The Language Explorers: A catch up with Co-investigator Dr Yvonne Wren
Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Yvonne Wren and I am Director of Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit (BSLTRU). I am a speech and language therapist by background but most of my work now is in research. At BSLTRU we carry out a wide range of research relating to the field of speech and language therapy including projects with families of children born with cleft palate, users of communication aids and young people who stammer. I have a particular interest in children with developmental speech and language disorders.
What is your role in the project?
I run the clinical evaluation of the Language Explorer tool. A lot of work goes into developing the platform and ensuring it works as intended. As a team we have also collected data from across the UK to understand how the tool works with typically developing children when used with parents. The clinical evaluation will enable us to test the tool in a real clinical setting with children who have been referred to speech and language therapy services because of concerns with their child’s language development.
Why did you choose to get involved?
I have an interest in the use of technology in speech and language therapy. As a profession, I think we were quite late adopters to how technology can be used to help us but that has changed more recently as apps have become more widespread and easy to access. This has meant that there are many options available for speech and language therapists and others working with children who have developmental language disorder but few tools have been robustly tested. Becoming involved in this project was an opportunity to work with Therapy Box, a dynamic company who are at the forefront of developing tools that have the potential to transform how we deliver our services as speech and language therapists but who also want to ensure that the resources they develop have been robustly tested through clinical research.
Who do you think the Language Explorer could help?
At this point in time we are looking into how the work carried out can be used to help speech and language therapists. Through them, this will benefit children who have been identified by their parents or teachers or other members of the children’s workforce with concerns about their language development.
What are your thoughts on Citizen led research?
The use of remote technologies means that we have the capacity to gather data from a wide range of individuals, all of whom are contributing to the development of the resource. This has the potential to involve many more people and at the same time reduce some of the costs involved in data collection, making research more efficient and accessible.
What is the potential of the Language Explorer?
We are investigating how Language Explorer can be used to assist in screening children who are referred to speech and language therapy services. It has the potential to help distinguish between those children who need advice only from those who need further investigation and possibly intervention, freeing up speech and language therapy time for those who need it most.
However, Language Explorer can do much more than this. The reporting function will provide automatic analyses of a range of measures of expressive language skill. These will all be based on a narrative sample, thus reflecting a more natural function of communication in young children. The measures can help clinicians to identify targets for intervention as well as providing baseline measures of performance which can be reassessed simply and quickly following an episode of intervention to capture outcomes.
Using Language Explorer in clinical practice may change the way we work as speech and language therapists with children with developmental language disorder. Time has limited our ability to focus on capturing language samples for transcription and analysis in clinical practice. We have therefore become used to reliance on formal testing using stimulus and response questioning as the only route to determining children’s expressive language skills. While this approach is still important and will need to continue to be used with some children, the use of Language Explorer will enable us to assess children’s language in a manner which reflects more closely how children retell the story of their day to their parents when they come home from school or recount their weekend activities to friends and their teacher on Monday morning.
What are your thoughts on the combination of technology and Speech and Language
Technology has much to offer speech and language therapy as a profession. Recent changes in our we work as a result of the lockdown from Covid-19 has highlighted this more than ever. There is much more we can do to investigate how technology can support and supplement what we do in our assessments and intervention. The important thing in every case though is to be sure that what we are doing has been robustly tested in real clinical situations. With Language Explorer, that is what we are achieving.