A Virtual Speech Therapist? It’s In the Works

Everyone who has ever tried to master a skill knows the value of “practice makes perfect.” But for people living with aphasia, a communication disorder caused by damage to parts of the brain that contain language centers, practicing language skills is not enough to make real improvements – achieving success also requires feedback. Researchers at Temple University think they may have found a solution: a virtual speech therapist.

The purpose of speech therapy for the treatment of aphasia is to help people relearn and regain lost language skills. There is a focus on rehearsal, repetition and capitalizing on what language skills remain. While there is no cure for aphasia, people who are consistently stimulated by practice, therapy and feedback will continue to improve. Feedback is very important, as the therapist can correct mistakes – without it, they will continue to make the same mistakes over and over.

While working with a trained speech therapist is the best option, it is not possible for everyone all the time. Insurance may only cover sessions for so long, and paying out of pocket for additional sessions may not be cost-effective or doable. But like any skill, people living with aphasia must continue work at it. But when practicing on their own, they are missing that crucial piece of the puzzle: feedback.

Enter the virtual speech therapist. During their two-year study, the researchers at Temple hope to create a virtual therapist that does more than respond to pre-written scripts. They are “teaching” the virtual therapist to understand and respond to almost anything the patient may say. Then, the patient can figure out what to say next, making the whole process much more natural while facilitating relearning.

But what about feedback? Well, that’s next on the horizon. The hope is that is this technology becomes more advanced, it can start to catch speech and language mistakes and correct them.

But even with all this cool technology, it’s not a total replacement for real life speech therapists. As Magee speech and language pathologist Deb Diraddo explained in an interview with the Associated Press on this technology, “communication is not just the words — it’s the body language, the tone, the gesturing.”

For more information on this study, click here.

Now, we want to hear from you! What do you think about a virtual speech therapist? Would you try it?


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