Authors: Kabakoff H, Gritsyk O, Harel D, Tiede M, Preston JL, Whalen DH, McAllister T
Title: Characterizing sensorimotor profiles in children with residual speech sound disorder: a pilot study
Source: Journal of Communication Disorders 2022 99: Article ID: 106230
Year: 2022
Research Design: Case Series

PURPOSE: Children with speech errors who have reduced motor skill may be more likely to develop residual errors associated with lifelong challenges. Drawing on models of speech production that highlight the role of somatosensory acuity in updating motor plans, this pilot study explored the relationship between motor skill and speech accuracy, and between somatosensory acuity and motor skill in children. Understanding the connections among sensorimotor measures and speech outcomes may offer insight into how somatosensation and motor skill cooperate during speech production, which could inform treatment decisions for this population. METHOD: Twenty-five children (ages 9-14) produced syllables in an /r/ stimulability task before and after an ultrasound biofeedback treatment program targeting rhotics. We first tested whether motor skill (as measured by two ultrasound-based metrics of tongue shape complexity) predicted acoustically measured accuracy (the normalized difference between the second and third formant frequencies). We then tested whether somatosensory acuity (as measured by an oral stereognosis task) predicted motor skill, while controlling for auditory acuity. RESULTS: One measure of tongue shape complexity was a significant predictor of accuracy, such that higher tongue shape complexity was associated with lower accuracy at pre-treatment but higher accuracy at post-treatment. Based on the same measure, children with better somatosensory acuity produced /r/ tongue shapes that were more complex, but this relationship was only present at post-treatment. CONCLUSION: The predicted relationships among somatosensory acuity, motor skill, and acoustically measured /r/ production accuracy were observed after treatment, but unexpectedly did not hold before treatment. The surprising finding that greater tongue shape complexity was associated with lower accuracy at pre-treatment highlights the importance of evaluating tongue shape patterns (e.g., using ultrasound) prior to treatment, and has the potential to suggest that children with high tongue shape complexity at pre-treatment may be good candidates for ultrasound-based treatment.

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