Australian researchers are optimistic that a mobile application they have developed can teach deaf infants how to speak.
Developed by a team from Melbourne's Swinburne University, the GetTalking app is designed for infants who are born deaf and receive cochlear implants.
Children who are born deaf and receive the implants often struggle to associate the sounds they hear with the sounds they can make with their mouth.
Belinda Barnet, the team leader, came up with the idea for the app after raising her own hearing-impaired daughter.
“With my own daughter, she had an implant at 11 months old, I could afford to take a year off to teach her to talk. This involved lots of repetitive exercises and time. Now that she can talk I'd like to help other families who may not have that time,” Barnet said in a media release on Tuesday.
The app works by giving children a bright visual reward when they speak.
“When a child has not heard any sound, they don't understand that a noise has an effect on the environment. So the first thing has to be a visual reward for an articulation,” Barnet said.
“At 12 months children respond well to visual rewards, and even an 'ahhh or 'ohhh' should get a response from the app.”
Due to the complications in recognizing words from a baby that doesn't know how to speak complex speech recognition software and artificial intelligence (AI) was required for the app with support being provided by Swinburne's BabyLab.
“The speech needs to be cross-matched with thousands of articulations from normally-speaking babies,” Barnet said.
Rachel McDonald, chair of Health and Medical Sciences at Swinburne, said the app would change the lives of children and families affected by cochlear implants.
“Rather than replacing, we are augmenting the experience, which will improve adherence to activities that often children and families struggle to do,” McDonald said.