Published Online: October 11, 2011
Published in Print: October 12, 2011, as Device Offers Inside View for Therapists

Speech Therapists Get Inside View With New Device

Some people claim to have eyes in the backs of their heads, but one new device used for speech and language therapy puts eyes in the mouth.

Using custom-made devices that resemble retainers, some speech therapists are able to help students having trouble forming words see what their mouth is doing—and not doing.

Some of Utah speech therapist Ann Dorais’ clients who have spent years in traditional speech therapy are wrapping up in 10 to 20 sessions instead by using a Palatometer. The brand-name device, which has 124 sensors that detect how the tongue and palate connect when a person speaks, is linked to a computer that projects images of those tongue-palate connections.

“With this visual tool, they had made more progress in a couple of weeks than they had in a year,” she said.

When hooked up to a computer, the Palatometer can provide speech-and-language therapists with a real-time image of students' tongue and mouth movements as they form words. A half-dozen school districts across the country are using the device.

In about a half-dozen school districts across the country including the 6,000-student Murray city district in Utah, speech therapists use the Palatometer to work with some students. The device allows therapists to pinpoint which parts of the students’ mouths are getting in the way of pronouncing words correctly.

“It’s easier to see something and mimic it,” said Dave Larsen, the chief executive officer of CompleteSpeech, the Orem, Utah-based company that makes the $3,000 device. “With vowels, it’s the gap or distance between the tongue and the palate. With consonants, it’s the pressure and the air flow.”

Aside from noting where the connections aren’t right, speech therapists can overlay an image of how the tongue and palate should connect on the image of what the student’s mouth is doing.

The company says that 15 to 20 sessions of speech therapy its way are equal to three to five years of traditional therapy, at least for students without other significant disabilities. Moving children through therapy quickly can reduce therapists’ workload.

For students with more severe disabilities, the technology also makes a difference, however, said Ms. Dorais, who uses the Palatometer in her private practice.

“The whole premise is it’s visual,” she said. “We don’t have to do a lot of explaining.”

Vol. 31, Issue 07, Page 15

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