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Source: University of Canterbury – statements

Dr Toby Macrae celebrates with a young client.

A unique, new app that analyses speech patterns could provide a leap forward in the assessment and treatment of children with speech difficulties.

The speech analysis app being developed by University of Canterbury (UC) Senior Lecturer Toby Macrae would be a huge timesaver for speech-language pathologists (SLPs), who are typically working with a large number of clients.

The new technology, which has been awarded a $20,000 UC Innovation Jumpstart grant designed to help innovative ideas become commercial realities, would allow SLPs to assess and analyse a child’s speech sample for error patterns to ensure accurate assessment, diagnosis and treatment.

Carried out manually, this labour intensive and complex process would normally take up to 2.5 hours per child.

Dr Macrae, an SLP in UC’s Department of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, has worked clinically with children locally and in the United States. “I understand that SLPs around the world are pressed for time because of large caseloads, but I also know the importance of carrying out a comprehensive assessment and analysis of a child’s speech.

“There’s no other software available that performs these kinds of complex pattern analyses. I think this app will ultimately lead to improved social and educational outcomes for children who have difficulty speaking, through better diagnosis and treatment.”

The Apple iPad and Android-tablet based app will allow the user to enter all of the child’s word productions during a speech test and then choose the appropriate analysis. It will provide the user with a complete picture of the child’s strengths and weaknesses and makes sure the results are accurate.

Dr Macrae plans to offer it to the 190 – 260 SLPs who work for the Ministry of Education in New Zealand. He also plans to promote the app overseas, starting in the United States where there are 175,000 certified SLPs.

He is working with Chris Gao, a UC computer science graduate who is now a Senior Software Engineer at Airways New Zealand, to develop the app.

His goal is to test, trial and refine it this year and in November 2021, he hopes to exhibit it in Washington DC at the convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an event that’s usually attended by about 16,000 people.