10.29.2006

Sappy Human Interest Story

Usually, when confronted with the "Human Interest" story I tune out. But on Friday I was supremely bored at work and scoured the internet for anything that might be considered entertaining. So, in poking around I came across Boing-Boing, a site I've checked out a handful of times and have always been led in interesting directions. Anyway, there I found a link to a post on Scott (creator of Dilbert) Adams's blog that was human-interest-y but of a cool sort.

Apparently he has a very unusual medical problem, and about 18 months ago he lost his voice after a bout of allergies and with the odd exception of public speaking can't get it back. It's something called Spasmodic Dysphonia and basically has no cure. All treatments seem to be extremely unpleasant and not terribly effective...

Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried “singing” some words that were especially hard.

My theory was that the part of my brain responsible for normal speech was still intact, but for some reason had become disconnected from the neural pathways to my vocal cords. (That’s consistent with any expert’s best guess of what’s happening with Spasmodic Dysphonia. It’s somewhat mysterious.) And so I reasoned that there was some way to remap that connection. All I needed to do was find the type of speaking or context most similar – but still different enough – from normal speech that still worked. Once I could speak in that slightly different context, I would continue to close the gap between the different-context speech and normal speech until my neural pathways remapped. Well, that was my theory. But I’m no brain surgeon.

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadnÂ’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe itÂ’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Pretty cool... Go Dilbert guy.

Oh, and if you check out his post, browse some of the 1300-odd responces this post of his garnered, they're also rather interesting/uplifting.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

So Adam Sandler was really mocking the disabled. What an insensitive a-hole.