Stuttering Diagnostic Prototype
Stuttering severity varies in different speaking situations, with different interlocutors, audience sizes or conversation topics (Bothe, 2004; Guitar, 2014; Manning, 2010; Onslow, 2017). Combined with the variability of stuttering, the ability of some people who stutter (PWS) to avoid the stuttering moments during the assessment can lead to unrepresentativeness, misdiagnosis, or an erroneous perception of severity (Manning, 2010).
To overcome those difficulties, the assessment process should involve a variety of speaking situations, and “the more these situations simulate the speaker’s daily communication situations the more apt we are to obtain a true indication of the problem” (Manning, 2010). The assessment process with VR recreates stressful situations in a standardized way, allowing a more accurate assessment of the difficulties the PWS experiences in real life, which will be quantified using instruments that have been adapted to measure the subjective experience of stuttering.
Beyond diagnostics, this solution can be used for desensitization (traditional VR exposure), for progress monitoring and in research protocols.
Our project consists in the development of a patient-centered prototype primarily dedicated to the diagnostic of stuttering, speech condition which affects 71 million people worldwide.
The diagnostic solution combines immersive video (displayed in Virtual Reality headsets) with voice recording functionalities and ECG biosensors. We aim at providing Speech and Language Pathologists with broader and multidimensional data points to improve diagnostic and therapeutic approaches’ adequacy.
We built a VR stuttering evaluation tool, composed of:
- An internally developed VR player to immerse the headset user in distinct 3D 180-degree speaking situations, in which he/she is asked to interact and to select the upcoming sequence;
- ECG biosensors, which enable to capture the user’s stress activation levels during these carefully scripted experiences, allowing Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP) to better assess the user’s stuttering via an evaluation questionnaire specifically adapted to Video-VR scenarios.
We reached a development level that enables the prototype to be incorporated in research protocols.
The Stuttering Diagnostic Prototype has the potential to become a disruptive and highly innovative product, with a versatile range of applications that can significantly improve the way stuttering therapy is currently held, and thereby the quality of life of people who stutter. These research applications include detailed evaluation of stuttering manifestations, detailed collection of the needs of each individual for a more successful therapy and clinical trials (pharmacological and non-pharmacological).
In terms of future market diversification, we foresee the product’s effectiveness in other speech disorders, such as neurological disorders with an impact on communication (aphasia, dysarthria, among others) and communication, language and speech disorders (Autism spectrum disorder, language disorders, speech sound disorder) , as well as its potential to significantly improve the practical training of Speech and Language Pathologists.