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What are "sensory" tricks for spasmodic dysphonia and how can you use these tricks functionally?

If you have spasmodic dysphonia or work with patients who have this disorder you may have heard of "sensory tricks". These are manners of producing sound during which the individual with SD may experience decreased symptoms temporarily,

What are sensory tricks?

This includes speaking in a high pitch, singing, emotional speech (i.e. crying and laughing) or whispering. Some individuals may experienced decreased frequency or severity of breaks or decreased symptoms when speaking in this manner. Sensory tricks are a different pattern of vocalization than typical speech so it doesn't present with the same symptoms as regular speech.

Why can't we just use sensory tricks all the time then?

The problem with sensory tricks is that they're "tricks" and temporary. You can't functionally speak in a whisper or high pitched voice all the time. Speaking in a high pitch all the time will a) cause me significant strain when trying to maintain that higher pitch that is not within my normal pitch range and b) will feel and sound very unnatural. You don't want to sound like I have an "affected" voice quality, sounds like someone else, or feel significant strain on top of symptoms of SD. Plus, when speaking with consistent strain you are further contributing to exacerbation of muscle tension. Same goes for whispering. Try whispering for a while, while trying to project so that someone can hear you and notice what is happening in your throat. You likely will feel some tension or strain or may fatigue rather quickly.

Now, I understand that some of you may find that whispering or speaking at a higher pitch is the only way to get fluent speech or any speech out at all. Instead of speaking in a whisper or consistent high strain try the strategies below.

  • If using a higher pitch or singing temporarily relieves your symptoms use increased intonation or “sing-song” like voice to help compensate for symptoms (ensuring still a natural voice production pattern)

  • Avoid consistent use of high pitch or whispering which could lead to increased strain

  • Use efficient flow phonation (see webinar II for demonstration) and crisp, clear articulation of sounds with the lips and tongue instead of whispering if whispering is helpful

If you have any questions about these techniques please email me and I'll be happy to answer any questions or set up a free consultation to try some of these out!

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