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IES Contract

Title: Handheld Technology For Speech Development In Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Tedesco, Robert Awardee: HandHold Adaptive, LLC
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $899,857
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: EDIES13C0046

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disabilities characterized by deficits in social competence, communication skills, and behaviors that are restricted and repetitive. ASD is one of the fastest growing disability categories in the country, with recent prevalence rates of 1 in 110 children. Since the first descriptions of speech in children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, abnormal prosody has been identified as a core feature of the syndrome for individuals who speak. Studies of the prosodic differences tend to be persistent and show little change over time even as language develops, and include monotone intonation, deficits in the use of pitch and control of volume, deficiencies in vocal quality, and use of aberrant stress patterns. This project will develop a tool for special education speech language providers (SLPs) and caregivers to support kindergarten through grade 12 students who exhibit prosodic speech challenges, including students with ASD and students with specific speech language disorders, hearing impairments, or intellectual disabilities. 

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2012, the researchers developed a prototype of the intervention with feedback from speech language pathologists and special education practitioners.  Ten speech language providers (SLPs) each providing services to 4 students participated in the Phase I pilot study.  The team found that the prototype functioned as intended, and users reported the tool can be used to support students with speech related deficiencies. In Phase II, the team will strengthen the product's usability and accessibility, and will add new features as requested by users, including visual checklists and training materials. Once development is complete, the team will carry out a pilot study to test the usability and feasibility, the fidelity of implementation, and the promise of the tool to improve speech. The pilot study sample will include 20 SLPs working with 4 to 8 students with a diagnosis of ASD and who have prosodic deficits.  Half of the students for each SLP will be randomly assigned to use SpeechPrompts, and the other half of the other students will receive the business as usual treatment from the SLP.  The study will compare pre and post scores on both standardized and researcher generated speech-related outcome measures for both groups.

Product: SpeechPrompts will be an application for Apple iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iTouch) for use by special education professionals and other caregivers (e.g., special educators, paraprofessionals, SLPs, counselors, and parents) working with students in kindergarten through grade 12 who exhibit prosodic speech challenges, including students with ASD and students with apraxia of speech, specific language disorders, hearing impairment, and intellectual disability (e.g., Down syndrome). A variety of features and therapeutic exercises will help educators guide improvement in students' prosodic voice quality, thereby strengthening their communication and social skills and thus capacity for integration in academic, recreational, vocational and community settings.