Gutierrez and colleagues receive award to develop speech therapy tools for children

Professors Beena Ahmed, Texas A&M University at Qatar Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna (pictured), Texas A&M University Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Kirrie Ballard from the University of Sydney have received a three-year award in excess of $1 million from the Qatar National Research Fund to develop speech tools for the treatment of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS).

Photo of Ricardo Gutierrez-OsunaCAS is a disorder that leads to a serious communicative disability that affects as many as 6 percent of all children. The neurological disorder affects motor planning and execution, and interferes with an individual's ability to correctly pronounce sounds, syllables and words.

Speech therapy for children with CAS involves extended interaction between the therapist and subject, which can be difficult to manage due to time constraints and expenses. Unfortunately publicly funded services in most OECD countries are often under-resourced, which leads to long wait periods for sessions, which rarely are comprehensive and more often than not are cursory with limited interaction. Private services are expensive, forcing parents to budget the amount of therapy sessions delivered to the child. In other parts of the world, most of these children do not get access to the required services due to a lack of trained professionals, as these tend to concentrate on major cities.

To address these issues, the investigators will develop a technology-based tool for the diagnosis and treatment of CAS. Specifically, the tool will provide children with software-based interactive activities to perform on mobile devices (such as pads and smartphones) in the comfort of their home or in any other environment; and their therapists with automated speech analysis tools to remotely monitor patient performance and modify the course of therapy as needed.