Tuesday, April 6, 2010


A few days ago, I was interviewed by stuttertalk.com about my experience with the SpeechEasy. In 2002, Good Morning America followed me as I tried the device out for the first time.

It was a miracle. I could talk. I went to Subway, and for once I got exactly what I wanted. I didn't pick ingredients that were easy to say. That may sound like a small thing, but when you have always settled for foods with easy-to-say names, it feels pretty damn good to get tuna on honey wheat with banana peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, American cheese, vinegar but not oil, and pepper but not salt. I was free.

I'm not exactly sure when I noticed that the device wasn't working for me, but it wasn't very long after my Subway "eureka" moment. At first, I began to notice the feedback that the device produced. It was sometimes hard to hear the person to whom I was talking, and I was all but deaf in public spaces. I knew that there would be an upgrade soon though, so I shrugged this off.

Soon, I noticed that I was stuttering more. I blamed myself. I was clearly not using the device correctly because anything that costs $5,000 must do what it claims to do. No. It wasn't me. It just didn't work.

My first thought was "how am I going to tell my family?" Everyone thought that Mark The Stutterer was gone. He was vanquished by science! In his place stood a confident, happy, silver tongued devil with the world at his fingertips.

I slowly stopped using the device without telling my family. I was away at college, so this was pretty easy. When they called, I would just say that the battery was dead or that I had just gotten out of the shower. It worked for about a month, but my mom eventually caught on.

She understood my reluctance to talk about the problems I was having with the device, but she pushed me to get in touch with the people at Janus. She said that they could help me.

I humored her for a little while before finally admitting what I had know for a while: the SpeechEasy device did not work.

The next 6 months were probably the worst of my life. My dream of being fluent had slipped through my fingers. I withdrew from friends, I stopped going to class, and I drank. I finished spring semester with a 0.5 GPA, and I was put on academic probation. I blamed everything but stuttering for my downward spiral. I refused to accept that I actually wanted to be fluent that much. The let down had crushed me.

That summer, I decided to rejoin the world. I bar backed at a local bar and made plans for the next school year. I contacted a few friends and even dated. I was going through the motions, but my heart wasn't in it. I was convinced that I would always be Mark The Stutterer and never Just Plain Mark. I had a built in glass ceiling. I tried not to take it too hard when my boss at the bar told me he wasn't going to give me the prime bartending job he had promised me because "I just couldn't talk to customers." He was right. Who would promote a guy like me?

Since then, I have struggled to convince myself that I can do all the things that Just Plain Mark can do. I married a beautiful girl, I graduated college, and I now spend my time racing bicycles and laying out and designing books for Deeds Publishing. My life isn't perfect, but its imperfections cannot be blamed on stuttering.

What was I saying? Oh yeah - SpeechEasy. Give it a try if you must, but don't get your hopes up.


  1. I am a 25 yr old PWS. I found your blog through the link on StutterTalk. I really like how honest you are about your experiences with the SpeechEasy device. Keep up the great work!

  2. Sadly enough, your story confirms, in a very moving and personal way, something that I have been saying from a professional point of view for several years. Hang in there when the SpeechEasy defenders find your blog.

  3. Hopefully you are finding yourself to be a pretty OK person as just Mark. Your beautiful wife surely thinks so, and you are keeping yourself busy with the things you love.
    Keep sharing with us - we all need to hear from each other.

  4. I have another comment to make. When you said, "My dream of being fluent had slipped through my fingers." I felt the exact same way after the Hollins fluency shaping program in Roanoke, VA. About the next 6 months were the worst ever, especially the last 3 months (this past summer). I felt like a complete and utter failure.

  5. Mark, I saw the Oprah segment and the GMA segment years ago...I was moved to tears and sought the device myself, though I never could afford it. Thanks for sharing your story. Many more should hear your story and I hope to help with my most recent entry about yours. Be well.

  6. Mark, I feel your pain. When I was younger, my father jumped through hoops to get me financial assistance to get the Speech Easy device.

    It worked like magic in the speech easy office, I even shed a tear.

    Could I be cured?

    In the real world, it does not work at all for me.

    It works in a very controlled setting, which is pretty rare. The two times that it worked ok was when giving a speech in front of a silent class.

    The second time was reading out loud in a very quiet room.

    Hang in there!

  7. i just found your blog today. hope u don't mind another follower. i tried the speecheasy at my therapists office last year and hated it from the start. i couldn't keep a thought in my head. though i did stutter less i rather stutter horribly then have that thing in my ear.

  8. I think you are brave to complain about stuttering outcomes, you have tried all types of therapy modalities but none gave you the freedom from bondage that you wanted. We want honesty in all therapy, too often we stutterers try to validate our clinicians by "preforming"for them using avoidance, substitutions, and circumlocutions to achieve "fluent" speech. The disorder of stuttering will never be successfully remediated with this dual-complicity.

    With this in mind, and I say this with no judgement attached, " you stopped wearing the device'! You also stopped askig for help with the device from people who might be able to help you or at least try. I don't blame you for stoppping, you are burned out of therapy or something. But it would be more informative to say you gave up on the Speech Easy as problems arose.
    That decision is fine. All therapies fail for all disorders and those that require continued sacrifice on the part of patients are more prone to this issue.

    I have many disorders, stuttering , kidney failure, and I'm in recovery- all of these require dilegence- my stuttering is the first thing I slack off on- because my life doesn't depend on it. Like you I just get tired of it all and want to like everybody else.

    I like what you have to say, you comments will make it easier for all those who stutter to be honest with themselves and those who treat them.

    Joe Kalinowski

  9. I found your blog via Google. As a person who also stutters I've been looking at potentially trying the speecheasy device. Obviously, because of the cost I have to research it extensively before making a decision. It’s good to hear your honest experience with it, since I remember watching your episode long ago. Now that I’m 33 years old, I don’t really high expectations for the device, after hearing how the effects lessen over time. I owe it to myself to at least try it and hope for the best, but I won’t be that disappointed if it doesn’t work.

  10. Hi Mark, I can easily identify with what you have gone through. I've been a stutterer all my life and so has my father. My teenaged years have been very traumatic as I wasn't able to go out there and make friends at all due to my speech impediment. I tried therapy and it never did work out. Over the years I've just come to accept it and live with it. I reckon, if people react strongly to my stuttering,it's their problem - not mine.

  11. I'm a teacher. I've had the attitude of "so what?" but lately it has gotten to me. So if it helps with speaking in a quiet room...I'm thinking it could be worth a try? Then I just wouldn't use it the rest of the time. I use avoidance/word substitution a lot of the time (pretty successfully too) or just saying "I don't know" but that is so heartbreaking when a kid asks me something and I really do know and want to tell them, but I just say..."I don't know..."