New software enables better conversation among kids with cerebral palsy

June 5th, 2009 - 5:10 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jun 5 (ANI): A new software program can provide a better means of communications for children who are suffering from cerebral palsy.

Scientists claim that the ‘How was school today?’ software is the first technology of its kind to allow children with communication problems to converse in a better manner.

The system is the result of a project between computing scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee, and Capability Scotland.

“How was school today? uses sensors, swipe cards, and a recording device to gather information on what the child using the system has experienced at school that day,” the BBC quoted Dr. Ehud Reiter, from the University of Aberdeen’s school of natural and computing sciences, as saying.

“This can then be turned into a story by the computer - using what is called natural language generation - which the pupils can then share when they get home.

“The system is designed to support a more interactive narration, allowing children to easily talk about their school day and to quickly answer questions,” he said.

Rolf Black, from the University of Dundee’s school of computing, said that the software made it easier for the child to hold a conversation.

“For a child with severe motor disabilities and limited or no speech, holding a conversation is often very difficult and limited to short one to two word answers,” he said.

“To tell a longer story a communication device is often needed to form sentences but this can be very time consuming, putting a lot of strain on holding and controlling the conversation,” he added.

Sue Williams, head teacher at Capability Scotland’s Corseford School in Kilbarchan, said that the system was very useful to pupils.

“In the week we used the system we found it very useful to pupils, teachers, therapists and parents alike. It allows children to take control of the conversation without having to rely on help from us,” she said.

Nicole Vallery, 11, and Rebecca Clelland were two of the pupils at Corseford to test the new software.

“I was happy to take part in How was school today? It made me feel good about myself,” Nicole said.

Rebecca added: “It was something different, I enjoyed it.”

Nicole’s mother, Jan, also found the software favourable, as she was able to learn more about her daughter’s day.

“We really enjoyed using How was school today? and hearing Nicole’s story,” she said.

“The programme enabled her to talk easily and answer questions quickly, prompting more interaction and giving us a very detailed insight into her day,” she added.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded the project, and plans are in place to examine how it could be used to support children with different levels and types of impairments. (ANI)

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