Speech: A Sight to Behold


Most people think of dyslexia as a condition where someone sees letters in words backwards. Actually, dyslexics are just as likely to add, delete, or substitute letters in words. They may see "stream" as "steam," or "get" instead of "got." Whatever their particular difficulties, dyslexics are unaware they see words incorrectly until told otherwise.

Dyslexics can also have trouble hearing and speaking language, which some researchers believe is the root cause of their condition. Pat Lindamood, a speech language pathologist, discovered the importance of spoken language for dyslexics in the mid-60's. Lindamood found she could help them read and write better by teaching them how to produce certain speech sounds.

Dyslexics who undergo this training, called the Lindamood program, will do things such as feeling their throats while saying certain sounds to make sure they produce the right vocal cord vibrations for that sound. They also work with mirrors to see how the tongue and vocal cords come into play during speech. An instructor corrects them as they practice improving their speech.

Phyllis Lindamood, Pat's daughter and a co-owner of Lindamood Bell Processes in San Luis Obispo, California, says the Lindamood program can improve dyslexics hearing, writing, and speaking abilities. She says some have overcome their language difficulties completely with intensive training.

Computers also are playing a role in training dyslexics about spoken language. Lindamood Bell Processes uses computers to help teach them to speak better. And a computer game developed by Paula Tallal of Rutgers University and Michael Merzenich at the University of California, San Francisco, has allowed dyslexic children to improve at distinguishing between speech sounds. A New York Times article by Sandra Blakeslee described the work of Tallal and Merzenich, in which children hear synthetic auditory speech that has been altered to make individual speech sounds last longer and sound louder than normal. As the children improve at distinguishing between the sounds, the sounds are sped up. The scientists found dyslexic children who worked with the game for one month jumped two grade levels in their ability to recognize speech.

Massaro's talking head may one day be an added feature in the computer arsenals of those teaching language skills to dyslexics. While other computer programs help dyslexics ferret out differences between the sounds of a language, Baldy can also give dyslexics the visual information to improve their own speech. The ability of Baldy to be see through, revealing his tongue movements during speech, should prove especially useful.