SLP Students Return Favor

SLP students Terrence Murgallis, left, and Midori Rodriguez
participate in a clinical sessions in the Speech-Language and
Hearing Center in John J. Passan Hall.

SLP students Terrence Murgallis, left, and Midori Rodriguez participate in a clinical sessions in the Speech-Language and Hearing Center in John J. Passan Hall.

First year Terrence Murgallis is a person who stutters. He knows how it feels to be teased and mocked or otherwise dismissed by some students. He’s experienced the anxiety associated with public speaking and, on numerous occasions, he’s wished he was “like everyone else.’’

“It made me want to hide it (stuttering) and it made me want to be like everyone else because they were calling me out on it,’’ he said.

He knows how to control his communication disorder and wants to share his experiences with other people who stutter and their families through the MU Stuttering Support Group, which has been recognized as a local chapter by the National Stuttering Association (NSA). By using the air-flow management technique that he learned as a graduate student in the five-year Master of Science degree program in speech-language pathology, he can manage his stuttering. Air-flow management is one of numerous strategies speech-language pathologists use to help people control their stuttering.

Murgallis has been working on an ambitious two-pronged approach to help people who stutter and their loved ones. It began two years ago when he enrolled in the speech-language pathology program. His mission was to learn how to help others with communication disorders find their own voices by becoming a licensed speech-language pathologist.

While working on his academic studies and receiving speech therapy at the university, he collaborated with several classmates to establish the Northeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Stuttering Association. The support group provides a safe and friendly atmosphere for people who stutter and those affected by stuttering – about 1 percent of the population stutters, according to The Stuttering Foundation. At bi-monthly meetings, people are able to meet others who stutter, share experiences, practice speaking skills, and work on moving forward with dignity and respect, according to the NSA mission statement.

“When I was younger, it affected me. I took what other people had to say to heart. Thinking back now, it would have been a lot easier in the long run if I knew what these people thought wasn’t true. With support, you are able to realize you are not alone and you’re not so different from everyone else.”

Support for Murgallis came in the form of Midori Rodriquez, a graduate student in the speech-language pathology program and a co-leader of the NSA support group. Together they worked to expand the informal support group already in place to the only nationally recognized one in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Rodriquez also developed the idea to use the air-flow management technique with Murgallis, who still had significant stuttering difficulties after 11 years of on-again and off-again therapy. About 17 months after beginning therapy at the Speech-Language and Hearing Center, Murgallis decided to discontinue speech therapy after successfully learning how to manage it with his mentor’s assistance and his own determination.

“I really look up to her,’’ he said. “I think she is a mentor and a great clinician. I tell her all the time that I am very grateful that she came to Misericordia. She is not only a good therapist, but she is a good friend. She really pushes me to step out of my comfort zone to try new things. I attribute a lot of my success to trusting her.’’

Initially, a graduate clinician was utilizing stuttering modification strategies with Murgallis until Rodriguez took over the clinical sessions and rerouted treatment with the assistance of Glen Tellis, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology, board recognized fluency specialist and interim dean of the College of Health Sciences. It took a little while for Murgallis to feel comfortable with the new approach because it is not the easiest technique to perfect, according to Tellis.

“His percentage of fluency has only increased since we began working on this technique,’’ said Rodriguez. “If you look back at his initial evaluation in March 2011, his whole demeanor has changed immensely. He has reduced all secondary behaviors of stuttering and has increased his eye contact.’’

There is no known cure for stuttering, so it is imperative for clinicians to find the right strategy for their clients. For Murgallis, therapeutic sessions did not yield immediate results. His speech became somewhat monotonous and he had to work to increase his intonation and loudness, while maintaining fluency. Rodriguez and Murgallis also worked on using his strategies outside the clinical setting in phone calls and going out into the community at various stores and practicing his speech in spontaneous conversations.

“I am grateful for being his clinician. He has taught me so much about myself as a clinician as well as about people who stutter. He really opened my eyes to the cognitive and affective components of stuttering.’’

Murgallis is eager to begin his undergraduate clinical sessions. In the meantime, Murgallis and Rodriguez believe their support group has been a success due to its national recognition and growing participation from members of the regional community.

“We have achieved a lot of success thus far,’’ said Rodriguez. “I believe in the idea of quality over quantity. If we can impact the lives of just a few people in a positive way, I believe that is more important than having a group of 50 members and having minimal impact.’’

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