It all started when...
Barbara Dean Schacker discovered the Sensory Trigger Method in 1972 when she started working with her father, an untreatable global aphasic. For 9 years, Vernon Keller Dean could say only 9 words, even after 2 years of speech therapy. She invented a picture and paper based therapy that brought back his understanding of spoken language, then his ability to say and repeat words and then to copy the words in long hand in his notebooks. 18 months later, he said his first spontaneous word.
After that, new words came back one by one and at the time of his death, he could say over 700 words, go to the store, the bank and the post office and ride on the bus by himself. He also became an artist with his left hand. Later, Barbara designed and published the first natural-voice software for speech therapy and home applications in 1988.
She was honored in 1991 to receive the John's Hopkins University Certificate of Achievement Award for improving the quality of life for the disabled through technology. Reader's Digest featured her father's amazing speech recovery and her life story, Prisoner of Silence, written by Geeta Dardic, in the June issue of 1991.
Since then she has continued to research the brain, alternative therapies and approaches for speech recovery after stroke or traumatic brain injury. Over the course of about 8 years, over 50,000 people were help by her programs.
In 1999, she created the first online talking software for aphasia and was very successful, creating the Let's Talk program and then Speech Tree and Speech Bridge. These new programs were based on a Core Words lexicon of the most frequently spoken words. The words, found in the Core Words Talking Dictionary are the easiest to say words, and words used frequently in everyday conversations and words especially needed by the disabled.
She authored a new guide, Pathway to Speech Recovery, that teaches the method and trains therapists and family members. This extensive guide explains how STM is done using the hand to imprint new words and pathways during normal daily activities and how to "trigger" speech in conversation and when the speaker is "stuck". It is especially useful for those who do not have access to a computer or are not able to use a computer.
Based on her research in neuroplasticity, she realized the importance of combining in-the-moment techniques with specific speech practice (i.e.the programs) and found that this could breakthrough apraxia and related cognitive problems like memory loss and other speech blocks--areas outside of normal speech therapy. Her new STM technique has been able to get people to say their first words or sentences within 15 to 30 minutes.
The new STM technique was developed as a result of the work with her husband, Michael, to bring back his speech and make it possible for him to say complex words and full sentences. One-on-one STM training and speech practice is available on the phone and using Skype, a free video phone service. The combination of the programs plus the new STM technique is proving to be the most effective with people of all ages and almost all stages of recovery.
In 2008, she saved her husband, Michael, from a near-fatal major aortic dissection. As a result of the high-risk operation to save his life, Michael?s left hemisphere was almost completely wiped out. The neurologists showed her the CAT scan and said "There will be no speech". When she asked about speech therapy, he repeated, "There will be no speech, it just isn't possible. The damage is too great to the left hemisphere and there is also damage to the right side." Ignoring this dire prognosis, she started the Sensory Trigger Method when he was still in a coma. Using STM, she got him to say his first word: read. It was then clear he had not only aphasia but apraxia--he said "read" for everything. She worked steadily with him everyday and the repetition faded away as new words were spoken and repeated and as spontaneous words emerged. In 18 months Michael was able to talk in words, phrases and sentences and have meaningful in-depth conversations.
Barbara says,"My approach and my programs have a sound evidence base that goes beyond my extraordinary experiences. More and more therapists realize that family members and caregivers can be trained in speech therapy and STM techniques and knowledge and skills to support the family's crucial role in the recovery of their loved ones."