with him what I had been working toward at UT for the stuttering community.”
The first meeting between potential benefactor and associate professor—the life-long stutterer and CSD professional—went well. Byrd found the Langs to be careful listeners and “direct, kind and genuine.”
The impressions were positive on the other side as well. As Michael Lang recalled later at the opening ceremony for the institute, “When Courtney sees me, she sees somebody that nobody else sees.” After a year’s worth of open discussion and calibration of goals and resources among many interested parties, the Lang Institute opened in 2014.
Elizabeth Hampton, Lang Stuttering Institute clinical research associate, listens to 4-year-old Soleil, a recent institute graduate.
Shining a light
It’s working. Today, the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute is a thriving hub of research and practice. It offers stuttering evaluations for clients of all ages, weekly treatment sessions, home programs, parent training, consultative services, communication excellence workshops for people who stutter of all ages, and educational workshops for speech-language pathologists, teachers, medical professionals and the general public.
The institute also sponsors a rollicking summer camp for children who stutter. When “Camp Dream. Speak. Live” first opened, 40 enrolled and a waiting list grew rapidly.
And yes, those services come at no cost to children and adult clients. “The fact that we’re able to offer all treatments free of charge is amazing,” acknowledges Megann McGill, a PhD candidate in the UT Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She’s quick to note another benefit of Michael Lang’s generosity that directly affects research: the reimbursement of research participants. “It’s always a struggle to find people who are willing to participate as research subjects,” she says. “Having a financial incentive increases the number we can reach with our studies.”
Byrd presents research at the ASHA Convention with institute doctoral alumnus Geoff Coalson and undergraduate alumna Elizabeth Rives.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Lang Stuttering Institute is the advanced learning and training experience it promises for CSD students. As Elizabeth Hampton, a clinical research associate, points out, the institute is creating a dynamic and sustained learning environment for a range of students—at least 25 undergraduates and 10 graduates every semester. Undergraduates are provided a chance to participate. They observe first and if they meet the qualifications, they can provide services with supervision.
“We work with a tremendous number of students interested in the field of speech-language pathology at all points in their academic careers,” Hampton says. “Undergraduates, graduates and doctoral students work side-by-side conducting research projects and providing treatment to our clients. Through their research efforts, students learn to ask themselves what the clinical implications of these findings are, and through their clinical work students develop questions and formulate ideas to help shape research. The translation of research to clinical practice is happening each and every day.”
Providing such prolonged exposure to stuttering treatment at early stages of CSD careers cannot help but to enhance the skill and knowledge set of SLPs to come.
Forged from the motivations and determination of a generous man with disfluency and a dedicated associate professor, the Lang Institute continues to fulfill the ambitious goals of its benefactor and director. In this case, the client has indeed helped light the way toward improved training and research. As Michael and Tami Lang announced at the opening ceremony of the Lang Institute, “As the poet W.B. Yeats said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ And our hope is that this institute will be a fire in the world of stuttering.”
That help needed a CSD partner to make it real. As Michael Lang said at the same ceremony, “Courtney does not need to thank us; we more than thank her.”
1 Comment
February 4, 2015
Nancy Gage
This is wonderful!
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February 2015
Volume 20, Issue 2