Fluency Friends is the first interactive video game that uses speech recognition to help children who stutter improve their speech at home
Today, on International Stuttering Awareness Day (22 October), the Belgian – American startup Say It Labs officially launched its new video game ‘Fluency Friends’. The app helps children improve their stuttering in a fun way through speech recognition technology. The game, that has the full support of speech and language pathology experts, will initially only be available in North America, but will soon also be released in other regions. A trial version of Fluency Friends can be downloaded for free until 1 December 2021.
Fluency Friends is the brainchild of Erich Reiter and Lukas Latacz, the founders of the startup Say It Labs. The company combines state-of-the-art speech recognition technology with best practices in speech therapy to develop digital games that allow people with speech disabilities to improve by practicing independently. According to Say It Labs, Fluency Friends is the first of its kind. It focuses on children who stutter but the company also plans to apply its technology to speech disabilities related to articulation disorders, autism and Parkinson’s disease.
“This team has developed and innovative and detailed video game that will launch the field of speech-language pathology into a whole new era outside the speech room. Say It Labs has successfully incorporated the theory behind goals and benchmarks for clients. Furthermore, the Fluency Friends thoughtfully combines linguistics, neurological research, principles of motor speech production, and technology to create a new way of thinking about practice”. – Susan Fosnot, board certified fluency specialist, and past member of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency disorders.
The Sooner the Better
With Fluency Friends, Say It Labs targets children who stutter between the ages of five and fifteen. “Research shows that the sooner children receive treatment the better” says Say It Labs co-founder Erich Reiter. “Adults who stutter can also benefit from the practice that the game provides, as the techniques are also relevant for an older population.”
“Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day. In the United States, over three million people stutter. Yet, there is only a small percentage of Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) who are specialized to treat people on how to cope with this communication disorder. Most stutterers therefore go through life without sufficient remediation. We are confident that using Fluency Friends as part of a treatment with an SLP will enhance fluency therapy, and that it can also provide a first step for people who wish to learn more about motoric and behavioral techniques that improve fluency,” says Lukas Latacz, CTO and Co-Founder, Say It Labs
How Fluency Friends works
Fluency Friends is based on the principle of neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both its structure and function throughout life. According to Say It Labs, people who play the game and practice the techniques can alter the way their brain functions. This can in turn lead to permanent improvements in their speaking ability. “How long it takes and how much someone can improve of course varies from person to person” says Reiter.
In the game, a series of animal characters such as Zumi the horse, Flips the penguin and Mooki the cow, guide the player through a series of islands that each represent one therapy technique that improves stuttering. Through speech recognition, the game can monitor how the exercise was performed and provides immediate feedback. The results can then automatically be shared with an SLP.
At the time of the launch, ‘Zen Island’ will be the first island that is available. Here you learn to turn your vocal cords on and off, an important technique to improve stuttering. The rest of the islands such as ‘phonation village’ and the ‘slowness swamp’ will be release in subsequent weeks. A trial version of Fluency Friends can be downloaded for free until 1 December 2021. Afterwards, the game will be available at a launch price of $19.99 per month.
Fluency Friends will initially be launched on Windows, but will ultimately be available on other major platforms such as Mac, iOS, and Android.
Drive and Motivation
‘We have seen great results in testing and are now looking forward to share our Fluency Friends with the world. What struck us most during testing is the drive and motivation that the players had to practice. They could do so in their own home with nobody around to judge them. This is a victory by itself,” says Erich Reiter, CEO and Co- Founder Say It Labs