Apr 23, 2016

Week 11 Update

Whoa, last post. Interesting. I'm not quite done with my analysis, so I'm actually going to keep going in to ASU for the next next week, but here's a link to my slideshow. It's not finalized. I'll update it later. Thanks and goodbye.

Apr 15, 2016

Week 10 Update

The stuff I did this week was pretty similar to what I've been talking about for a while now (analyzing Quince's speech sample at ASU and going to Quince's therapy sessions). So instead of repeating myself, I'm going to give you guys an update on how Quince is doing and what sort of progress he has been making in the last month or so.

My parents have been coodinating a lot of medical stuff for Quince, which I'm not really going to talk about. Essentially, Quince's speech is significantly affected by how healthy he is at that time, so every time he gets sick, his speech deteriorates. It's not just that his throat hurts so he talks less, but his pronunciation becomes way more garbled. Anyways, the medical stuff I was talking about seems to be working pretty well, because his speech is very clear and more spontaneous than usual.

But the most exciting thing that's been happening with him recently is that he seems to be more aware and less scattered. When he was one and a half, Quince used to grab my calculator, hold it up to his ear, and babble like he was talking on the phone. But after his regression, we haven't seen any pretend play at all (for nearly four years). Not engaging in pretend play is very common among children with autism. However, in the past couple of weeks, Quince has carried around an orange bucket that he puts on his head and says 'hat'. We also saw him trying to make his stuffed bear ride his bicycle. This may seem kind of insignificant, but it's actually very exciting for us to see because it shows he's making progress.

Something else that indicates a lot of progress for Quince is his improved attention span. My mom, a pediatrician, has described him as having the most severe case of ADHD she has ever seen. He usually doesn't stay at one task voluntarily for more than a few seconds, and he spends most of his free time (when he's not in therapy or working with someone) running around the house from one object to another. This is why watching him is so much more exhausting than a regular child. Ok, I'm getting sidetracked but this might be kind of interesting, so I'm going to describe a typical five minutes when I'm babysitting him. We'll probably start in his playroom. He'll grab a toy, throw it, run across the room, run back, and then bolt out into the living room. He'll dive onto one of the couches (on the other side of the house), then climb onto a windowsill. After I haul him down, he runs into the kitchen, grabs a lemon from the counter, and if I can't catch him, bites a chunk out of the rind. While I'm getting that out of his mouth, he'll reach over, grab the dropped lemon, and throw it down the sink. Then he would probably run back to the playroom, run back to the kitchen, pull a box of cereal out of the pantry, dump it on the floor, run into the bathroom, spread shampoo all over the bathroom and himself, turn on the bath, run out to the kitchen and grab the lemon again... That's probably only about two minutes actually but you guys can see where this is going. So anyways, you can see there's very little coherence or planning in that. Anyways, the cool part is that lately Quince has been doing things that are still kind of difficult to manage, but that involve multiple steps and a sort of planning. For example, yesterday, he climbed up the pantry shelves somehow, and my mom found him perched on the top shelf, pouring quineoa onto the floor about eight feet down. Usually, he wouldn't do this because it would require him to take at least a couple minutes focused on climbing, not to mention pretty good motor control to climb those shelves, and a sort of intent that he hasn't displayed very often. Basically, Quince had to think something like "I want to pour quinoua off the top shelf of the pantry" (he loves pouring things and the feeling of grains and stuff) and then proceed to work towards this goal for far longer than he would have ever stayed focused before.

So that was pretty cool for me, but it might have been one of those you had to be there things so sorry if I bored you. Anyways, thats's what's been going on.

Apr 12, 2016

Week 9 Update

Hey guys. Sorry that this post is late. I was on the East Coast visiting some colleges and to be honest I completely forgot about it. Also I am now writing this on my phone on the plane so this may not be my highest quality post either. Anyways, during the precious little time last week that I was in town and could work on my project, I actually figured out some pretty interesting things. I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to tell you guys because I don't know how much I'm supposed to save for my presentation. Are my conclusions supposed to be a surprise? Maybe I'll just tell you guys what analysis I did but not what I'm concluding from it. I'm almost done with my analysis, which is really good because this project is almost over. Yay.

Ok, so my goal for this project has evolved a lot from my original proposal, but what I hoped to learn from it has stayed the same. I always wanted to gain some insight into Quince's speech patterns, and that's what I did, so that's pretty cool (with a lot of help from Dr. Ingram). At some point, I was trying to compare Quince and Reilley, but I think for my presentation I'm just going to focus on Quince because 1. I have more data available for Quince, such as pronunciations and contextual information, and 2. it's really hard to compare them because they're both at very different cognitive stages that is kind of reflected in their language but not completely. Quince is a lot older, and has a lot more words he attempts, but Reilley's words are more functional and stuff.

I looked at two specific aspects of Quince's language acquisition: vocabulary development (in both his expressive and receptive language) and speech development (in only his expressive language. For vocabulary development, I looked at how many words he had, and which semantic categories they were in FOR EACH CATEGORY. This is where the whole comprehension versus production (receptive versus expressive) thing comes into play. So basically, I was seeing how the words Quince could say differed from the words he could understand but not say.

For speech development, I examined Quince's pronunciation, so I obviously was only looking at which words he could produce. I looked at whole word complexity, using the PMLU scores, and I also analyzed his phonetic inventory of consonants and his phonetic inventory of vowels. This is where the really interesting stuff was, and the stuff that I'm saving for the presentation. But in general, when you analyze a phonetic inventory, you're looking at what speech sounds the subject can produce.

So anyways, this last week I was mostly doing my phonetic inventory analysis (this is also where Dr. Ingram had to help me a lot because you have to be able to recognize patterns in speech samples really well, so basically you have to have a lot of experience and I have little to none) and polishing up the rest of my stuff too. Sorry again that it's so late.

Apr 1, 2016

Week 8 Update

This week, Dr. Ingram had me do a reliability check on all my data so far. This is basically fixing all the errors in my spreadsheets, which takes a really long time and is pretty tedious. He pointed out some mistakes that I was making consistently while typing up the word shapes that were causing my PMLU calculations to be kind of off. Just to remind you guys, I’m using the PMLU values as a measure of word complexity. For a refresher on what exactly the PMLU values are and we figure out the shape of the word, check out my week five update (I think? I’d check but I don’t have access to the Internet right now. I’ll fix it later. If you guys are reading this, it means I didn’t proofread this post. Whoops.) Besides the random human errors that happened while I was typing things in, there were three main types of mistakes that I was making in my word shape transcriptions. First, I was considering ‘er’ as VC (vowel followed by consonant) instead of V (just vowel) like I was supposed to. This seems kind of confusing at first, but if you think about it, when you say a word like ‘teacher’, the ‘r’ at the end changes how you say the ‘e’ that precedes it, but it doesn’t really stand alone as its own unit of sound. Second, I was counting each complex vowel, or diphthong, as multiple vowels when I was supposed to count them as only one.  For example, the vowel unit in the word ‘boy’ is a dipthong, consisting of two sounds, the ‘o’ as in bowl and the ‘ee’ as in sheep. Even though there are two sounds, the shape of the word ‘boy’ should still be written as CV (one consonant and one vowel). Third, I was counting the consonant sounds ‘ch’ as in cheese and ‘j’ as in judge as two consonants instead of one. I thought that because the IPA transcription of these sounds had two symbols, I should consider them as two consonants each, but this is actually not true.

To be honest, none of these mistakes are very likely to affect the total average PMLUs of any categories. Since I made the errors consistently, they re probably equally likely to be in either the produced or comprehended category. If not, that's actually an important part of my results, because that means certain aspects of words are prevalent in a certain category.

Next week I’m supposed to do the same thing for my semantic categories, which is going to be pretty interesting I guess.

Mar 25, 2016

Week 7 Update

This week, I got my first very rough look at some results, which is cool. I looked at the average PMLU scores for Quince’s produced speech, Quince’s comprehended speech, Reilley’s produced speech, and Reilley’s comprehended speech. Weirdly enough, all of these numbers were within about 0.2 of each other (with standard deviations of around 2.5), so right now it’s not looking good for the whole complexity-decides-which-words-kids-say hypothesis. But that’s ok, because 1. Dr. Ingram was explaining to me that we have a lot of work to do on the analysis of this part to fix it by eliminating outliers and stuff and 2. I have two other hypotheses to test before I have to start getting worried.  Also, this might maybe help me prepare for the AP Statistics mock that I’ll be taking soon. That should be interesting.

Some more stuff I’ve been doing at ASU involves typing out the IPA transcription of every single one of Quince’s produced words, fixing all the errors I’ve been finding in my spreadsheets, and performing more analysis on my data with semantic categories.

The transcriptions took forever since I had to prompt Quince to say the word into my phone so I could record it, listen to his pronunciation a ton of times, figure out the sounds that make up his pronunciation, translate those sounds to IPA, type them using this IPA symbol thing, and copy the final transcription into my spreadsheet. Even though this whole process was pretty tedious, it was definitely worth it. I always knew Quince had a limited range of sounds, but I never really realized that he essentially only has ONE vowel. His consonants are actually not even close to as restricted as his vowels are. For each word, he puts a consonant in front of, behind, or sandwiched between the ə sound, which is pronounced like the u in up, and then puts these consonant-vowel units together in different combinations. Dr. Ingram mentioned that vowel problems are very common in apraxia, so this definitely makes sense for Quince’s diagnosis. And the most exciting thing is that I don’t think anyone realized just how limited Quince’s vowels are, so if we focus on getting more vowel sounds in his speech therapy, we can hopefully improve his comprehensibility significantly.

Most of the errors I’ve been fixing in the spreadsheets have to do with excel auto-filling cells with things I typed in the first time, like replacing the word butter with butterfly because I wasn’t paying attention and had entered butterfly in an earlier cell. I also somehow managed to switch the produced and comprehended columns of words in some but not all of the spreadsheets, so I had to go through and check that all of those were in the right spot.

For the semantic analysis, I looked at a textbook that Dr. Ingram gave me (and also is the author of, so that’s cool). I broke my word lists into five categories: specific nominal, general nominal, action words, modifiers, and personal-social. I can go into more detail if anyone wants, but basically the most important things to know are that general nominals are most nouns and personal-socials are the words we use to relate to different states and social expressions like hi, bye, or thank you. There are two general kinds of kids, expressive and referential. Expressive kids tend to have a vocabulary that has a higher percentage of personal-social words than receptive kids, who tend to have more general nomials in their category.  We aren’t exactly sure why this is. Maybe it has something to do with personality, like more outgoing people using more personal-socials, or upbringing, if a child’s parents try to name everything they see to expand their child’s vocabulary or something. Anyways, I looked at my sample of Quince’s and Reilley’s vocabularies and calculated the proportions of each category in them. Right now, it looks like both Quince and Reilley fall somewhere in the middle of these two categories, but after Dr. Ingram helps me account for all the error and stuff this could easily change.

Mar 19, 2016

Week 6 Update

A couple of interesting things happened this week. First of all, I have been analyzing the CDI of another kid, Reilley. Dr. Ingram actually has three different CDIs of Reilley's, at 1;11, 2;2, and 2;5. (Everyone probably knows this already, but I didn't so I'll explain it anyways. 1;11 is a way to write the child's age. The first number is years and the second number is months, so 1;11 means Reilley was one year and eleven months old when the first CDI was done.) Even though Reilley was so much younger than Quince when this data was taken, they are at similar places in terms of vocabulary as Reilley's language developed normally. This allows me to see in what ways Quince's speech is unusual.

Right now, Dr. Ingram and I are trying to figure out why Quince and Reilley say some words but not others. For example, Quince says pajamas but not shirt. We have a few hypotheses for this right now: 1. The words that the children don't say are generally more complex in structure than the words they do, so they are avoiding the more complex, harder-to-produce words. 2. There are specific sounds within the words that the children don't say that are especially difficult for the children to produce.  3. The words that the children don't say are ones that they aren't exposed to or aren't interested in, so they simply don't need them. 

Personally, I think that it's a combination of these reasons, and probably some others as well. Off the top of my head, I can think of examples from Quince's CDI for all three. For the first one, Quince calls orangutans monkeys, even though he can make all the sounds within the word orangutan, because it's very complicated. For the second one, Quince uses the word pop instead of soda because he can't make the 's' sound. And for the third one, Quince never says the word brother because he doesn't have any. But still, I'm interested in seeing which reasons are more prominent than others.

I'm testing these hypotheses by looking at the data from the CDIs in different ways. To test complexity, I’m calculating the PMLU scores for each of the words. Dr. Ingram actually invented the PMLU score as a way to measure word complexity based on word shape. Each vowel unit (not individual letter) is assigned one point, and each consonant gets two. The higher the score, the more complex the word is. I haven’t started on the specific sounds yet, but I’m probably going to try to identify patterns of particularly prevalent sounds and conspicuous absences in the list of produced words. For the situational part, I’m dividing the words into categories such as foods, clothing items, actions, etc. I’m not really going to be able to look at the exact details, like Quince not saying brother because he doesn’t have one, because I don’t have these details for the other subjects.

Something I'm realizing about this field is that it's a lot more subjective than what I'm used to in the research I’ve done, which is mostly physics/engineering kind of stuff. First of all, how can we define exactly which words the child understands and which the child says (which is what these CDIs are based on)? You can try to test comprehension by putting objects in front of the child and asking them to identify one, but a correct response could be produced through random guessing, or process of elimination using already known objects. And where do you draw the line for ability to produce a word? If the child can repeat it? If the child can respond to a question with it? If the child can label something with it? If the child can use it spontaneously without any prompting? 

This uncertainty is very frustrating for me. I can’t tell what criteria were used to fill out Reilley’s CDIs, so the data might not even be comparable. But I guess it’s good for me to get used to doing this kind of thing too? 

Finally, I’ve been trying to record a lot of Quince’s speech, and I noticed something very interesting. When I record what he says and play it back for him, he listens and tries to correct his own recording. The corrections are clearer and more coherent. This is very exciting for us, as it presents a new technique we might be able to incorporate into his treatment.

Here is an example recording I took of my mom working with Quince. In it, my mom is trying to get Quince to say "mow." On the third try, he manages to get the right vowel sound, and then says "I did it." (I repeated "I did it" afterwards to translate for my mom, because she didn't recognize what he said at first.)

Quince's speech exercise (this is a link, you can click on it)

My mom: Mow
Quince: Ma-me
My mom: Mow
Quince: Ma-me-me
My mom: Mow
Quince: Ma-mo, I dee ee
Me: I did it, ok