The Matthew K. Smith Stuttering Research Project

More than 3 million Americans stutter, yet its etiology is largely unknown and treatment options remain limited. Stuttering affects the capacity of speech communication: something that most take for granted. Speech allows us to fluently share thoughts and emotions with others. Those with moderate to severe stuttering can experience major disadvantages in psychosocial, vocational and academic aspects of life, with many developing social anxiety as a result.

In 2011, the Department of Psychiatry received a gift for an endowed professorship in stuttering from a graduate of our residency program, Dr. Carlos Solano-Lopez (‘90). Through Dr. Solano-Lopez’s gift the department was able to recruit an expert in the field, Dr. Soo-Eun Chang from Michigan State University.

Since Dr. Chang arrived at UM she has been focusing on multimodal neuroimaging, brain stimulation, speech motor control and timing and rhythm perception and production. Dr. Chang has been working to identify neural bases of stuttering and to find more effective treatments. Regular funding is needed to make consistent strides in this research program.

In early 2014 the department was contacted by a gift officer from the UM College of Literature, Science & Arts. A donor by the name of Matthew K. Smith (’93) who had made gifts over the years to the Political Science Department was interested in learning more about U-M stuttering programs. After several meetings, Mr. Smith agreed to fund some of Dr. Chang’s new ideas for innovative research in brain development and stuttering with a gift of $350K.

“Projects supported by Mr.  Smith’s funds have translational goals that are expected to lead to neuroscience guided treatment approaches in stuttering,” said Dr. Soo-Eun Chang, Rosa Casco Solano-Lopez Research Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at U-M. “Currently, there is no cure for stuttering. Behavioral treatment offers help for many, but also leads to variable outcomes, especially in adults who stutter. The new research projects supported by Mr. Smith’s funds have the potential to help us take a step closer to finding novel efficacious treatment options for children and adults who stutter.”

“As a child, I had a stuttering problem and at the time I found that resources to help me through it were non-existent,” Mr. Smith said during a phone interview. “I had to figure out how to overcome it by myself, which was a very frustrating process for a 6-year-old and my parents. I came up with my own way of managing my stuttering problem. ”

Mr. Smith is now Chief Executive Officer of Shoes for Crews, LCC based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Shoes for Crews is the global leader in slip-resistant footwear for foodservice, hospitality, healthcare and industrial workers worldwide. With offices in the USA, Europe, and Asia, he manages 500 employees and speaks publicly often. Stuttering was an early roadblock for Matthew, but he overcame it.

“Over the years, there has not been a lot of research and attention given to stuttering. The Academy Award winning movie, ‘The King’s Speech’ did bring some attention to the issue. My goal is to help the University of Michigan determine the causes and eventually develop effective treatments for stuttering. I want to help the children who are going through what I went through.”

The University of Michigan is a leader in the study and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders thanks to generous donors like Matt Smith. Through research, earlier diagnosis, effective treatments and dissemination to others, the University of Michigan is paving the way for talented young researches like Dr. Chang.