Frequently asked questions
What is the Sensory Trigger Method based on? The Sensory Trigger Method is based "brain plasticity" which is widely accepted as being key to brain injury and stroke recovery. Barbara Dean Schacker, a librarian working with her father, Vernon Keller Dean, who was an untreatable global aphasic, experienced first hand speech recovery by enhancing the brains plasticity. The method has continually been developed over the course of 40 years with aphasia patients, special education children, and input from many fields of study including neurolinguistic psychology and speech therapy. The newest techniques were discovered while working with her husband, Michael who lost almost his entire left hemisphere from a traumatic brain injury. Like Braille or American Sign Language, it is a type of "sensory substitution". The speech centers and pathways on the undamaged side of the brain are substituted for the damaged centers and pathways on the dominant side where the stroke or brain injury was. There are many evidence-based studies that have given us new information about how an injured brain can regain lost skills and even learn new skills. These studies are also telling us that the recovery process is usually gradual. Speech recovery can take up to two years and even continue for many years after stroke or TBI.
Is STM strictly a "right brain" approach? No, the Sensory Trigger Method is actually a "whole brain" approach. It reactivates old pathways from early childhood and makes new pathways through the undamaged hemisphere (usually the right) that then reroutes the signals around the damage. The brain self-organizes these new pathways. If there are undamaged areas on the left "whole brain" approach. It begins by accessing the undamaged side of the brain. It routes around the damage and to find a new connections. If there is little undamaged brain tissue left on the dominant side, it will develop expand the ability of the non-dominant speech center on the right. STM uses all the sensory systems--the eyes (visual), the ears (auditory) and the kinesthetic-tactile (movement and touch) coming from the hand. In addition, STM works with emotional intelligence, social interaction and other things like relaxation, breath and pacing. It addresses "learned helplessness", depression, "holding the breath", "stage fright" and other "blocks" to speech. All these aspects can make or break a person's ability to recover.
When can we expect improvements in speech to begin? First words and sentences can often be triggered and vocalized within 15 to 20 minutes (particularly in a STM session). If using the programs alone, it might longer periods ranging from a few days, to 6 to 8 weeks to 18 months in severe cases. The programs are absolutely necessary, however, to have the easiest, most practical tools for daily speech practice that will allow progress from one level to the next. There are many factors that affect this so everyone's recovery is different.
How much time and assistance is required? Our kit provides everything you need to help with speech recovery. Enlist family members or friends to help set up the computer and working space with the materials. At first someone will need to work directly with the person daily or almost daily for a minimum of 30 minutes each day. After progress has been made, many can do the exercises and program with little or no help at all.
How can we tell if it is working? How long will it take? Signs of progress can usually be seen in about 6 weeks, but it takes 6 to 8 weeks of daily repetitive practice using the Sensory Trigger Techniques for the brain to connect to new pathways. Often words will begin to come back before then, because the Sensory Trigger Technique activates pathways that are there, but just haven't been used before.
Is it too late? We have found that in most cases there is no time where it becomes "too late" to start this kind of work. You can start this years after the stroke or traumatic brain injury and still succeed. We have noticed that those that started doing the alternate hand technique soon after their stroke seem to have the fastest and best recoveries. Get started with this as soon as you can--the sooner the better!
Does it work with left-handed people? Does it work for those with no paralysis on either side? Does it interfere with hand movement therapies? The answers are Yes, Yes and No. Yes, the techniques work the same way for left-handed people. Left-handed people often have an advantage, because the hand is more easily retrained as the dominant hand. Yes, it works for those with no or little paralysis in either hand. They still have to use the hand connected to the undamaged side to do the techniques and exercises. So even though they might have regained hand movement in their right hand, they still have to switch to the other hand in order to trigger speech from the other side or the brain. They can use their right hand for everything else. No, it does not interfere with any therapy they are taking to recover hand movement in their right hand. The person will just become more ambidextrous--which is a good thing. After speech is recovered and the new pathways made, one does not need to do the Sensory Trigger Method anymore.
Can STM being used in speech therapy? Is it being used in speech therapy? Yes!...and our speech recovery programs and speech practice materials can make a big difference. From interviews with our users, we have found that aphasia patients who have stopped progressing in speech therapy, can start progressing again after the family has used our Kit and new brain connections have been made. Our users, many who were not progressing in speech therapy, suddenly start saying the words that were in our program, and then can continue speech therapy because they are then able to make progress. Some therapists will require that you finish speech therapy before working with the Sensory Trigger Method, but since it has been successfully integrated into speech therapy or used as an adjunct elsewhere, we believe this might not be necessary. That the only consideration might be how much the person can do without becoming worn out or overwhelmed. The therapist can adapt STM to their materials by add the techniques that will add the touch signals. More and more therapists are using STM with clients who are not responding to therapy. (Remember, STM is evidence-based so it can qualify.) The sessions with therapists have had the same great results as the ones with families. The combination of having the therapist try the method with their client with family members present in a session can build an unbeatable speech recovery team. We are seeing this first hand. Getting everyone involved can make a real breakthrough. Also, more and more therapists recommend us to their clients when their speech therapy has "run out". This way they don't leave therapy empty handed. They can continue to recover at their own pace at home.
Can they recover speech just by doing more with their left hand? Why do we need the kit, if we are just learning to use the alternate hand? We always use the hand that is connected to the undamaged side of the brain. This varies depending upon the individual. Left handed people seem to have an advantage--in that case, the left hand will be "resetting" dominance and will be making new connections. Even though the right hand might recover completely, it is still triggering the damaged side.
Why is this approach better than speech apps that use touch screens and other speech programs? Aren't they doing the same thing?The difference is how the touch signals are done and the order and timing of them. The touch signal has to happen before or at the same time they hear the word (not after they hear the word) and before (or at the same time) that they try to talk. The fingertips and hand are touched in specific ways making much stronger signals. For example, in the “Tap Talk™” technique, the rhythm of the word and sentence are given by one person holding and working with the left hand of the other person. Some signals are stronger than others and STM teaches you how to get the strongest signals. Visual signals are also important. STM develops a special kind of mental and visual focus and pacing. The visual focus is different than focusing on the computer screen. Also, STM teaches a way that the person will be able to trigger themselves and unblock speech when they get “stuck”. The programs go far beyond just vocabulary practice and "repeating" and instead, helps the person progress to spontaneous speech and real conversation.
Isn't this just a multi-sensory or multi-modal approach? Why would we need the training session or the kit if it is just touching or using the hand along with speech practice? The Sensory Trigger Method and exercises are very specific. It doesn't work unless it is done in certain ways. There is a certain order and timing of sensory cues that is essential. Different techniques used for different speech problems and stages of recovery. The Kit explains how there are several things that must be combined and put into motion before a connection to the other speech center can be made. The exercises are very specific. The vocabulary is based on the most frequently spoken words, with the easiest word to say coming first. The content is focused on basic communication so a person can communicate their needs, feelings and interests. Conversational speech and daily practical speech are the primary focus while fluency is primary goal. The Kit explains how to deal with all kinds of problems, such as short term memory lost and motivation. In addition, the key is not just passively use the hand, but to do the Sensory Trigger Method along with efforts to talk throughout the day--to apply what is learned in the sessions and programs to everyday living.
Why not just use a communication device--that is operated by the alternate hand? We have found that communication devices operated by the left hand do not necessarily bring back speech. They are a substitute for speech. We believe this happens for 3 reasons: 1. the whole STM method techniques are missing 2. the person actually becomes dependent on the device to speak for them and 3. the brain learns how to operate the device, but this activity doesn't necessarily route the signals to a place in the brain that will relearn how to speak. You can, however, use our Kit along with a communication device as long as you add the sensory trigger method along with it. The communication device does help to ease the frustration of not being able to communicate, but everyone we've talked to says it didn't help much with speech.
Do we have to have a computer to use this method? No--although the programs in really make it possible to follow the method and move up through progressive stages, STM can be done independently using just the hand and a person trained in the method and techniques--as long as speech practice is still a daily activity. STM training and one-on-one consulting for therapists and family members is available. Contact us for more information.
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