University of Vermont

College of Nursing and Health Sciences

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

csd_research.html

Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders engages in research focused on speech, language, cognitive function, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. This work promises to advance knowledge of how the brain functions as well as create new therapies for children and adults challenged by cognitive and neurological disorders.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Research

Prof. Patricia Prelock is investigating two therapies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Peer play and the use of Social Stories.

Social Story Intervention
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often experience difficulty understanding social situations, communicating effectively, and taking the perspective of others. A relatively new approach to help children with ASD behave more appropriately in social situations involves the use of Social Stories. Social Stories are short stories that explain to children how to behave more successfully in a social settings. Although much enthusiasm surrounds this approach, little rigorous research has been conducted in this area. In addition, no research has been conducted to explore the potential benefits of Social Stories for enhancing the perspective-taking abilities of children with ASD.

Drs. Patricia Prelock and Tiffany Hutchins are co-investigating the effectiveness of Social Stories to help children with ASD:

  • Increase their appropriate communicative strategies
  • Decrease their inappropriate social behaviors
  • Influence their perspective-taking abilities

As a large scale and experimentally-controlled study, this research involves the participation of several children with ASD and their families. The children and their families represent a diverse sample in terms of child characteristics and parents’ backgrounds. Students are trained as effective and sensitive interventionists who are adept in data collection procedures, experimental design, transcription or data analysis.

Facilitating Peer Play
The development of meaningful social relationships among children with autism and their typical peers is a frequently identified valued outcome for families. Yet, children with autism demonstrate marked challenges in their ability to establish joint attention, engage in pretend play and sustain their interaction with their peers—all critical components to the development of social relationships and friendship building. Dr. Prelock has been involved in intervention research in which she is using graduate student interventionists to support the peer interactions of young children with autism and their typical peers in the home setting. The home was selected as opposed to the classroom setting because Dr. Prelock is trying to capitalize on an environment where children with autism are familiar with their toys, have established routines and can practice their skills as play partners in a common context for children without autism. During this 15-week treatment study, interventionists learn to scaffold the play of children with autism and their typical peers, mediating and interpreting their play events, encouraging their joint attention, and facilitating their sustained engagement in play.

Read a story about peer play in Vermont Quarterly, a UVM publication.

Student Research Opportunities
Students have an opportunity to work with Drs. Patricia Prelock and Tiffany Hutchins in play research with children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as well as research in the use of social stories to support the social interaction & communication of children with ASD.

Research on Childhood Speech Production Disorders and Differences

Dr. Shelley Velleman studies the process of learning to talk from motoric and cognitive perspectives.

“Babies Babble All the Sounds in All the Languages of the World” – True? No.
Dr. Velleman’s studies of typically-developing children have focused on how the language or dialect of exposure affects the process of learning to talk, including such languages as English, French, Japanese, Finnish, and Welsh as well as the African-American English dialect. With colleagues, she has shown that there are some differences that can be found even during the babbling period. The sound system of the language or dialect that the child is learning impacts the order in which different sounds and sound patterns are learned.

How Do Neurodevelopmental Syndromes Affect the Process of Learning to Talk?
With respect to disorders, Dr. Velleman specializes in motor speech disorders, especially Childhood Apraxia of Speech. She seeks to identify, characterize, and remediate the motor speech, phonological, and literacy difficulties associated with neurodevelopmental syndromes, such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, and 7q11.23 Duplication syndrome (which was identified in 2004).

Student Research Opportunities
Undergraduate students who have done well in Phonetics (LING 165 or CSD 22) may participate in research focusing on the speech development of young children with neurodevelopmental syndromes (autism, Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, 7q11.23 Duplication syndrome) either for credit or as a work-study position. This research can lead to a senior thesis and/or can continue into graduate school (e.g., a master’s thesis or even a doctoral dissertation).

Language and Cognitive Function Research

Dr. Michael Cannizzaro's research focuses on basic and applied investigations of language and cognitive function in adults with and without neurological disorders. Methods of exploration include behavioral analysis using experimental and standardized linguistic and neuropsychological measures, as well as the use of neuroimaging technologies.

"What's the Story with the Prefrontal Cortex?"
Data suggest that well organized narratives reduce the processing load on the neural circuits that support understanding of discourse communication. This has implications for communicating with, and teaching communication strategies to children and adults with communication disorders. Examples in speech-language pathology might include:

  • Teaching story organization to children with language learning disorders to improve their ability to produce narratives
  • Instructing communication partners of persons with aphasia and traumatic brain-injury on how to structure communication to improve discourse comprehension

An fMRI Study: Story Schema and Narrative Comprehension
The clinical examination of discourse is a useful tool for studying communication skills in both children and adults with or without neurological impairments. The comprehension and production of discourse represents complex behavior in that integrated knowledge of linguistic principles, organizational structure, and pragmatic rules, are required to create a coherent message. Current neuroimaging data support the activation of a bilateral network (i.e., anterior prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and the precuneus) involved in narrative discourse processing. However, it is not known how this network is influenced by the organizational structure of the story.

Twelve right-handed native English speaking subjects (4 females), over the age of 18 (mean (SD) = 25.67 (2.5)), participated in this fMRI study. Structurally simple 60 word narratives containing a single complete episode were created to conform strictly to story grammar conventions. These were presented as either story narratives or unrelated sentences in a block design. Across all brain regions previously reported to be activated during narrative processing, we found reduced activation for cohesive schematically organized narratives compared to the unrelated sentences. This finding is consistent with structured event complex (SEC) knowledge framework (e.g., organizational rules and patterns related to mental schema) of the prefrontal cortex, at least in the case of linguistically-based story narratives. In essence, the stimuli in the present study created a condition that reduced workload by the neural substrates previously associated with discourse processing, by using familiar organizational patterns based on theoretical mental schema. At right: A functional Magnetic Resonance Image (fMRI) of reduced brain activation in the prefrontal cortex as participants read well-organized stories (vs. unrelated sentences).

Stuttering Research

Dr. Barry Guitar is conducting a programmatic study of temperament, speech, language, and perceptual and motor variables differentiating young children who stutter from those who do not stutter. CSD students with strong academic records are recruited for work that can lead to an honors thesis and possibly be continued into graduate school. His research focuses primarily on children who are just beginning to stutter and attempts to answer the following questions: What is the best treatment? Which children will recover naturally and which need treatment? Current research includes:

  • Assessing outcomes for two different treatments for preschool children who stutter - traditional family-child interaction therapy and the Lidcombe Program
  • Examining the extent to which measures of temperament made near the onset of stuttering are related to recovery (natural recovery and treatment recovery)
  • Examining measures of temperament in adults who stutter persistently compared to adults who recovered as children

Student Research Opportunities
Participation in research can enhance students’ understanding of communication sciences and disorders, help them to decide which aspect of the field they would like to work in, prepare them for the research coursework and increase their chances of being accepted into graduate school. Historically, students with strong academic records have been recruited for work with Dr. Barry Guitar. This may lead to an honors thesis and possibly continued study in graduate school.

Last modified December 09 2014 11:31 AM