Children with speech and language difficulties may be able to receive practical help through the use of ultrasound technology.
Researchers at University of Edinburgh and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh (QMU) are commencing a new project which will pioneer the use of ultrasound to gain clearer and more meaningful images of the tongue inside the mouth during speech.
Currently, most speech therapy for those who have difficulty creating the correct speech sounds is based on utilising the child’s auditory skills: the child must listen to their own speech sounds and then try to modify them. These methods, though, are not always effective for children struggling to improve their speech.
With ultrasound, though, children can see the movement and shape of their own tongue inside their mouth in real time and use this visual information to help them create the correct sound. “It allows them to see where they are going wrong, change the shape of their tongue when speaking and ultimately improve the sounds that they make”, says Professor Jim Scobbie of QMU.
The use of ultrasound is cheap, instant and safe, and the research team believe that ultrasound can provide powerful information about typical and disordered speech and can help speakers to modify their own incorrect tongue movements. However, as professor Scobbie points out, there are downsides to the use of the technology: the image provided is grainy and the information about what the tip of the tongue is doing can be unclear.
Speech sound disorders are the most common communication impairment in childhood, affecting 6.5 per cent of all UK children. Children with these disorders can find it difficult to communicate and integrate with their peers, problems which can restrict educational attainment.