In Your Own Voice: Personal Augmentative and Alternative Communication Voices for Minimally Verbal

Many children with autism who have limited verbal abilities use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices to help them communicate with others. Often, these devices produce speech output. Necessarily, the voice of such a system does not resemble in any way the voice of the child who uses the system. This project is for children who have at least some speech capability, such as saying a few isolated words. The investigator will develop technology that performs a voice transplant of the child's natural voice onto the AAC device, so that the device's voice will sound like the child. The investigator hypothesizes that an AAC device with a personalized voice that mimics the child's voice will psychologically reinforce powerful motivational factors and a sense of owness for communication so that the frequency and richness of AAC use, and its acceptance by family members and friends, will be enhanced. In addition, as a tool for improving a child's speech capabilities, a system that speaks with a voice similar to the child's own voice is likely to be more effective than a system that speaks with a default synthetic voice because the computer provides a model that is closer to the child's speech and hence is easier to emulate by the child. To create the system, the investigator will build on the most recent voice transformation, speech synthesis, and other speech technologies that have been developed in his lab.

Funding source

Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation

Principal Investigators

Alexander Kain

Jan van Santen

Esther Klabbers-Judd