Local startup Dystech is using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to lower the barriers to assessing dyslexia. 

Without early detection, dyslexia can create extreme learning difficulties and often requires alternative or additional support from teachers. But it can be hard to detect at a young age and the current testing procedure in Australia is either too expensive for an official diagnosis or too subjective in cheaper self-assessment tests, according to Hugo Richard, CEO and co-founder of Dystech.

“In kindergarten, you learn by experience. But when you go to primary school, your medium of learning now becomes reading and writing. And that’s new for every kid but if you’re dyslexic, you’re just not going to get it.,” Richard, who is a dyslexia sufferer, told Which-50. 

“So your curve of learning is just going to flatten out.”

Hugo Richard, CEO and co-founder of Dystech.

Richard says the Dystech approach is accurate and affordable, thanks to an automated testing procedure that uses artificial intelligence to assess users’ reading and determine a likelihood of dyslexia.

Dystech has spent the last several years collecting and analysing audio recordings of people with dyslexia and people without, checking for similarities and differences. 

“With this data, we’ve trained an algorithm for it to actually recognise the difference between dyslexia and not dyslexic. And so now what we have is an algorithm that can analyse the audio recording and based on that gives you the likelihood of having dyslexia.

“So it’s basically 100 percent AI-based, the algorithm and the prediction. There’s no human work involved at all.”

The algorithm and an Amazon Web Services cloud computing infrastructure means assessment costs are much lower compared to traditional testing, Richard says, allowing Dystech to offer individual assessments for $US20.

Dystech test

People taking the Dystech test supply a date of birth and email before being presented with a series of words on the screen. Users then repeat the words aloud with the audio being recorded for analysis.

The test, available through a mobile app or in the browser, takes around 10 minutes to complete.

The audio is automatically analysed by the algorithm to determine the likelihood of dyslexia. While the test can’t provide a diagnosis and Dystech does not offer medical advice, Richard says it returns a percentage likelihood of dyslexia as well as metrics on reading reaction time and average reading time.

The results can give an indication if users should seek an official diagnosis – currently only able to be provided by a psychologist.

According to Richard, Dystech is significantly cheaper and quicker than what is required for an official test and diagnosis. And while there are free online tests already they are typically based on questionnaires and open to subjectivity, he says.

With many of Dystech’s customers being schools, results can also be the catalyst for more support for students.

“If it’s a school, you can start the conversation. At the moment to start a conversation with the school you have to spend thousands of dollars and have a piece of paper.”

Importantly, Richard says, a Dystech test can also indicate dyslexia may not be a problem.

“If you have a reading difficulty, the causes can be multiple different things. It could be vision impairment, hearing impairment, all sorts of different things. So if you’re not likely to be dyslexic, but you still have reading difficulty that also helps people to sort of navigate [towards] maybe it’s not dyslexia, maybe there’s something else.”

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