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SpokeIt Speech Therapy Game Engages Children in Cleft Care

Posted by Brian Spence on May 10, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Cleft Lip, Healthcare, Speech TherapyUC Santa Cruz researchers are currently developing a speech therapy game to help children who suffer from a cleft lip or cleft palate. A cleft is described as a common birth defect which affects over 200,000 babies born every year, according to international charity, Smile Train. This condition is seen as an opening in the upper lip or on the roof of the mouth, causing children to experience symptoms such as difficulties with eating and speech impairment. But because there is a shortage of speech therapists in developing countries, many children will need alternative treatments after receiving surgery to repair their clefts.

UC Santa Cruz has decided to collaborate with Smart Train so they can reach out to children residing in cleft care hospitals around the world. They hope that this speech therapy game, called SpokeIt, will accommodate those in need, who don't have access to a speech therapist. By translating the game into many languages, researchers believe more children can benefit from it as a follow-up care protocol, which is necessary for those who underwent cleft surgery. And Smart Train's network of experts have agreed to evaluate its effectiveness in improving speech.

Smile Train Advocates for SpokeIt in Speech Therapy Research

Smile Train is known for giving free cleft surgery to children from 85 different countries, and as expected, their engineers are eager to work on the project because they want children with birth defects to feel comfortable speaking. The real challenge comes from translating the game and making it culturally appropriate. Lead by UCSC grad student, Jared Duval, the SpokeIt project is being developed for both the iOS and Android touchscreen devices. Smile Train has offered feedback regarding how SpokeIt could be adapted to integrate speech recognition software.

It's meant to be an interactive story about the adventures of a star named Nova, explained to players in a series of mini-games in which children will complete by speaking into the microphone. Dr. Tollefson has endorsed SpokeIt when he recommended his patients to become beta testers. The finishing touch involves implementing new languages and introducing this game to speech therapy training programs. One day, SpokeIt will be downloadable as an app for cleft care facilities to use.

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