2000 Conference Proceedings

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Fast ForWord Training - The Language to Literacy Connection

Gregory Anderson, M.S., CCC-SLP
Western Regional Representative
Scientific Learning Corporation
Phone: (510) 665-2233

The Fast ForWord family of programs includes Fast ForWord, Fast ForWord Two, Away We Go!, and Reading Edge. Scientific Learning is committed to developing programs and products that use advanced technology, are scientifically validated, and serve to improve language-based learning skills in children and adults.

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Language-Based Learning Skills

Language-based learning skills are comprised of three broad areas, including auditory processing, oral language, and reading and writing. Auditory processing is the ability of the brain to effectively use information sent to it by the ears. A person with normal hearing may have difficulty making effective use of that hearing if the neural pathways in the brain can’t respond to the subtle changes in the acoustic signal, such as differences in timing, frequency and quality. Auditory processing deficits occur frequently in people who have a history of middle ear infections, and can negatively impact their language development as well as their ability to attend to speech in difficult listening situations such as the classroom or a crowded restaurant. Auditory processing deficits can look very similar to attention deficits, and frequently co-occur, making it difficult to discern whether someone’s poor listening skills are due to auditory processing deficits, attention deficits, or both.

Oral language is the second broad category comprising language-based learning skills. Oral language consists of skills such as following directions, engaging in conversation, answering questions in class, and retelling a story. People with oral language deficits frequently forget or misinterpret directions, leave out important details when telling a story, and struggle with academic tasks such as participating in group discussions, understanding homework assignments, and reading and writing.

Reading and writing comprise the third component of language-based learning skills. Written language is the most complex form of communication, and can be very difficult to master if you have difficulty with some of the prerequisite skills, such as oral language and auditory processing. As soon as a child first starts associating letters with sounds, the reading process has begun.

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Scientific Foundations of Fast ForWord

The Fast ForWord training program is a collection of seven computer-based exercises that work together to improve auditory processing, phonological awareness, and language comprehension and expression. This intensive, short-term training program changes the way the brain processes information, allowing neural pathways to register all the subtleties of the auditory signal that are so crucial to the development of competent language and reading skills.

A clear auditory signal has not always been thought of in conjunction with reading and even oral language skills. However, published research from Rutgers University demonstrated a substantial difference in the abilities of children with and without language learning impairments to sequence rapidly-occurring tones (Tallal & Piercy, 1973). Children with no identified language learning impairments were able to correctly identify tone sequences 80% of the time when there were as close together as 8 milliseconds. Children who had been identified as having language learning impairments, on the other hand, had difficulty identifying tone sequences when the tones were as far apart as 150-400 milliseconds.

While a few hundred milliseconds here or there may not seem that important, it makes a world of difference when trying to process that most demanding of auditory signals, human speech. During connected speech, syllables such as [ba] and [da] may differ acoustically by sound changes that last only 40 milliseconds. If you can process sound changes that take only 8 milliseconds, as did the Rutgers group of children without language learning impairments, distinguishing [ba] from [da] is no problem. It’s an automatic process that you don’t have to expend any energy towards or think about in any way.

If, on the other hand, you are like the Rutgers group of children with language learning impairments, you cannot detect sound changes that take place in 40 milliseconds, or even 100 milliseconds. This makes it virtually impossible to distinguish between [ba] and [da], or more importantly, "bad" and "dad."

The hard thing about this difficulty, is that it is impossible for a human therapist or teacher to modify their speech in a way that will make it possible for someone with language learning impairments to process all the subtle speech cues they are missing. That is because when human beings slow down our speech, we can only focus our efforts on prolonging certain parts of words. Take, for example, the word "dad." If you say the word as slowly as possible, you will be able to stretch out the [a] portion of the word for as long as you have breath, but when it comes to the actual release of air between the [d] and the [a], it remains almost as fast as when you are speaking at a normal rate.

In order to change speech in a way that allows all the acoustic elements to be processed by people with language learning impairments, we have to use digital signal processing to alter the speech signal. This "acoustically modified speech" is one of the key components of the Fast ForWord training program. Fast ForWord raining starts out using acoustically modified speech that amplifies the soft parts and slows down the fast parts, making it possible for people with language learning impairments to discriminate among similar speech sounds, in many cases for the first time,

The other key component of the Fast ForWord training is the research-based training protocol. The main idea is that once you’ve modified speech so that someone with a language learning impairment can process it, the goal is to retrain their brain so that eventually they are able to process the very rapid elements of natural speech. This is achieved in Fast ForWord via intensive training where the participant is constantly responding to verbal stimuli. As the participant is able to perform a variety of tasks accurately using acoustically modified speech, the computer makes the speech slightly more natural. By the time the training is completed, most participants are able to respond correctly to verbal commands presented using natural speech.

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Efficacy Research on Fast ForWord

The efficacy data on Fast ForWord come from a variety of sources. The first data were generated by a joint research project between Rutgers University and the University of California at San Francisco (Merzenich et al, 1996). This was a rigorous controlled study, and measured language gains on a group of children with specific language impairment.

Another source of data is the field trials conducted by Scientific Learning. In these field trials, language and auditory processing gains were measured on roughly 500 participants who went through the training with 35 different clinicians in various sites across the country.

Finally, a number of independent clinicians and researchers have collected data on many of the 20,000 people who have gone through the Fast ForWord training since 1996.

When looked at as a whole, the various data sources show the following consistent results:

The bulk of the research has been conducted on children ages 4-14. Many adolescents and adults have also benefited from the Fast ForWord training.

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Other Scientific Learning Programs and Products

Fast ForWord Two - Fast ForWord Two is designed for use after Fast ForWord. Fast ForWord Two has been demonstrated to promote significant gains in reading decoding, reading comprehension, and oral language skills.

Away We Go! – Away We Go! is an early skill building program. Away We Go! is designed for use as a kindergarten readiness training program, and is appropriate for children with a wide range of abilities and educational needs. Away We Go! can also be used as a pre-training program for someone who is not yet ready to participate in the Fast ForWord training program. Away We Go! is a collection of seven games that train colors and shapes, letter identification, letter case matching, phonological awareness, mouse skills, and pattern sequencing, among other skills.

Reading Edge – Reading Edge is a multimedia-based early reading assessment tool. Reading Edge is a collection of games that children in 1st and 2nd grade can play independently. After 30-45 minutes of play, a report can be printed, showing a child’s percentile ranking on important reading skills, and will list those skills mastered as well as those that need extra attention.

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Tallal, P., & Piercy, M. (1973). Defects of non-verbal auditory perception in children with developmental aphasia. Nature, 241, 468-469

Merzenich, M.M., Jenkins, W.M., Johnston, P., Schreiner, C., Miller, S.L., & Tallal, P. (1996). Temporal processing deficits of language-learning impaired children ameliorated by training. Science, 271(5245), 77-81.

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