Dr. Carl Asp (George Smallsreed Jr., Columbus Dispatch)
History of the Verbotonal System

"The Deaf Learn to Speak" by Harry Smith (Columbus Dispatch Magazine, 26 September 1965, pp. 6-8) [PDF]

While one of the children waits outside the closed door, the other sits on a yellow desk chair inside, his small hand clamped over a black metal object near his ear. The object is secured by a white elastic band around his head and wired to a gray dial-studded grey metal box sprouting a network of wires. Towering above the little fellow is a huge man wearing dark horn-rimmed glasses. He covers his mouth with a sheaf of papers and says into a silver microphone, "Shotgun." Then he places the mike in front of the little guy. "Shotgun!" is the reply. Smiling the boy then picks a "Shotgun"-labeled card from the several he is holding and places it on the arm of the chair.

This procedure is continued for many minutes with different words. Sometimes the little fellow tries several words before getting the right one, never complaining— just fidgeting , moving arms and legs from restlessness, heat, and the terrific effort of concentration. Finally he leaves and the little blue-eyed boy with the crew-cut brown hair who was waiting outside the door takes his place.

This is a hearing and speech therapy room at Ohio State University's Derby Hall. Eleven-year-old Kenny Joyce and 10-year-old Tommy Bachtel were students at Columbus' Kenwood Public School during the last school term. Before that, they attended public school for the deaf. They show phenomenal determination and ability to concentrate, for children. But these are vital lessons for boys who are almost totally deaf and wear hearing aids most of the time.

Carl Asp, a patient, dedicated research assistant works with several others under the direction of OSU's Dr. Courtney Stromsta and Dr. John W. Black on a five-year, $75,000 U.S. government-financed hearing-speech research project. Asp says, "We're working on 10 Congenitally deaf children between 4 1/5 and 13 years of age (the congenitally deaf lost their hearing before they developed language and speech). We also have seven subjects with adventitious deafness, in the age range of 8 to about 60 years (these people developed language and then became deaf). Tommy and Kenny are on the borderline between congenital and adventitious deafness." When the boys started in therapy last December, Asp says, they could not hear a word you said if you talked in a normal tone six or seven inches away from their ears. With his mouth some seven inches away from Tommy's ear Asp says in a conversational tone, "Baseball." Tommy repeats the word. The demonstration is successfully repeated with Kenny. Before Asp's word repetition therapy, two attractive brunettes, Sally Ann Plummer and Mrs. Patricia Kramer, trained the boys in rhythm and song identification. Mrs. Kramer played piano while the boys beat time to the music with their hands on a brown table top.

Dr. Courtney Stromsta, associate professor of the department of speech, says, "This (project) is a research grant given to us by the Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (VRA) in Washington. Both Dr. John W. Black, professor of speech, and I are involved in running it." "The VRA gave us this research grant," Dr. Stromsta continues, "so we could define and evaluate the verbo-tonal system devised by an European professor. Dr. Petar Guberina. He thinks we do not use the residual hearing of the hard-of hearing and the deaf as well as it can be used. In the United States, we think we can put a hearing aid on these acoustically handicapped people and if we can make it loud enough -- a pathological ear will respond somewhat similarly to a non-pathological ear. In certain cases this holds true, mainly if the person's hearing problem is the kind that can be helped by middle ear surgery. But they do not do such a good job for someone who has a hearing loss that cannot be helped by surgery." Our commercial hearing-aids are built around specifications of the telephone system developed for normal ears in frequencies from 300 to 3000 cycles per second. But according to Dr. Stromsta it is a different problem with the congenitally deaf."Most of these people have their residual of hearing beneath 300 cycles per second," Or. Stromsta explains. "One of Guberina's ideas is to Use equipment that will present signals into this lower frequency residuum of hearing .Guberina advocates using only that part of the pathological ear that is working somewhat similarly to the normal ear, so that through the use of electronic filters he minimizes, at least at the beginning of therapy, those frequencies that are to be correlated with the pathological portion, allowing less auditory distortion and providing better clues that can be associated with speech movements, spoken Sounds and words. As the subject progresses, Guberina would attempt to use more of the frequency range, conditioning the subject to accept more realistic sound. His main idea, then. is to use all the residuum of hearing -- as compared 10 what others in the United States are doing conventionally."

According to Dr. Stromsta, Dr. Guberina has his own system of testing the sensitivity of the ear -- so that he knows where to begin working with a person. This is called verba-tonal audiometry. "To use an analogy," said Dr. Stromsta, "the way we test hearing would be as if we would strike one key on the piano and see how hard we have to hit the key before the person says he hears it. Guberina uses simple speech sounds, and passes them through a narrow frequency band filter, so that he is really using verbal materials, but presenting it at a somewhat tonal fashion."

Much time has been spent getting information about special equipment and building it. Dr. Guberina was at OSU for a while last year to approve their equipment and to show them how to use it. Asp says, "Our main problems are insufficient space and lack of an ideal therapy situation, but we do have the best possible equipment." Some of their most important equipment looks like grey metal boxes with knobs and wires-SUVA {System Universal Verbo-Tonal Audition} 1 and SUVA 2. SUVA 1 is a linear amplifier which amplifies all frequencies equally with a range of 1 to 50,000 cycles per second. SUVA 2 "enables us to shape the speech signal," says Asp. "We can cut out certain frequency areas and shape the signal to the sensitivity of the ear."

How much progress will Kenny and Tommy and their fellow subjects make toward living normal lives? Dr. Stromsta and Mr. Asp say their results are not sensational. The OSU researchers have started their third year of the Guberina-type hearing— shouts Tommy; "You bet' explodes Kenny, speech therapy. Asp, who is studying for a Ph.D., says that it is "a new technique, hopefully showing better results," but that they won't know for several years if it is better than any other technique. "We're making progress," Asp admits, "but we don't want to say how much."

Kenny Joyce and Tommy Bachtel enrolled in therapy December 5, 1964. Asp says, "I think we've improved their hearing considerably, and improved their speech also." The clinicians know how to get the most out of their subjects, As Asp explains: "We try to make them successful. It encourages them and they try harder and do better."He moves within six or seven inches of Tommy's right ear and says,"Tommy, I'm going to say baseball, basketball, then football." Asp repeats the three words and Tommy says them correctly. "Very good!" is Asp's response, and Tommy flashes a proud smile.

A small portion of the reason for Asp's popularity with the boys and their strong motivation is revealed in this parting conversation after the hot therapy session: "Are we going to play baseball Saturday?" Asp inquires. The sun-kissed faces of Tommy and Kenny glow with joyous grins. "Yeah!"