Northside Boy Now Talk of the Town; His Family Receives Help to Overcome Stuttering with a Special Device

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Byline: JEREMY COX

Michael McMillian has a little voice inside his ear.

Sure, it speaks at a slightly higher pitch than he does. And it only repeats what he has just said. But it's his.

Stuttering stole Michael's voice not long after his sixth birthday. With the help of a hearing aid-like device and a scholarship that paid for it, the Northside boy got it back Thursday.

"He's got a lot to say, but he's never been able to say it," said Edith Bell as she beamed at her suddenly talkative 12-year-old son.

Michael waited more than a year between the time he first tested the talking tool, called a SpeechEasy device, and when he could actually take one home. His family couldn't afford the $4,100 price tag.

That made him an ideal candidate for the Sean Anderson Memorial Scholarship program, said Andy Anderson of Ocoee, who started the scholarship after the sudden death of his son. Sean, 10, had been using a SpeechEasy device for nine months when he died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2004 while inline-skating around his neighborhood.

Anderson and his wife, Martha Lopez-Anderson, gave away their son's speech device to a family that couldn't afford one. Then the device's manufacturer, Greenville, N.C.,-based Janus Development Group, stepped in to foot the bill for future devices and therapy.

Michael was the fourth recipient of the scholarship and perhaps the giddiest.

He giggled through his speech exercises Thursday with Judy Hammer-Knisely, a speech language pathologist with Wolfson Children's Rehabilitation. Asked to count to 10, he rattled off the numbers in Spanish, stopping at cuatro. He has a well-developed sense of humor, his mother said.

But his trouble is talking. As he spoke, words seemed to rise to the point of escaping from his throat only to snag on some unseen obstacle. "Blocking" is what Hammer-Knisely called it.

Michael is one of more than 3 million Americans who stutter. Most are children and most outgrow it; less than 1 percent of adults stutter.

Suspected causes of stuttering vary. Once thought to be triggered by psychological problems, scientists now suspect the major causes involve signal problems between the brain and muscles, genetics and developmental roadblocks during early childhood.

Stuttering may take the form of a repeated syllable or word, an elongation of a speech sound or an inability to start a word.

Michael began stuttering after a series of ear infections, Bell said. For a while, the effects were mild. A dropped word now and then.

But the older he got, the worse his stuttering became. …