Digital Speech Therapy Tools Help Children with Hearing Loss
Digital Story Therapies, Inc., Delivers Digital Speech Therapy Tools that Help Children with Hearing Loss Communicate Better in the World
The vision for Digital Story Therapies, Inc., a Columbus-based startup that provides innovative digital learning tools for children with hearing loss, began when the company’s two co-founders, Dr. Prashant Malhotra and Dr. Anand Satyapriya, collaborated several years ago at Cleveland Clinic through the care plan for a child.
Dr. Malhotra is a pediatric ear/nose/throat surgeon who works with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Dr. Satyapriya is an anesthesiologist who specializes in critical care. The child, who was born with impaired hearing, is Dr. Satyapriya’s son.
“My son was born with sensorineural hearing loss, in which the inner ear is not functioning properly,” said Dr. Satyapriya. “His hearing loss is not conductive. He can’t be treated with tubes or hearing aids. His ears failed on his left, then his right side, creating complete deafness. He got implanted with cochlear implants; Prashant was the surgeon.”
Receiving the implants was just the beginning of years of speech therapy sessions and home exercises for Dr. Satyapriya’s son—and for his parents as well. As time progressed, Dr. Satyapriya and Dr. Malhotra shared conversations about the challenges of creating continuity in a multi-year process of speech therapy—challenges for hearing-impaired children, for their parents, and for the speech therapists dedicated to using every available tool.
“Children who receive cochlear implants must train their brains to learn that this sound or that beep is a word. It required intensive speech therapy over years to make sure that my son could speak and communicate the way people with hearing take for granted,” Dr. Satyapriya said.
From idea to solution, two physicians go bold
Both physicians are now practicing their specialties in Columbus. Reconnected, they are more determined than ever to improve the lives of the millions of children impacted by hearing loss and to help the specialized speech therapists who work with these children.
“The two of us wanted to help Anand’s son and every other child with hearing loss,” Dr. Malhotra said. “We wanted to advocate and do everything we could. We have taken the ways that therapists work with kids and replicated them digitally. The anchor point is storybook learning, with a focus on conversations around books to stimulate language development.”
Digital Story Therapies, supplements office-based speech therapy with coordinated activities to be done at home. The speech therapist guides the process and can monitor progress. Dr. Satyapriya’s first-hand experience with his son has been invaluable.
“When we were teaching my son words to read and then articulate, he needed to see the way I moved my mouth,” he said. “Seeing the mouth moving, plus sounds in a familiar voice and an animated vocabulary picture helps hearing-impaired children associate both auditory and visual clues. A young child with hearing loss can use those visual clues to help develop grammar, understand language, and increase vocabulary.”
Eventually, Digital Story Therapies, learning systems will reach places that don’t have access to the expertise to help kids with hearing loss but do have access to an iPad or an iPhone.
“It’s a long process for a parent with a two-to-four-year-old,” Dr. Satyapriya said. “Parents have to take two hours off work, drive to a session with the therapist, then drive home, and then take care of their other kids. Sometimes it’s just not feasible. With our solution, there will be an additional way to get more therapy.”
Digital Story Therapies seeks to enable any child to do better with the capabilities they have
“There are kids for whom neither hearing nor speaking is possible,” Dr. Malhotra said. “Some kids rely more on visual. One big feature of Digital Story Therapies is that they can record themselves reading a book. Families who sign can sign their book. We are providing inclusive ways of learning written language for families who don’t have auditory access but desire verbal skills. Part of what we are trying to do is to enable any child to do better with what they have.”
Drs. Malhotra and Satyapriya invested more than six years learning what children, parents, and speech therapists needed. “From focus group with parents and therapists, and from seeing kids day in and day out, we have both clinical expertise and clinical validation. We are plugged into these worlds,” said Dr. Malhotra. “Evidence is also a cornerstone for us, therapists and parents; we are currently investigating how it works with a clinical trial.”
“The ability to break down books and use them for therapy will benefit hearing-impaired children as our first audience, but likely also a wide variety of kids who are not deaf or hard-of-hearing, such as those with autism, dyslexia or something else,” said Dr. Satyapriya. “Any therapy that benefits from a parent and child interacting around a storybook can benefit. We can focus on attaining the goals of the therapy by using our digital books as a tool. We intend to build a viable business, and social impact is our North Star.”