Four dedicated individuals. One important mission.
The unusually large body of Fast ForWord research is in part due to the fact that Fast ForWord was developed by neuroscientists who are dedicated to testing, retesting and continually improving their programs.
In 1997, Dr Paula Tallal and Dr Michael Merzenich published research on a revolutionary intervention for children with language, memory and processing problems. The intervention involved speech sound discrimination exercises, a two-tone sequencing exercise and receptive language exercises. Novel to their intervention was the application of neuroscience research on brain plasticity and auditory processing problems that stemmed from over twenty five years of neuroscience research.
Accordingly, the exercises were designed to build the cognitive skills that are essential for learning language and learning to read: memory, attention, processing and sequencing. Many of the tasks were similar to those used conventionally by speech and language pathologists in the treatment of language and processing disorders. However, what made the Tallal/Merzenich intervention different was that the speech stimuli in the exercises had been acoustically enhanced to conform to the perceptual needs of children with auditory processing problems. In addition, participants were required to practice the exercises intensively – five days a week, for four to six weeks.
This intense training protocol stemmed from Dr Michael Merzenich’s and Dr William Jenkins’ research showing that there are four characteristics of training that maximise brain reorganisation: frequency of stimuli presentation, adaptivity, simultaneous stimulation of several cognitive domains, and timely motivation. The Fast ForWord programs have been built around these four optimal learning principles.
A National Field Trial of the first program (Fast ForWord Language) involved almost 500 children. The results were astounding, with children showing an average language gain of almost two standard deviations (representing a year and a half growth in language skills) after only four weeks of training. Since then, 10 more programs have been developed and participants typically train on the exercises for 30-50 minutes per day, 5 days per week for a minimum of 3 months.