Shining Moments: Sound contribution

Samuel Fletcher didn't set out to change the world, but in the process of improving life for those who struggle to speak, he became a pioneer in harnessing science and technology to revolutionize speech therapy.

As a result, some who have never known the joy of human conversation can now communicate through sound.

It isn't natural genius, Brother Fletcher claims, but rather a dogged determination to persevere — sometimes at the cost of personal convenience — that leads to the great contribution.

Now 75 years old, Brother Fletcher is a retired college professor, having taught for 23 years at the University of Alabama. He remains active as a scholar and mentor at Brigham Young University.

Brother Fletcher gained his first lessons in character from the example of his parents, though they weren't active in the Church.

At age 9, wondering why he wasn't a member of the Church of his friends, he approached the bishop. With his approval and the consent of his parents, he and a friend pedaled their bicycles across town to be baptized.

Years later, after earning a doctorate at UCLA, he took his family to New Mexico, then Birmingham, Ala., to pursue the use of technology in improving speech.

Therapy of the time depended on detecting patterns of sound errors, then guiding the learner to clearer speech. Brother Fletcher felt there must be better methods.

Working with other pioneers in bioengineering and dentistry research, he invented the "palatometer" to show in real time on a computer screen the changing patterns the tongue makes on the palate of the mouth to create sounds.

One young woman born deaf struggled for years to speak using traditional therapy. Frustrated, she turned to Brother Fletcher for guidance. After a few weeks of treatment, she was able to look her grandfather in the eye and speak. A stern executive, her grandfather broke into tears.

"That's the first face-to-face conversation I've had with my granddaughter in her 17 years," he said.

"Dad never worried about making money," said Brother Fletcher's daughter, Susie Lundberg, "but about helping people through his work."

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