L. Sbattella1, S. Cenceschi1, G. Cordaro2, A. Imperatori Gelosa2, C. Pagliardini2

1Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
2Esagramma Onlus (ITALY)
The paper presents the preliminary protocols and sessions designed and realized to evaluate the initial communicative behaviors and the willingness to be engaged of kids and young persons involved into the LYV Project for technological mediated prosodic storytelling sessions. The LYV project focuses on stimulating and improving prosodic skills of Italian young speakers with autism, intellectual and linguistic disabilities through the use of vocal interactive stories.

The study allowed to observe the reactions and the behavior of 27 boys and girls with intellectual and relational difficulties during sessions focused on the use of voice recording technologies: 15 boys and 12 girls with genetic syndromes (as Down or Williams Syndrome), high- and low-functioning autism, autistic traits, or other problems that influence the communication skills. An individual meeting has been proposed to each of them, conducted by two experts: a theatre actor or a psychologist (both with experience in the field of disability, “MusicoTerapiaOrchestrale” and “EducazioneVocaleAffettiva” methodologies) and a sound engineer. Each meeting had a duration between 30 and 50 minutes and after them a synthetic summary profile and a final report has been produced. The summary form has been useful to synthesize the general trend of the session and the person's issues and strengths: it includes the numerical assessment (from 0 up to 10) of different topics as, level of familiarity with technologies, engagement in single activities, management of multiple stimuli etc.

The session instead made up of the following activities.
1. First recording session with the radio microphone plus listening through speakers and closed headphones (natural and modified in pitch and speed).
2. Praat software activity in order to show to the person his/her spectrogram and pitch envelope.
3. Second recording sessions with the stand-microphone. The boy/girl is invited to position themselves in front of the vertical high-quality microphone, speak and re-listening.
4. Dubbing activity with the cartoon "The Line". The cartoon speaks in grammelot (meaningless language) but his prosody and actions are highly recognizable by intonation and gestures. The person is invited to dub an extract.
5. Final questions about favorite activities and the opinion about the possibility to repeat similar activities during the EVA© (Vocal Affective Education) course2.

The paper summarizes and analyzes the 27 collected final reports. The positive engagement of all participants has been immediately clear, despite many of them were meeting operators and equipment for the first time. The obtained results are even more important if we consider that the involved kids and young persons have important problems in social skills, as attested by the preliminary tests and the parents’ structured interviews. The described results underline the importance of the usage of the voice, of the prosodic storytelling strategies and of the technologically mediated interaction contexts that are orienting the LYV project. Further works will be done to define initial, intermediate and final observation protocols and data. The observed and described results about technical stuff and interaction conditions will influence the design of stories characterizing the clinical and educational LYV pathways. These stories will be created supporting accessibility, personalization, progressive multi-level (linguistic, emotional, dialogical) complexity.