Autistic children often show specific behavior patterns in the way they speak with others. These patterns, if detected, could be used as an early sign of autism, but enough data needs to be collected in order to help with making a diagnosis. LENA, a device from the LENA Foundation that became available earlier this month, is a portable recorder that can make available a day’s worth of a child’s interaction to professionals for close review.
From the product page:
What is LENA? LENA is the only technology that automatically collects and analyzes information about a child’s natural language environment and development. The LENA feedback reports help parents improve a child’s cumulative language experience and accelerate that child’s language and cognitive development, and preparedness for school.
Who is LENA for? Parents and caregivers of children ages 0 to 4.
Why is it important? Several hundred research studies over the last 50 years document the importance of talking to and interacting with your baby, especially during the first three years. Groundbreaking research by two renowned university researchers, Drs. Betty Hart, Ph.D., and Todd Risley, Ph.D., revealed that the quantity of talk a child experienced between birth and age 3 directly correlated with the child’s IQ and vocabulary size. The LENA Foundation was founded based on the key elements of this study and our own normative study shows that saying 17,000 words per day, which is equal to the 85th percentile, will greatly enhance your child’s potential.
Who developed it? A team of world-class scientists, including experts in linguistics, speech recognition technology, computer engineering, speech analysis, statistics, speech language pathology, language research and developmental pediatrics. Recognizing that achievement gaps already exist at kindergarten entry, LENA was developed to give parents useful information to help ensure they are providing the richest language environment possible to their children during the critical years between birth and age 4, before they enter school.
How does it work? Parents follow a simple three-step process, 2-3 times a month:
1. In the morning, slip the LENA Digital Language Processor (DLP) into the pocket of specially designed LENA clothing.
2. At the end of the day, plug the DLP into your PC. The audio data will transfer and software analysis begins.
3. View your reports to analyze your conversations, identify patterns of talk throughout the day and receive percentile rank information.
MIT Technology Review provides additional details:
Richards [Jeffrey Richards, a statistician and database technician for the LENA Foundation –ed.] says the LENABaby software, which he helped develop, starts by breaking down the 16-hour audio stream into segments. Each segment is automatically classified according to the type of sound contained in the clip, such as sounds from the child, a parent, or television. Vocalizations from the child are then assessed further using complex algorithms that look at a variety of factors, such as the phonological composition of the each sound and how sounds are clustered and paired. “We’re simultaneously looking across many dimensions at the same time,” says Richards. Using LENA’s database of previously analyzed audio, the software considers how these characteristics compare to those of children developing normally, children with delayed language development, and autistic children.
LENABaby can be used for more than a basic diagnosis, helping to track a child’s language development. This could make it a valuable tool for clinicians who otherwise have to rely on data collected during brief, infrequent visits.