Hear Me Read: Novel Technology Approach to Reading Skills for Children with Impaired Hearing

Hear Me Read: Novel Technology Approach to Reading Skills for Children with Impaired Hearing 1024 683 Madison Storm

For children who are deaf or have impaired hearing, access to sound through tools like hearing aids, cochlear implants and/or intensive speech therapy is critical for developing speech and literacy.

“The challenges faced are not the same as those an adult faces,” says Prashant Malhotra, MD, surgeon in the Department of Pediatric Otolaryngology and Hearing Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “The impact of hearing loss on a child who has so much development to undergo is far greater.”

Anand Satyapriya, MD, an anesthesiologist at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, thought about these things as he began planning how best to help his newborn son, who was diagnosed with hearing impairment shortly after birth.

“I started to think about this idea that would help my son and other children with hearing impairment navigate the therapy process more efficiently,” Dr.
Satyapriya says. “I realized I hadn’t the faintest idea of how or where to begin. That’s when I approached my son’s cochlear implant surgeon — Prashant Malhotra.”

Hear Me Read is a first-of-its-kind digital storybook innovation targeted toward helping children with hearing impairment develop speech and literacy skills. It is a software application, currently available in iOS and web access planned for 2024, enabling parents and speech-language pathologists (SLP) to partner together to help children who are hearing impaired achieve reading, speech and language goals. Utilizing storybook learning, the goal is to further stimulate language development at home to supplement office-based speech therapy.

“The OTC is thrilled for the accomplishments Digital Story Therapies has achieved so far! The DST team is working diligently and innovatively, and the results show as they continue to have success in funding and partnerships. We look forward to Digital Story Therapies’ further development in the next year as they continue to build out and expand their application and utilize their partnership with Highlights for Children to improve the lives of children who are impacted by hearing loss.”
– Ellen Zalucha, PhD, Licensing Associate at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

“The major issue when dealing with children who are hearing impaired is that you are dealing with different parts of speech on a weekly basis,” says Dr. Malhotra. “That’s the beauty of our app. It’s all customizable for what the child needs to work on, and it’s all done in an evidence-based manner utilizing proven methods of speech therapy.” Additionally, this is an all-in-one application for different parts of speech that the child needs to work on. Digital Story Therapies allows the parents and SLP to collaborate by providing trackable progress and in-person sessions to be more targeted.

With the guidance of the Office of Technology Commercialization at Nationwide Children’s, and collaboration from experts in speech therapy, user experience and technology development, the team secured several rounds of grant funding to develop the idea into a usable tool. Through these funding mechanisms and a passion for improving the lives of children impacted by hearing loss, Drs. Malhotra and Satyapriya co-founded Digital Story Therapies, Inc.

The startup recently received Phase II funding from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund (TVSF) in October 2023. With this funding, Digital Story Therapies Inc., will continue developing the technology and incorporating digital storybooks from their partnership with Highlights for
Children. The team is also planning a multi-entity pilot starting in July 2024.

“Hear Me Read [Digital Story Therapies] has a lot of potential as a tool for conducting literacy research in children who are deaf/hard of hearing,” Dr. Malhotra adds. “With it, we may begin to study the underlying processes of why or how reading interventions work in children who are deaf/hard of hearing. This will enable us to develop new interventions for better outcomes.”

About the author

Senior Strategist, Research Communications | Website

Madison Storm is the Senior Strategist of Research Communications at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She earned her bachelor's in multimedia journalism from Virginia Tech in 2021 and went on to achieve her master's in health communication from Johns Hopkins University in 2023. Her passion for transforming the complex to clear is supported by various experiences writing for consumer audiences.