Studying Motor Speech Disorders

Casey McLaughlin
August, 2014

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that impacts people with neurological impairments and disorders, including ALS, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke. Due to the progressive nature of many diseases that cause dysarthria, traditional speech therapy to improve speech is not always appropriate.

Dr. Kaitlin Lansford, an Assistant Professor at the Florida State University School of Communication Science and Disorders, is investigating the effects of perceptual training on subsequent understanding of dysarthric speech. This work has the potential to improve the communication disorder caused by dysarthria without placing extra demands on the speaker. Rather, the focus of therapy would be on improving the listener’s ability to understand disordered speech.

Dr. Lansford has teamed up with Lukas Bystricky, a research assistant at the Research Computing Center (RCC), to develop an application for collecting perceptual training data. The online experiment is comprised of two phases: training and test. In the training phase, participants hear a subset of speakers reading a passage and are encouraged to follow along with a transcription. Immediately following the training phase, listeners complete the test phase, in which they are asked to listen to phrases produced by speakers with dysarthria and to write what they heard. The training and test speakers are identical in only one experimental condition. The study will be deployed in the lab at Florida State University and online via Amazon Mechanical Turk, an innovative tool for collecting research data online.

The online study will be of interest to see if results in an unconstrained setting are comparable to those associated with a more constrained laboratory environment. If the online experiment demonstrates similar learning, this would support the development of home-based perceptual training protocols for caregivers to better understand dysarthric patients.

"I’ve begun piloting the experiment in-house ... and it has surpassed my expectations," states Lansford. "I am very impressed with the RCC, and I look forward to working with them in the future."