Language impairment (LI) in children is often attributed to various factors including intellectual disability, autism and hearing loss. Children with LI are often faced with social communication, behavioural, educational and vocational difficulties. Although bilingualism does not cause LI, such disorders can be complicated when children have bilingual or multilingual exposure, which is a common occurrence worldwide. This has particular relevance to the language-learning context of Maltese children. LI in children can often be addressed by a customised intervention programme drawn up by a professional speech-language pathologist (SLP) on the basis of assessment and regular review of the child’s speech and language skills. However, children often lose engagement when subjected to repetitive therapy activities and lengthy assessment procedures. This impinges on the effectiveness of intervention. Within this context, a group of academics, researchers and game developers has developed a novel, multi-modal device, Olly Speaks, to facilitate language therapy for children with LI both within and beyond the clinical setting. Olly Speaks is as a smart therapeutic device that entices children to engage with the designated exercises by creating a more rewarding and motivating environment. The research team has produced a physical prototype of Olly Speaks. Evaluation studies carried out with children, parents and SLPs are indicating that the device is an effective clinical tool.
This research has been carried out as part of the SPEECHIE project, funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology through the National Research and Innovation Programme 2016. The SPEECHIE team is led by Prof. Ing. Philip Farrugia, from the Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Malta. The industrial partner in thIS project is Flying Squirrel Games ltd. Further project details are available at www.speechieproject.com
On the 5th December 2019, the SPEECHIE research team was awarded the WIPO IP Enterprise Trophy presented at the Malta Intellectual Property Awards 2019, organised by the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Business. SPEECHIE was also the winner of the Malta Intellectual Property Awards 2019 (Technological Initiative category), organised by the same Ministry.