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World-class speech therapy project helps Lothian children find their voice

Posted: 11th May 2016

The first project of its kind is helping children in Edinburgh and the Lothians to overcome speech sound disorders at Queen Margaret University (QMU). Experts from the pioneering Clinical Audiology, Speech and Language Research Centre (CASL) and the University of Strathclyde are working with Articulate Instruments Ltd to help 20 youngsters aged six to 15 find their voices with unique ultrasound technology and clinical treatment methods. The £140,000 UltraPhonix project is evaluating the effectiveness of using ultrasound as a visual biofeedback tool to help treat a range of speech sound disorders that have been unresponsive to traditional speech therapy methods.

Speech sound disorders are very common in childhood, affecting at least 6.5% of primary school aged children – around two children in every classroom. Such disorders make children’s speech difficult to understand, in turn affecting social skills and educational attainment. Most children who have difficulty creating the correct speech sounds receive therapy which relies on listening skills. The child must listen to their own speech sounds and follow instructions provided by the clinician to try to modify them. However, with these more traditional methods, some children struggle to improve their speech, and the clinician might even be uncertain about what is really going on inside the mouth.

Since speech is made with the tongue, and the tongue is largely hidden from view, this means that observations of the speech disorder and feedback on how to improve it need to be indirect.Ultrasound makes it possible for children to visualise their efforts to make new tongue shapes and sequences of tongue movements, getting direct and immediate feedback which also lets the clinician guide their progress on the basis of otherwise inaccessible information.

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