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Finding 'Our' Voices

Finding My Voice, by author and NPR host Diane Rehm, is the Everyone's Reading selection for 2009. Fans of her award-winning radio show are sure to enjoy her memoir, but others will also find it inspiring as she recounts numerous and often painful obstacles she's overcome in her personal and professional life.

One of Rehm's obstacles is spasmodic dysphonia (SD), a rare neuromuscular disorder that produces moderate to severe vocal tremors and even total voicelessness. SD is in a class known as movement disorders (or dystonias) involving the "misfiring" of neurological signals that control specific muscles (such as the vocal cords in SD). Other dystonias include writer's cramp, blepharospasm (causing involuntary eye blinking) and torticollis (involving the neck muscles). Due to its rarity, SD is frequently misdiagnosed (often as psychological or throat disorders) and can take years for doctors to accurately diagnose. Although I've had SD since 1992, it took four years and countless tests before mine was accurately diagnosed by a neurologist. To find out more about SD, visit the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association.

There is no cure for SD, but treatment options include medications, speech therapy and injections of botulinum toxin (botox) into the vocal fold muscles. These options--along with support and understanding of SD from family members, friends and colleagues--can go a long way toward helping SD sufferers find their own voices.