Breaking barriers in speech and language therapy

Innovative board game and accompanying app aim to provide a high-quality user experience for children aged five to eight during speech and language therapy
A research focus group conducted as part of the SALTT-CITY consortium.

Developmental language disorder (DLD) affects around seven per cent of the child population worldwide. Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) play a crucial role in the assessment and intervention activities related to DLD.

An early diagnosis of this condition often leads to successful intervention during early childhood. Consequently, therapeutic toys and games are often used to assist SLPs in engaging with young children and encouraging them to comply during intervention sessions.

Nonetheless, conventional toys and games adopted during therapy have a number of limitations that compel SLPs to utilise various resources so as to meet the diverse needs of their clients.

Research shows that, while traditional toys and games are widely utilised by SLPs, incorporating board games with children experiencing DLD results in a high level of usability and effectiveness during therapy (Ibrahim, 2021).

Within this context, the University of Malta has embarked on a research project aimed at developing a board game and a companion app to be used on tablets and mobile phones and which supports children aged five to eight years during speech and language therapy.

Design sessions conducted as part of the SALTT:CITY to understand better the user requirements of the board game.

The project, named SALTT-CITY, involves a game and accompanying app specifically designed to provide a high-quality user experience (UX) to children during therapy. A user-centred design approach is adopted in which the game and app were co-designed with SLPs, caregivers and children. UX-related data collected from these stakeholders is collected and processed to inform designers on the best way to develop speech and language therapeutic toys (SALTTs).

Meanwhile, machine learning is used to collect UX-related data from multiple locations (e.g. public health centres, home, schools and private clinics), and hence to connect board games in a smart city environment.

At the time of writing, the first board game and app have been prototyped in the local bilingual context, i.e. Maltese and English. The board game and app were subjected to a preliminary evaluation with the aforementioned users, through quantitative and qualitative studies.

“The research team is focusing on exploring opportunities to exploit the intersection of healthcare and technology”

The findings generated through these studies emphasise the importance of user engagement, user experience and user-friendly design in developing effective and inclusive board games for DLD intervention.

Furthermore, the research team is working on the development and evaluation of a computer-based support tool for designers, demonstrating a commitment to ongoing improvement and practical application in the field.

Overall, the research team is focusing on exploring opportunities to exploit the intersection of healthcare and technology, promoting innovative solutions for children with DLD, and offering valuable insights for a broader audience interested in inclusive and therapeutic game design.

The team at the University of Malta is being led by Prof Inġ. Philip Farrugia from the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (DIME), and includes Inġ. Edward Abela from DIME, Prof. Inġ. Owen Casha from the Department of Microelectronics and Nanoelectronics, Prof. Inġ. Simon Fabri from the Department of Systems and Control Engineering, together with Prof. Helen Grech, Prof. Daniela R. Gatt and Donia Stellini from the Department of Communication Therapy.

Anthony Demanuele and his team at Flying Squirrel Games are also collaborating on the SALTT-CITY project, which is funded through MCST’s thematic programme Smart Cities.

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