QMYOU Alumni Magazine Issue 76 - Page 12

Research helps children with Down ’ s syndrome improve speech

Speech and Language

researchers are taking their expertise out to schools to help children with Down ’ s syndrome improve their communication skills .
The project involves the use of pioneering visual feedback technology to help children with Down ’ s syndrome , between the ages of six and ten years of age , with their speech communication skills . The research project will train school learning assistants to assist children with their speech improvement whilst still attending their own school .
The project builds on pioneering speech and language therapy technology developed by researchers at QMU .
Down ’ s syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mild to moderate learning difficulties , affecting 1 in every 1000 children born . Children with Down ’ s syndrome tend to have poor speech skills . Their difficulties with speech production can reduce their speech intelligibility which can lead to them being disadvantaged in a number of areas of life .
Dr Sara Wood , QMU ’ s Speech and Language therapist , explained : “ If people are struggling to communicate effectively , this can affect their educational progress . Difficulties with communicating successfully will affect the formation of friendships and integration into the wider community . These speech difficulties often persist into adulthood , which may then limit life opportunities .”
She continued : “ Conventional speech and language therapy relies on auditory feedback which the person with Down ’ s syndrome cannot always use to change their speech ”.
The QMU research team has therefore been exploring how its cutting-edge speech technology , combined with speech therapy ,

12 QMYOU / Health & Rehabilitation

could be used m o r e effectively to help children with Down ’ s syndrome .
The University ’ s earlier research identified that children with Down ’ s syndrome responded extremely well to visual feedback . Therapists had recorded significant improvements in children ’ s speech when they used Electropalatography ( EPG for short ). This new research project sees the rolling out of this EPG therapy which will now be used in some Lothian schools .
Professor Jim Scobbie , Director of the Clinical Audiology , Speech and Language Research Centre at QMU , explained : “ Finding out exactly what the tongue is doing inside the mouth has traditionally
been very difficult . However , QMU has developed a range of technologies to view and record tongue movements .”
EPG is a technique which is not yet routinely available in NHS clinics . EPG records where and when the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth during speech . It can be a particularly useful means of helping some children with speech difficulties to improve their speech because it provides visual feedback to the
child , which is not ordinarily available , and does not rely purely on what the child hears . The technique is proving particularly helpful to children with Down ’ s syndrome , as they are known to respond well to visual stimuli .
Professor Scobbie said : “ It is estimated that up to eighty percent of children with Down ’ s syndrome have hearing
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