Child-friendly app helps correct speech sound disorders in young children

New Innovator: Kate Beckett’s Ultimate Speech Sounds is the only such app to offer a voice with an Irish accent


Specialist speech and language therapist Kate Beckett is the founder of Ultimate Speech Sounds, a soon-to-be launched app that helps correct speech sound disorders in children.

Sound errors often occur when a child is acquiring their language skills and most mistakes will disappear as they get older. What the app is tackling, however, are the errors that persist after a child’s peers have stopped making similar mistakes.

It’s at this point that speech therapists typically enter the frame and Beckett’s app is designed as a resource for them to use in their practices. It also enables them to interact with the child’s parents, as doing the prescribed remedial exercises consistently and correctly at home is central to correcting any disorder.

“The app allows both the parent and child to have an animated visual tool to guide home practice rather than the parent trying to remember what the therapist told them to do,” Beckett says.

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“Tracking home practice allows the therapist to tailor strategies as the child progresses and provides an incentive to the parents who can see the results of their efforts. Engaging the parents is crucial as only 16 per cent of the correction is done in the clinic. The rest is done at home.”

Beckett has worked as a speech therapist in the UK, New Zealand and Ireland and found that similar sound disorders crop up wherever children are learning English. There are apps out there to help but none offer a voice with an Irish accent. It was this deficit that inspired Beckett to think about developing an alternative.

“During the Covid lockdown, I was trying to teach children to speak using a model with an American accent when it was an Irish accent I needed,” she says. “Existing options only teach with British and American accents so I could see the potential to broaden the app to cover other regions. My app teaches phonics (speech sounds) in seven different English-speaking country accents, including Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and South African.”

Ultimate Speech Sounds is built around a child avatar called Dara (digitised automated realistic articulator), but unlike other apps Dara shows the avatar’s full face. This makes it easier for the child to see how sounds are formed.

Most existing apps show a floating mouth and tongue and young children have difficulty associating what they’re seeing with their own anatomy. With Dara, the child can see how the avatar is forming the sound from a front and a side view. They also hear the sounds spoken correctly and copy the position of the avatar’s mouth to improve their pronunciation.

Beckett has put a lot of effort into ensuring that Dara has superior graphics with strong visual appeal for kids while the fact that it’s a child talking to a child makes the whole experience more user friendly.

However, as this is a child-oriented app with shared information, one of the issues Beckett had to cover off was child safeguarding GDPR. To this end, she has been working with a company specialising in the protection of children’s data and it has been overseeing the app’s development at each stage to ensure it is internationally compliant.

The Ultimate Speech Sounds app will be launched in the early part of next year with the minimum viable product on schedule to be finished and trialled with a group of 40 Irish and British speech therapists this summer.

The revenue model is an annual subscription paid by therapists using the app but Beckett says the cost per patient will be modest.

So far, Beckett estimates start-up costs at about €25,000 with support from Enterprise Ireland and Wicklow LEO. Her next step is to raise €750,000 to build her team and launch the app on international markets, with particular emphasis on the US as it holds the greatest potential in terms of scale.