Can using a mobile speech therapy app for home practice play a role in improving speech outcomes for children with cleft palate?

Leah Hanley, Kirrie J. Ballard, Alison Purcell

Background: Over 50% of children with cleft palate require speech therapy for speech errors. However, timely access to therapy with the frequency and intensity required is not always possible. There is growing evidence to support the use of principles of motor learning (PML) in the treatment of speech disorders in children. As a set of principles, PML has been automated into a mobile speech therapy game. The app can be used to support speech therapy practice at home.

Aim: This research seeks to understand if home practice, supported by a speech therapy app based on PML, can be effective in improving speech in children with speech errors associated with cleft palate. It also seeks to understand children’s and parent’s experiences and satisfaction using an app-based speech intervention.

Method: Multiple baselines across participant and behaviours single-case experimental design was used. Participants were seven children (5-9 years) with cleft-type speech errors. The primary dependent variable was percentage of words correct. Effect sizes were calculated to quantify treatment effect. Participants played the app, which was programmed with their speech targets, four times/week with 100 attempts/session for two 4-week phases. Parents provided correct/incorrect feedback.

Results: During treatment, all children showed improvements in treated behaviours, 1-month post-therapy six children maintained improvements.

Conclusion: Results indicate home practice supported by a mobile app is effective in improving speech outcomes for children with cleft palate.