Smarty Ears has received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to develop a technology that will help children who have difficulty understanding speech in noisy conditions. With this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, the group aims to develop an innovative adaptive listening training system in the form of an iPad application (app) and to gather preliminary data to validate the usability and efficacy of the app.
Smarty Ears develops mobile apps on speech therapy. It has created over 40 apps for children with speech and language delays and disorders, such as articulation delays, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and down syndrome. This new app aims to help children with developmental disabilities, such as ASD and hearing loss, and difficulty with understanding speech in noise. A study that used eye tracking has found that children with ASD spend less time looking the at the face and mouth of a speaker compared with children with normal hearing, suggesting that children with ASD may have reduced access to critical articulatory information.
To develop a gamified prototype called Listening 2 Faces, Smarty Ears CEO and speech-language pathologist Barbara Fernandes and co-investigators translated previous preliminary research.
"Creating an app such as Listening 2 Faces was very challenging due to the nature of the auditory tasks. It takes an enormous amount of effort, but the result is nothing short of phenomenal, "said Fernandes in a press release. The app has innovative technology that has the potential to be transformative for children who normally have to listen to speech in noisy conditions at school, playgrounds, restaurants and everyday interactions."
Listening 2 Faces is the first automated training program that uses audiovisual speech geared toward people with communication disorders. It takes a "game-like" approach to appeal to children and to keep the tasks challenging. The program uses adaptive achievement milestones that automatically adjust the difficulty level of the training task to maintain a constant level of challenge for the user. The goal of this training system is to scaffold children's perceptions of speech by training in increasingly more challenging noise levels.
The system includes a library of over 1,000 high-definition videos featuring speakers of diverse age, gender, and ethnicity who produce words that children are asked to identify. Smarty Ears is currently recruiting participants for the Listening 2 Faces clinical trials in Connecticut, Texas, and Virginia.