New app may help kids with facial differences learn to speak easier

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For some, the sounds don’t come easy, especially for children who weren’t able to form proper speech at the earliest stages. One in 600 babies in the U.S. is born with cleft lip and palate. Now a first-of-it’s kind app, developed in Chicago, may help kids speak out with more confidence.

What sounds like a typical speech therapy exercise, is a distinct pattern -- the result of a facial deformity -- in many cases, a facial cleft. When the tissue that forms the lips and roof of the mouth doesn’t join together during development, patients are often left with hearing and speech problems – even after early surgical repair.

“Even after the surgeries occurred, the fact that they had that cleft palate for any period of time has sometimes already influenced what they’re trying to do with their speech production skills,” said Amy Morgan, a speech language pathologist at Shriner’s Chicago.  “That’s why it’s sometimes difficult to understand them later on because they are moving sounds to a different place.”

Sydney, Giselle and Zachary are all relearning how to make proper sounds.  Position is key, but so are air pressure and muscle use.

“When you start compensating for a structural difference often those patterns, those habits become very engrained so kids need a lot of repetition and it’s very difficult for families to be able to secure those kinds of services where they get enough repetition for kids to make appropriate progress,” Morgan said.

That’s where the app comes in.  The repetitive and intense exercises help patients reinvent their technique, especially when it comes to one particularly challenging sound.

The technology was developed at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Chicago, where this week, participants in a theater program called camp smile got to check it out for the first time.

The campers will take the app home with them and continue to test it out for another six months. And speech therapists at Shriner’s Chicago hope to have the technology available for free to everyone within the year.

More information at: Shriner's Hospital website