Many children, or adults for that matter, with CP have issues with speech. Whether it be poor muscle control of the mouth, tongue and voicebox or issues with rhythm or speed it can often make it hard to fathom, often causing frustration. All children develop speech at a very individual rate and are not easily comparable at the best of times.
Charlie is quite lucky- for the most part his speech is good, he has been discharged from Speech and Language therapy. He sometimes drawls, sometimes he mispronounces or has poor articulation but I think he struggles with the rhythm most. Charlie often puts pauses in inappropriate places or appears to get stuck mid-sentance and as he gets tired or very excited his voice ‘slides off’.
With Charlie’s brain damage it could easily be argued that the pathways vital to speech production and rhythm could be incomplete or poorly developed. In an effort to strengthen these I stumbled upon a piece of kit I thought we could try… the ForBrain (thank you Charlie’s Challenge). Using neuro-plastic (brain-change) principles it can use auditory stimulus to help ‘calm’ a ‘noisy brain’.
As an Audiologist I know and understand the importance of sensory processing in a developing brain, let alone a damaged one.
The simple idea of the ForBrain is that it helps create a feedback loop within the body to help it become aware of itself- possibly promoting changes within the brain. It is based on the prinicples of an eminent ENT doctor, Tomatis- who himself suffered terrible dyslexia before becoming a highly regarded physician.
By amplifying Charlie’s voice it makes him more aware of his own sound- he can hear his pronunciation and also the rhythm of his speech enabling him to make changes to it in ‘real-time’. It also digitally filters the sound, ‘gaiting’ to subtly adjust the output. By ‘gaiting’ the sound it randomly alters the pitch to create a simple change. By regularly but subtly changing the sound in Charlie’s ear it keeps his brains attention on his voice. This attentioning helps his brain concentrate on the sound and helps him learn to listen.
The kit involves a set of sports-style headphones that place a small pad on the jaw to ‘vibrate’ the sound into the ear (vibration reaches the cochlea, the organ of hearing, quicker than through the air), a small filter box and headset microphone. It is lightweight and unobtrusive Charlie happily wears it, his ‘hearing toy’.
Charlie’s initial progress wiith the device has been noticable- when he wears the ForBrain he spends a good few minutes ‘vocalising’, making random noise, whispering and shouting. To me (and to a number of other observers) it appears to slow him down and his articulation improves. The apparatus is used for 15-20mins everyday (suggested)- initially it would seem that gains are limited to when it is used but neuro-plastic priniclples would suggest that increasing use will lead to longer periods of improvement without the kit on.
The literature suggests that the ForBrain is very useful for children with speech and language delay but other, wider literature suggests that its use can be extended to Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD and other Sensory Processing Impairments. The idea being a ‘focused and attending’ brain may deal better with sound sensory stimulus and process it in a more useful way. The idea of a ‘listening ear’ is the basis of other therapy, like music therapy to develop the brains ability to use sound- it may enable an ‘sensory-overloaded’ ear to be able to cope with sound more meaningfully.
I am optimistic about its use at present- I feel that there is noticable benefit already. However, I want to use the kit over an extended period to see any real effect. As promised at the start of this blog if its use appears favourable I will try to find other potential users to help and test its benefit as part of Charlie’s Challenge. I will update this post as a review as we go along.
It is also meant to help adults concentrate, memorise and focus better with use so I will definitely have a go myself! The equipment won a prestigious technology award this year at The BETT Show 2015 and has been championed by a number of special needs charities.
Xmas 2017 update
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