Speech disfluency is a complex phenomenon, often accompanied by stress and anxiety. A Neuroinformatics research group has now developed an application that enables the humanoid robot NAO to assist in the therapy of stuttering.
By Alexandra Hinz
Speech fluency disorder, commonly known as stuttering, affects approximately 1% of the world population. Stuttering not only often leads to difficulties in school but can create complexes and social anxiety. The causes and mechanisms of the speech defect are still not fully understood.
One of the most popular and effective ways to treat stuttering is based on delayed auditory feedback (DAF), commonly known as the “echo method”. The idea is that speech disfluency will disappear when a stutterer speaks while hearing his or her own voice over headphones with a delay of approximately 0.2 seconds.
© Copyright Lorna Betts, 2015.
A new software application called “Echo Therapy” uses and extends this method by adding visual feedback. The main advantage of this application is the possibility to use the humanoid robot NAO1 in the process of the therapy. NAO, a small robot of about 58 cm in height, is capable of moving its hand to the rhythm of the user’s speech (creating a metronome effect). It also implements standard echo therapy by repeating the user’s speech on the robot’s speakers with delay. This method draws upon the “choir effect”: speaking in a choir with other people has been shown to significantly reduce stress and fear in stutterers which in turn promotes fluency in speaking.
Breaking down social barriers among children
A recent research article, published in Bio-Algorithms and Med-Systems, depicts how the application was developed and how patients can perform various types of exercises such as reading, conversing, or holding a monologue. One important effect of the therapy is that the patient has company during the difficult process of speaking and the specialist can be replaced by the robot for practicing purposes. This makes the method especially interesting for the treatment of children with a high reluctance to speak.
To make the therapy even more attractive, the application will be further developed to enable the robot to ask questions. The idea is for the patient to get the impression that he or she is participating in an actual conversation and to remove social barriers. Furthermore, the Polish Neuroinformatics researchers who developed “Echo Therapy” are working on a project which is focused on using NAO in research related to the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
© SoftBank Robotics
1 developed by SoftBank Robotics, a French robotics company
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