AudiRex – computer-led speech audiometric screening in toddlers

Project description

For young children access to speech is essential for the development of oral language. Reduced speech intelligibility due to congenital deafness or severe hearing loss increases the risk for permanent language impairment. Thanks to the recently adopted UN resolution and the Dutch law on ‘Tailored education’ , a steadily growing number of children with hearing impairment are now participating in mainstream education programs. For teachers, parents and caregivers, it is important to get a proper evaluation of the speech understanding of these young children in daily listening situations. In adults, such aspects of functional hearing are often measured through a ‘listen-and-repeat’-task based on sentences. However, speech test materials are not readily available for children under six. In this project, we want to address this issue by developing a new linguistically controlled speech audiometric screening instrument that is suitable for children from 2 to 6 years old and to gather normative data of hearing children in this age group. During the last year, a pilot study was set up leading to a bèta-version of such an audiometric screening test. The test is now running in a environment. It was developed as a ‘picture-pointing’ task using words and short sentences that are adapted to the developmental language level of the target group and includes diagnostic features. In this project, we would like to fine-tune and finalize our prototype so that it can be used in specialized audiological centers. In order to do so, a number of scientific and technical challenges need to be addressed, namely to determine (i) the exact contribution of non-auditory (linguistic) factors in speech understanding at this young age; (ii) the effect of picture-pointing vs. verbal repetition on the reliability of test outcomes; and (iii) the beneficial effect of computer-led procedures on test compliance in very young children.


Two student assistants (SAs) will work for one day per week together to answer the following central research question in this project: “is it possible to obtain reliable insight into the speech reception skills of children under six years old by using a computer-led word- and sentence-identification task which takes into account the cognitive and linguistic skills of (very) young children?”
Within 3 MA research projects, the first steps have already been made to develop word and sentence test materials. The test sentences have been generated in such a way that they take into account the phonological and lexical level of two-to-six year old children on the basis of their receptive vocabulary (Lexilist, N-CDI) and grammatical development (short 4-to-7 syllabic Subject-Verb-Object sentences). The target words consist of depictable monosyllabic CVC nouns (e.g. bal) that form phonemic minimal pairs with each other (e.g bal – bad).
SA1 will be a MA student in (applied) linguistics or speech-language pathology who wishes to gain further experience in language testing. (S)he will first inventorize the pro’s and con’s of picture pointing vs. verbal repetition tasks in the target group, and examine a number of non-linguistic constraints that may affect the testability of these children (e.g. limited attention span).
SA2 will be a MA student with a proven background in computer sciences. Together with the supervisors of the project, (s)he will establish a list of factors that may potentially affect the adoption of computer-led hearing screening by small children and inventorize potential work-arounds to reduce test complexity. (S)he will also work towards the actual implementation of the improved test in a software environment that will be used to obtain speech audiometric reference data in a control group of hearing children. Both SAs will participate in gathering these data with the help of KinderRijk, an organization that provides the VU/VUmc daycare facility and with whom arrangements for participation have been made.


Enumerate intended project results: papers, research proposals or otherwise. (max 200 words)
Our project is expected to generate a variety of deliverables presenting the outcomes of both
fundamental and applied research through more traditional forms of academic dissemination (research
article and poster presentation) as well as in an online format targeting a broad audience (
Other expected results are the result of development activities: (i) an optimized version of the speech
audiometric test materials, (ii) a software tool that can be used in audiometric screening contexts, and
VU Academy Assistants Proposal 2015-2016 (iii) a database of speech reception data of young children that can be used for further (PhD-) research and for building norm-references against which the outcomes of children with a hearing impairment are to be interpreted. The results of this project are further expected to provide the necessary input to write up a full proposal for an NWO- or ZonMW-funded PhD position.


If you are interested in fulfilling the second student-assistant position, please contact