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Finding a Voice in Scotland

“The intensive series of speech and language therapy sessions and assessments [at Queen Margaret University] allowed us to see a rapid change in the quality of Rosie’s speech in a relatively short period.”

Rosie Pink Smith, 11-year-old with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia

Rosie Pink Smith is 11 and attends St. Joseph’s Primary School in Linlithgow, Scotland. Rosie is 1 of 20 local youngsters benefiting from the UltraPhonix project at Queen Margaret University (QMU).

The £140,000 UltraPhonix project, funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, 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.

Rosie was diagnosed with developmental verbal dyspraxia (DVD) in 2010 and was referred to speech and language experts at QMU in July 2015.

About Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia

DVD is a condition where children have difficulty making and coordinating the precise movements of their mouths needed to produce clear speech. Children with DVD find it hard to produce individual speech sounds, as well as putting sounds together in the right order within words.

Speech sound disorders are very common in childhood, affecting at least 6.5% of primary school aged children—around 2 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.

Using Ultrasound Technology to Visualise Tongue Shapes & Sequences

Ultrasound technology 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.

Unique software designed by Articulate Instruments Ltd provides an example of target shapes and sequences for children to attempt to copy. It allows their efforts to be played back so that they can see and hear their progress.

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 6 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.

Rosie’s Experience

Rosie has received 16 intensive speech and language therapy sessions (6 assessment sessions and 10 one-hour long therapy sessions) at QMU over 6 months, as part of the UltraPhonix project.

There has been a marked improvement in Rosie’s ability to produce a variety of speech sounds during this period, including the letters ‘K’ and ‘G.’ Rosie’s speech assessments show that her production of these letters has increased by more than 50%.

Rosie’s mum, Anna Pink, says, “We’re really pleased with the significant progress Rosie has made with her speech since receiving help from QMU. The intensive series of speech and language therapy sessions and assessments allowed us to see a rapid change in the quality of Rosie’s speech in a relatively short period. We hope that Rosie’s positive experience with QMU will help other children with speech and language difficulties benefit from the expert support on offer at the University.”