Our group has been setting out on creating a moonshot idea about how we can develop an effective and accessible therapy solution for children with Autism Spectrum disorder who are affected by deficits in the acquisition of prosody. Failure to recognize prosodic cues can lead to problems for the children both educationally and socially. While prosodic therapy does already exist, there are some inherent problems with traditional methods of therapy. While effective, speech therapy is expensive and time-consuming and can be out of reach or downright impossible for many working families. For the families for which therapy is accessible, therapists are often only trained in one type of therapy proven to improve prosody, while some children may benefit from a more-multi pronged approach.

We hope to create a solution for this problem by creating a model of therapy that incorporates all of the most effective therapeutic solutions which can be provided to every family that needs it. Ultimately, we settled on creating a computer program, also accessible on mobile devices such as phones and tablets as an app, which provides children with an interactive interface which can track and hopefully improve their acquisition of prosody. We want the app to “grow” with the children, using AI-like technology to learn about the child at an individualized level to work with our strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing about the app is interactive, the child will be able to “talk” to a cartoon-like character that can understand and talk back to them, and engages them in activities shown to be effective in improving prosody.

This week, our group worked on brainstorming the creative and technical details of the app with the goal of creating a paper prototype to concretize our moonshot idea. Some of the ideas that we came up with were for app names, name of the cartoon character, and the specifics of the user interface. Our proposed name for the app is Language Academy (LA for short), because it is simple and effective. Many people not familiar with linguistic/speech therapy are not exactly aware of what prosody is even though most have an intuitive understanding of it. By creating a general and easy to remember app name, our solution will appeal to more families.

As stated before, we want the app to be focused on a cartoon character who guides the child through the different activities. We want him to have a fun and easy to remember name, to facilitate a personal and social connection, one of the most important aspects of traditional in-person therapy. While an e-therapy solution is not a perfect replacement for in person therapy, we hope that by personifying the app, the child can get some of the benefits of real conversation. Some names that we came up this week were Tonal Tony, Vocal Victor, Joey’s Jargon, Articulative Alex. Another important part of the app is that the child at no point feels like the app is too hard or too easy for them. We don’t want younger children to feel intimidated, and we don’t want the older children to feel babied. This is why we want the character to age up in a fashion similar to the children as they age. The activities will become more sophisticated as the child ages, and their prosodic acquisition improves.

Moreover, we discussed how we actually want the children to interact with our app. We came up with having a homepage/dashboard, called the Articulation Station, where the children can access their activities for the day. We have been researching all of the therapies that have proven to be most successful in improving prosody, and incorporating them all in some way into our activities. Some of the ideas for activities we came up with are:

  1. A word-stress activity, where the child can clap or tap to identify syllables in a word. The character can walk through the child through a demonstration, and it can be an interactive activity where the child gets feedback. We also want to make sure that in all of these activities, the child is only receiving positive feedback and reinforcement
  2. A sentence-stress Activity, where the child will be tasked with identifying stressed words in sentences. This solution will be better for the older children. This activity will also include having the child recognize mistakes that will be made on purpose by the talking character.
  3. A pitch activity, focused on prosody at the sentence level, where the child  will hear sentences read out loud by the character. They can be asked to identify the rising/falling phases of the sentence. Additionally, they can be given written sentences, where they have to identify where rising/falling pitches should be. Finally, as a more advanced activity, the child can be given paragraphs, where they can be asked to mark words that should receive rising vs. falling pitches. Similar to the previous solution, they can also be asked to identify mistakes in pitch rising/falling patterns at all of these levels.
  4. A “pauses” activity, where after hearing a sentence from the character, the child will be asked to identify the pauses. Similar to the previous solutions, they can be given written sentences they can be asked to identify where pauses should be, as well as giving them sentences where they can identify mistakes in pauses/pauses where they should not be.
  5. A solution we developed for the younger/preschool aged children who will be using the app would be using a drum-like activity where the child taps on the screen to practice rhythmic patterns. This solution can eventually apply it to recognizing the amount of syllables in a word as the child ages.

Finally, our last step in more clearly defining the creative details of the app was to create a prototype for a design for the character of the app. Ariadni has drawn some ideas for how the character can look at the various stages of their/the child’s development, shown below:

Some ideas we proposed were allowing the child to choose a boy, girl or GNC character, and giving the child some creative liberty with the character. Children like to make choices and feel like they have control over certain aspects of their life and learning. Allowing the child to have creative freedom, such as choosing the child’s hair color/style or outfits, may facilitate a greater level of engagement and more fulfilling learning experience with the app.

We also created a simplistic paper prototype of what are app would look like:

Overall, we are all very excited about our idea and our progress!

References:

https://www.apraxia-kids.org/apraxia_kids_library/prosody-and-articulation/  (Prosody Activities for Children With Apraxia of Speech)