We've done years of speech therapy for Jude. He began as a toddler with our county's early intervention program. Initially, we decided to teach sign language, because his speech was so poor. (We decided it was better to focus on giving him communication skills, even if they weren't necessarily oral speech skills.) Jude has had countless hours of verbal speech therapy with hospital-based therapists as well, and yet continued to struggle. Learning to read has made a big difference for him because now he can see some of the sounds; words like "toaster" has a /t/ sound in the middle, and "box" has an ending /ks/ rather than being pronounced "bah." We still do a lot of modeling, but it is frustrating for him because if you say to him, "Say it like this, 'BAKS.'" he will protest, "I am saying it! BAH!" He just doesn't hear the sounds. We jumped at the opportunity to try the Forbrain bone-conduction headset from Forbrain - Sound for Life Ltd.
Have you ever listened to your voicemail greeting and said, "Wow, that doesn't sound like me at all?" That's because you're used to hearing yourself through the combination of the vibration of your voice in your head as well as the sound in the air. When you play back recorded voices, everyone else sounds the same as they always do - because those sounds are transmitted through the air. Even traditional earphones and earbuds involve air that is trapped in the ear canal under the speaker. Forbrain headphones are different because they don't go in your ears, but rest on the top of the jawbones instead, using the bone to conduct the sound. The concept is very similar to that of a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA), used for patients who have functioning cochleae but are not candidates for traditional hearing aids. In this population, the BAHA transmits sound along the bones to the nerve.
Forbrain - Sound for Life Ltd. has done extensive research and found that combining a microphone with a bone-conduction headset creates a sound loop that allows a person to eliminate sound transmission via air. The headset enhances vibration to help the wearer process sound, and then be able to adjust what he says. The vibrations also enhance sounds, allowing sounds that might otherwise be missed to be heard. Forbrain is not necessarily a medical device; it is geared to helping people with speech modeling and memorization by providing an increased multisensory situation. They recommend teens and adults use the headset for about twenty minutes a day and younger students for fifteen minutes daily for six to ten weeks. Suggested activities are reading aloud, short passage memorization, and reading together (parent and child voices simultaneously).
Jude used this headset for reading aloud, but his favorite activity was singing the memory song from his current Bible study program. Jude has amazed me with how well he memorized the events in the first level of the program. He could easily recite the events in the correct order when the song was turned off. However, when he sang along with the program, the memory song was garbled. Jude was doing well with the parts that had more of a crescendo, but diminuendos or between parts were rough. We decided to try the Forbrain headset when it was time to sing the memory song.
To my surprise, it really did make a difference in what he was singing. I'm not going to say he was as articulate as the program's singer, but I would say what HE sang could be understood far more easily. He thought the headset and how he felt the sound was unusual, but he was excited to be able to keep up with the song.
Next, we did some reading aloud with it. I can't say that using the headset made a huge difference in his oral reading skills. His cadence hasn't significantly changed, and his volume certainly hasn't. It may have helped his recall, but given how rapidly he has progressed with reading comprehension in the past few months, it's very possible that that was simply an organic change.
Finally, we tested it out doing some traditional speech work. For us, this is where we found Forbrain to have the biggest influence. At first, he still struggled, because he was listening to me say a word, and then he would repeat what he heard. What he heard ME saying was coming from air conduction, and it was as garbled as usual. What I then tried was to speak into the microphone, so that he was hearing my voice being conducted. To my amazement, he could hear a difference, and his articulation was much better. After a session with the headset, the constant carryover is about 20-30 minutes. That doesn't seem like much, but considering traditional speaking/listening doesn't even get him success within the session, this was incredible. As time has gone on and we've continued using the headset, he's been able to carry over high-frequency words.
I don't think it has made a huge statistical difference in his day-to-day speech - I'd say he's consistently saying about ten more words correctly compared to before. However, for him, this is a huge gain. When he last received speech therapy, he had hour-long sessions twice a week for twelve months; at the end, he had a 200% increase in skills when comparing his post-therapy evaluation against his entry eval. However, if you compared him to the norms for his age, he went from being in the first percentile to the third. Ten clearer words in six weeks is pretty impressive for Jude. I'm glad we had the chance to try this because he is being referred for another speech evaluation. I will definitely be speaking to his therapist about integrating Forbrain to his therapy (either in sessions with her or for home practice).
I can't say how beneficial this would be for a neurotypical child. I think that the feedback it provides would help a child be able to do higher-level processing (i.e., adjusting cadence, etc.), but Jude's not quite at that point yet. Jude has always been a very visual learner, because of his inability to process sounds. However, I think Forbrain is going to be something that will work for us to help him become less dependent on visual input and more able to recognize words and their component phonemes correctly.
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