New system could help kids with speech impediments

January 11, 2012 8:10:46 PM PST
A simple new system could make life easier for children with speech impediments. It's designed to help them pronounce sounds correctly using the sense of touch.

Avi Kaplan-Lipkin is retraining his tongue, to make the "r" sound. The device he's using to do it looks something like the paper noisemakers you'd buy for New Year's Eve.

The device is part of a system called Speech Buddies. It's designed to help patients learn to pronounce vowels and consonants by guiding their tongue into the correct position.

Avi says first noticed his own speech problem when he heard a recording of his voice.

"It sounded weird, totally childish and strange and messed up," Avi said.

His parents brought him to San Mateo speech therapist Ellen Golden. She says therapists have often used objects ranging from straws to tongue depressors to help achieve proper placement. But she believes the shaped tips of the Speech Buddies offer a more precise guide.

"They feel where the tongue goes, how far back, and how much they close the teeth over the jaw and then they try to duplicate it," Golden said.

Designer Alexey Salamini says his team experimented with dozens of different shapes before coming up with the five prototypes. He says each one is specific to a particular sound.

"What we're doing is the equivalent of levitating physical targets in the mouth for each sound," Salamini said.

He says the company is presenting results from a recent clinical trial to the American Speech and Hearing Association.

Avi and his family believe therapy has helped his speech significantly.

"After a couple of sessions Avi started to sound more like an adult," Avi's dad Daniel Lipkin said.

Written and produced by Tim Didion