Sounds like trouble

LINGUISTIC disorders of speech or of comprehension are awkward for anyone who suffers from them. For children, who are just beginning to make their way in society, they can be disastrous. Teasing, bullying, lack of friends and poor school performance may all follow from an inability to talk or listen normally. Early intervention and therapy, though, can make a big difference—if diagnosis comes quickly enough.

Often it does not. In America, 60% of such disorders go undiagnosed until a child goes to school. But Jen Gong and John Guttag of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hope to change that. As they outlined at the Interspeech Conference in San Francisco in September, they have devised a method that, when refined, may yield an automated test which can spot the subtle clues, such as pauses during speech, that indicate a disorder to a professional ear but may not be obvious to parents.

Ms Gong and Dr Guttag, both computer scientists, wondered whether they could teach their machines to distinguish the speech of children with disorders from that of children without them. To this end, they first wrote an algorithm they hoped might do…Continue reading

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