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Speech Therapy Robot Helps Deaf Children

Posted by Brian Spence on Feb 9, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Speech Therapy, Allied HealthAccording to a National Institutes of Health report, children develop their language skills within the first three years of life. There are critical periods when infants and kids absorb language and communication skills. Infants can identify their mother's or caretaker's voice within the first three months of life. By six months, they recognize sounds from their native language.

Deaf children are sometimes at a disadvantage. Usually, parents need to learn sign language, before they can communicate with their infants.

Many deaf kids may have to wait months until they learn to sign. This pause can permanently impact the language areas in the child's mind.

Gallaudet researchers have created a robot to help deaf children receive communication skills their brain areas need to develop. Yale University, the University of Southern California, and Italy's University of D'Annunzio are co-partners of the Gallaudet study.

A robot supplements natural interpersonal interaction that deaf babies would normally receive from their parents. The friendly, wide-eyed, blue-eyed robot with a black Mohawk engages the deaf child's stare. Its silent head turns to direct the infant's gaze to a video screen. There, a human figure cheerfully signs a nursery rhyme to the baby.

Laura-Ann Petitto is a Gallaudet neuroscientist conducting the study. Petitto says that communication activates the same brain areas of a developing infant's mind, whether it is signed or spoken language. Researchers can identify these parts. They strap brain-scanning hats to deaf children's heads to watch their speech areas light up.

The robot also has face-tracking software and a thermal camera to detect if an infant is engaged.

Without enough speech or language interaction, the communication areas of a baby's brain won't develop as they should. The robot can't replace the interaction between their parents and isn't meant to. It only acts as a stand-in for when mothers and fathers are too busy to help their child practice their language skills.

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