The UT Tower will shine with burnt orange lights Monday, October 19 in celebration of Arthur M. Blank and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s grant to expand stuttering research, training and treatment at the university.
The Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Education and Research in the Moody College of Communication will be an overarching center to expand the current work and vision of Courtney Byrd, who founded and directs the Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute, the Dr. Jennifer and Emanuel Bodner Developmental Stuttering Laboratory and the Dealey Family Foundation Stuttering Clinic.
The Blank Center will advance understanding about the nature and effective treatment of stuttering; scale evidence-based programming to treat children, teenagers and adults worldwide; and create a pipeline of expert clinicians and researchers to make quality care accessible to all people.
“The moment I met Dr. Byrd, I was immediately struck by her intellect and her life-long commitment to advancing the field of stuttering, which she translated into extraordinary proposals that captured her vision to meaningfully impact the stuttering community in the United States and beyond,” Blank said. “Through her impressive research and dedicated practice towards stuttering, I know she will change the world in this area and help as many human beings as she possibly can.”
Blank is the co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, PGA Tour Superstore, and three guest ranches in Paradise Valley, Montana.
His values-driven business model creates and grows organizations for the betterment of the people they serve. Blank believes that customer needs, when creatively addressed, transform into a viable public service. Likewise, the Blank Family Foundation seeks innovative solutions that enable young people, families and communities to achieve results beyond what seems possible.
These philosophies of dedicating resources, time and energy to produce lasting human value are now aligning with Byrd’s intention to provide access to quality care to every race, class and ethnicity.
“Moody College is the only academic institution in the nation where there is such significant infrastructure and support for stuttering research and treatment, and this legacy grant will further set Moody apart as a leader in this underserved, often misunderstood area,” said Jay Bernhardt, dean of Moody College.
Over the 10-year life of the legacy grant, the Blank Center will achieve an increase in the number of persons served annually, as well as students and clinicians trained to serve people who stutter. During the next decade, satellite centers will be established nationally, and Byrd’s signature intensive treatment program, Camp Dream. Speak. Live., will be launched in 10 new countries.
Although traditional treatment for stuttering is focused on fluency, Byrd pioneered a scientifically grounded, whole-person therapeutic approach that helps children, teenagers and adults grow as confident, effective communicators.
“This example is one that speaks to the power of what it means to be a top research university,” UT Austin President Jay Hartzell said. “And just hearing Dr. Byrd’s own story about the kinds of interventions and treatments she was exposed to and doing as a student, grad student and then now how the thinking has changed, it gives you a sense of the power of research, the power of using data, the power of learning what the best practices should be in a difficult field like stuttering.”
Byrd’s treatment model targets core communication competencies, such as maintaining eye contact, particularly during moments of stuttering, using voice and gestures to emphasize meaning, and engaging listeners with positive demeanor. Also critical to the treatment are mindfulness, acceptance and self-compassion; learning how to share that you are a person who stutters in a way that minimizes stereotype threat; and stuttering on purpose to promote desensitization to stuttering.
“What makes Dr. Byrd’s work so special is the holistic approach. The focus is not on the stuttering, but on the whole person and how they fit and feel in their families, communities and schools,” Bernhardt said.
Stuttering has genetically been part of Blank’s family for generations. He, too, is a person who stutters and has sought treatment to improve fluency.
“Defining communication by how fluent you are doesn’t get at the freedom — the freeing of the inner person, the inner soul, the inner spirit, the inner mind, the intellect of what each person has to say and feel,” Blank said.
Byrd, her clinical treatment team and undergraduate- and graduate-level researchers have served more than 1,500 children, teenagers and adults who stutter. Their quantitative and qualitative outcomes indicate: increased communication competence and confidence across general speaking situations and situations unique to their everyday life; increased positive perception in their ability to establish peer-to-peer relationships; increased ability to understand, educate and advocate for themselves and others who stutter; increased societal insight and acceptance of stuttering; increased mindfulness, resilience, self-compassion and hope for their future; and increased quality of life.
“Our focus is on the person, not on the stuttering,” Byrd said. “We’re teaching people as young as 3 years of age to adults over the age of 90 you can communicate effectively, and you can do so even if you continue to stutter.”
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