Better Hearing and Speech Month in May provides a good opportunity to look at three Israeli companies bringing the power of artificial intelligence to the $4 billion speech therapy market.
Approximately 1.5 billion people globally deal with voice, speech or language impairments. For therapy to be effective, it must be supported by consistent at-home practice, and that is one of the myriad ways artificial intelligence can help.
Speech language pathologists use games and props to engage children in their sessions. TikTalk’s cloud-based virtual assistant brings that aspect home, motivating kindergartners to sixth graders to practice the articulation skills they’re learning in speech therapy consistently and accurately.
TikTalk is geared specifically to children with speech-sound disorders such as articulation and phonological processing disorders, said Nir Gamliel, U.S. head of business development at TikTalk2me, the company that developed TikTalk.
The platform incorporates eight customized video games to play on a tablet, programmed by the speech language pathologists to encourage practicing the target sounds and providing real-time or follow-up feedback.
“In therapy you establish the sound and teach the child how to make the sound. Where we get stuck is practicing,” said Sandra Laserson, an Ohio-based speech language pathologist who helped the Jerusalem development team create TikTalk. “Being with the therapist 30 minutes a week won’t do it.”
Laserson said that the time available for therapy to be successful is limited by the child’s motivation and the parents’ financial and emotional resources.
“At the same time, children have little inclination or opportunity to accurately practice their speech sounds outside of therapy. This solution improves both of those issues. The results of our pilots with about 60 kids in Maryland and Ohio confirm that,” she said.
“With this system, you assign a customized home practice quickly and easily through a portal. The child has a choice of games and no matter which one is chosen, what you have programmed for them is incorporated into the game in a different way.”
Practiced sounds are recorded and stored in the cloud so the speech language pathologist can monitor progress and adjust accordingly. Parents can also receive the recordings to follow their child’s progress.
The company’s co-founders, Raphael Nassi and Bentzi Treger, come from a background in artificial intelligence and speech recognition, Gamliel said.
TikTalk was launched commercially in January to agencies, private-practice speech language pathologists and school systems on a monthly or yearly license basis. “Parents can ask their speech language pathologist about it,” said Gamliel.
The 10-person Israeli team is developing additional games for other kinds of speech-sound disorders and for kids who speak other languages, including Spanish.
The company received Israeli funding from the Israel Innovation Authority, eHealthVentures, Maccabi Health Fund and Shenhav Investments and is affiliated with the Maryland-Israel Development Center.
A successful Israeli pilot of TikTalk in four preschools in Ma’aleh Adumim is under evaluation at the Education Ministry for possible nationwide rollout, said Shay Beyski, customer success director.
“After several months, the speech language pathologist using the system said she saw the enthusiasm and motivation of the kids. Even the preschool director saw that kids who didn’t want to participate in speech therapy sessions before now want to do it,” he says.
Novotalk began in 2014 as an online companion to Hadassah University Medical Center’s fluency-shaping program for people who stutter.
The on-demand platform enables clients to practice 24/7 at their own pace and allows therapists to monitor progress and tweak the exercises.
Gradually, Novotalk expanded into an accessible and affordable self-directed speech therapy program for stuttering and other types of speech-language disorders.
“The concept of self-directed means you’re not dependent on the availability of clinicians,” said Novotalk chairman Zohar Beeri.
The system’s artificial intelligence uses collected data on each user’s practice sessions to adjust the difficulty of the exercises, and the clinician also can do that manually. Automatic feedback is provided to each user.
Novotalk supports a variety of speech programs at Hadassah in Jerusalem and has an exclusive joint venture agreement with Mount Sinai Health System in New York “to commercialize innovative speech and language solutions to address the therapeutic needs of patients with speech impairments in the United States and Canada.”
Beeri expects this joint venture to come to fruition this summer. The first product to be launched will be on-demand teletherapy for people with chronic stuttering, which affects approximately 1 percent of the global population.
“We focus for now on chronic conditions,” said Beeri. “About four out of five kids who stutter in childhood no longer stutter by age 14. We focus on the 1 percent that continues from 14 and up, and we also have a pilot at Hadassah for younger children.”
One of the pioneers in applying artificial intelligence to speech therapy is Amplio (formerly NiNiSpeech), founded by biomedical engineering PhD Yair Shapira, father of a son with a stutter.
Amplio debuted a mobile health solution in 2015 to help people who stutter maintain fluent speech and to allow speech language pathologists to monitor their success in everyday settings.
“We started from stuttering and expanded to various speech-language disorders and then to dyslexia and then to entire special populations — a $100 billion annual market in the U.S. In Israel, that includes occupational and physical therapy and psychological counseling,” Shapira said.
The Haifa-based company, rebranded as AmplioSpeech and then simply Amplio, offers a digital platform serving children and their parents, therapists, educators, clinicians and administrators in the special education market in the U.S. and child-development market in Israel — both onsite and online.
“Every professional has a digital hub that they use daily, and Amplio is that platform in child development and special education,” said Shapira.
The platform’s artificial intelligence, natural language processing, personalization algorithms, big data and machine learning technologies help clients maximize outcomes and help professionals track individual performance and manage back-end aspects including resources, scheduling, compliance reports and insurance reimbursement.
“Mastering skills requires constant stimulation and practice, particularly for struggling learners. Technology is the key to give them more focused, higher-intensity interventions, which is strongly correlated with progress,” Shapira said.
“This past year has been difficult for all students, and particularly devastating for students with special learning needs,” he said. “Our platform’s blended learning model allows educators to address learning loss at an accelerated pace.”
Amplio is licensed by hundreds of school districts in 14 U.S. states. Some states, including Texas, use Amplio’s platform to manage all speech, language and dyslexia therapy programs statewide.
Amplio, which recently announced a $27 million funding round, has about 200 employees in Israel and the U.S., including licensed therapists to fill in staffing gaps for clients.
The company develops its own products to incorporate on the platform or licenses disorder-specific products, which could theoretically include programs from TikTalk or Novotalk.
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