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In Your Own Voice: Personal Augmentative and Alternative Communication Voices for Minimally Verbal Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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 was for children who have at least some speech capability, such as saying a few isolated words. The investigator developed technology that performed a voice transplant of the child’s natural voice onto the AAC device, so that the device’s voice would sound like the child. The investigator hypothesized that an AAC device with a personalized voice that mimics the child’s voice would 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, would 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 built on the most recent voice transformation, speech synthesis, and other speech technologies that have been developed in his lab.