A Notts student who ‘struggles’ to say his name has created a new virtual reality therapy to help people overcome social anxieties related to speech impediments such as stutters.
Gareth Walkom, 24, studies Medical Product Design at Masters level at Nottingham Trent University and has created the new therapy as part of his studies.
The virtual reality headset contains exposure therapy, which places users in a variety of different scenarios to help them overcome social anxieties that they suffer because of speech impediments.
This is what Gareth Walkom had to say to Hayley Woodward about living with a stutter, why he created the new therapy and what he hopes to achieve with it.
‘ve had a stutter ever since I was about six years old so I’ve had it for pretty much my whole life.
At first, it didn’t really affect me that much but when I got my first job and when I went to college and had to make new friends, having to introduce myself to strangers was difficult.
It then started to show a lot more.
That affected me quite a lot and then I decided to have some speech therapy which improved my speech a lot.
Before that, I was stuttering on every other word and sometime taking two to three breaths to actually squeeze out a word.
But since then it has improved a lot and I can control it quite well now.
I still do struggle a lot in my every day life like whether it’s talking to a stranger or even saying my name because that’s something I really struggle with.
A lot of people don’t know how to react to people with stutters – a lot don’t know that someone is stuttering when they first talk to them.
A lot think that they’ve forgotten their name and things like that so more awareness needs to be shown.
I’m hoping to introduce the virtual reality therapy to people who stutter in the hope that it would benefit them because I know exactly how it feels to have it.
I started my research project in my undergraduate course where I created virtual reality exposure therapy which was to profile people who stutter and to treat social anxiety.
I started that last year and I’m continuing it this year as part of my Masters.
The headset includes eye tracking so it can track where you look within a virtual environment.
This headset which I’m choosing is the first one which features eye tracking so it’s a very new technology and there haven’t been many people who have used it yet.
It’s all very new and this year, I’m creating a scene where the person wearing the headset sees an animated avatar and they have to talk to the avatar as if it’s an actual person.
Over this time, I’m observing their eye behaviour because with people who stutter and who suffer from social anxiety, their eye contact can be quite bad.
With people who stutter, when they do so, their eyes can flicker or close so I’m hoping to observe those behaviours in the moment of a stutter and I hope to improve those eye gaze behaviours so people can relate this into a real life situation.
With virtual reality, it’s very new, so using this as a method of exposure therapy could hopefully be introduced to speech therapy sessions.
I’m hoping to get a finished product before I finish my course this year but I would like to improve on it with a PhD.
I’d spend another three years improving the plans that I have because I feel like there’s a lot that can still be done to it.”