Children who stammer
Smart Talking – development of a new app to assess speech and language skills
Dr Avin Mirawdeli has been working with the DBT for six years developing a universally applicable screening tool to identify children in reception class who had speech difficulties. Using the benefit of her research for the DBT, Avin is currently working as a postdoctoral research associate in Dr Jenny Gibson’s team at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, developing a web-application that will help parents and teachers assess children’s speech and language skills. The App was under development for the assessment of language when Avin joined Dr Gibson’s team and they are now working on proof-of-concept for speech assessment. The App will use speech recognition technology to implement speech and language assessments on a large scale. The end users will be parents and teachers who can easily use the App at home or in school. The App will provide a norm-referenced score for each child and information to support referral to specialist services, if this is indicated. It is intended to empower parents and teachers and give them the confidence to seek help. Testing is under way in schools in Cambridge and London and data will soon be available for analysis with a view to helping develop the speech recognition component of the App. Avin had the privilege of presenting this prestigious research at the International Fluency Association Joint Word Congress in Japan (13-16 July 2018) where it was well received by a global audience in the historic city of Hiroshima.
Screening School Aged Children who Stammer
Avin Mirawdeli, supervised by Professor Peter Howell of University College London, has completed her PhD project at UCL, which is co-funded by Dom’s Fund and UCL. Entitled “Screening school-aged children for fluency problems: an investigation in Suffolk Schools”, Avin has been working to develop a universally-applicable screening tool to identify children in reception class who have speech difficulties.
Her work has received positive reactions from the schools where she undertook her research. The work identifies children in schools who stutter (in Ipswich and London) and following identification, schools have also asked that in-school interventions be conducted for children who either: 1) stutter or 2) show wordfinding difficulty that can sometimes sound like stuttering. The latter affects children who do not speak English as their native language in schools. Four papers are at different points in the publications process. Further details can be found at https://www.ucl. ac.uk/speech-research-group/projects/screening-children-for-speech-difficulties
Building on Avin’s work, researchers at UCL, funded by the Trust, are developing an intervention for in-school use with children who stutter. This study first validated Avin’s procedure by applying the screen on 170 reception class children. The effectiveness of the newly-designed two-week working memory intervention was investigated, testing the hypothesis that working memory training would lead to short- and long-term improvements in speech fluency and non-word repetition (NWR) ability. As predicted, results showed immediate improvements and long term retention in effects for both speech fluency and NWR ability. Schools now have a package that allows them to identify and perform a preliminary intervention for speech difficulties among reception class children. This project stemmed from recommendations in the Bercow Report that had emphasised the need for identification and intervention by teachers and SLTs; coordination of services between schools and clinics, and equity of access.
The Star Talking Project
The Star Talking Project, which started in 2009, focused initially on providing a box of resources to parents of very young children (under five) who stammer, in order to encourage more fluent talking at home. Conducted by Isobel Pickering, a highly specialist SLT working in Suffolk, it was designed to create something practical, fun and helpful to do with children during the early stages of stammering, where there is often a waiting list for therapy. The Star Talking Boxes were well liked by most families and children and in those cases were successful in promoting fluency in the children. However, for some participants the resources were not always suitable. Following completion of the first stage of the project, it was decided to develop a book that embedded some of the principles of therapy that a child might receive in a clinic-based situation.
The Star Talking Fluency Workbook is now being trialled in the Suffolk area with families of young children who stammer – aged 2 years 6 months to 3 years 6 months. Parents are offered the workbook following an initial assessment for stammering with no obligation to take part in the evaluation. So far five families have taken up the offer. The workbooks are designed to be used regularly at home for a trial period of 6-8 weeks during which time families fill in a simple, weekly evaluation form detailing their experience of using the book with their child. They also provide very basic information on any changes that may have occurred whilst using the book. It is hoped that the workbook will prove to be a valuable tool for the parents of very young children who stammer. On receiving the workbook for the first time, one parent commented: “It’s so nice to be given something to do!” The evaluation is still underway and will continue throughout the year.