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DU Speech-Language Professor Awarded Fulbright to Assess Stuttering in Africa

Dr. Susan Felsenfeld, CCC-SLP, doesn’t speak much French and certainly doesn’t understand any of nearly 70 tribal languages used in Burkina Faso.

Even without knowing the languages, Felsenfeld, a Duquesne associate professor in speech-language pathology and a stuttering expert, can assist the people with their stuttering problems because the disorder looks and sounds the same in any tongue. Felsenfeld will travel to the western African nation on May 31 as part of a Fulbright program to meet with villagers and medical professionals to assess stuttering problems that are reported to be rampant.

As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, her work is backed by the Burkina Faso Embassy. Felsenfeld, who concentrates on genetic aspects of stuttering, will be hosted by the University of Ouagadougou and its school of medicine, and will lecture there.

But the heart of her trip will focus on two villages, each about an hour-and-a-half outside Burkina Faso’s capital city. There, she will meet with families and see if initial beliefs are true: that in this country the size of Colorado, stuttering is extremely prevalent.

Even though Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and residents face many life-threatening concerns, Felsenfeld said that stuttering remains an issue because of its detrimental effects on education and job possibilities.

“It’s considered a problem, even in a country that has more pressing needs,” Felsenfeld said. “They want to know, ‘What can we do for our children so no one has to overcome this in an already tough world?’ People want a better life for their children, and this is seen as an impediment.”

The stuttering situation in Burkina Faso, which Felsenfeld said does not have a single speech therapist, was brought to her attention three years ago by Dr. Moussa Dao, a pharmacist and president of the Burkina Faso Stuttering Association. Dao and three of his eight siblings stutter, as does his 4-year-old son, so he was determined to learn more. His online research uncovered Felsenfeld’s work and he invited her to connect with the people of his country.

In this trip, Felsenfeld will assess how Burkina Faso’s transportation and other support systems affect the opportunities for children to receive assistance and will determine the possibilities for establishing homegrown programs that could monitor children’s progress and recovery.

“Eventually, I hope to be able to see if what works here in America works in another culture,” she said.

Duquesne University

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