A study funded by CASANA was completed by Dr. Jonathan Preston, a researcher from Haskins Laboratories (www.haskins.yale.edu) and Southern Connecticut State University. The research involved using ultrasound (the same device used to obtain images of a fetus or heart) to provide a real-time visual display of the tongue. The ultrasound transducer is held under the chin, and the ultrasound images are then used to teach children how to move their tongue into different positions to produce certain speech movements. Speech-language pathologists can use this information to provide the child with cues about the tongue.
One advantage of using ultrasound biofeedback for children with persisting speech errors is that both the clinician and the child have more information about what the child is doing with the tongue when he or she speaks. Additionally, clinicians can provide more direct and explicit cues to the child, such as “move this part of your tongue up here,” and the child can readily see if the movement was produced properly.
Among the disadvantages of this approach are the cost of the equipment (the ultrasound probe costs about $5,500) and the need for clinicians to be trained in the approach. Presently, only a few clinics in the country are using ultrasound biofeedback therapy. In general, children younger than 7-8 years are probably not good candidates for this type of therapy because it requires a great deal of focus and is not as “play-based” as some other therapy approaches.
The target group of children for this study was children who had speech errors that had not resolved by the age of 9 years. Six children, ages 9-15, participated in the study for 18 therapy sessions. All children had been resistant to traditional treatment methods and were showing limited progress in their school-based speech therapy programs. All of the participants in the study showed improvement in their speech sound accuracy on treated sounds, and all parents reported improved speech intelligibility. Specifically, each child achieved 80% accuracy or higher on at least two treatment targets, and some children showed substantial generalization to sound patterns that were untreated. Dr. Preston cautions that not all children necessarily respond equally well and that further research is needed. However, the use of ultrasound biofeedback therapy holds potential to become another tool in the toolbox for treatment of children with persistent speech errors.
Dr. Preston has recently applied for federal funding to continue to support this research.
[Note: CASANA research grants are made possible by funds generated by the Walk for Children with Apraxia of Speech®]