News

Student successfully defends dissertation

Congratulations to Nimisha Muttiah, who successfully defended her dissertation on Thursday, December 11, 2014. Her project, titled "Evaluating an AAC Training for Special Education Teachers Based in a Low-Resource Developing Country," demonstrated the power of a group training with special educators in Sri Lanka to change the types of communication opportunities they present to children with significant communication disabilities. After the teacher training, the children took more communication turns and were more active communicators. This study is a significant contribution to the literature on AAC partner training and service delivery in developing countries, and indeed in many environments around the world.

Sandberg receives grant to further brain injury research

Chaleece Sandberg

Chaleece Sandberg

Chaleece Sandberg, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, received the 2014 New Century Scholars Research Grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation to further her research in language therapy for people who have suffered brain injuries.

Sandberg, who joined Penn State in August after completing her dissertation at Boston University, intends to use the $10,000 grant to compare healthy adults' brain activity to that of persons with aphasia.

Aphasia is the result of a brain injury that impacts a person's language skills, both verbal and written, similar to the damage former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords suffered due to a gunshot wound. Afterward, Giffords had to relearn how to speak with the assistance of speech pathologists.

Sandberg's research goal is to create a baseline of brain activity using typical adult brains and then compare that baseline to changes in brain activity in persons with aphasia who underwent a 10-week treatment program to improve their language skills. She suspects that the healthy volunteers will show little change in their brains over 10 weeks, and hopes the contrast will better show how the treatment promotes brain changes in persons with aphasia.

"By comparing brain changes that occur in patients after treatment to brain changes that normally occur over time, we are better able to pinpoint the changes that are important for language rehabilitation, giving us a sort of biomarker for successful treatment," Sandberg said. "Our end goal is to use this information to develop more effective and more efficient language therapy." Read more about the research.

Studies underway to help children, adults overcome communications obstacles

Earlier this year Penn State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) was awarded a grant by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to enhance communication and improve outcomes for children and adults who rely on augmentative and alternative communication. In collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, and InvoTek, the grant will be used for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC). Throughout the next few years, the funds will fuel a variety of research projects both on University Park’s campus and across the country.

Now, seven of the research and development projects are underway.

Oct. 1 was the kickoff for these projects, Light explained, and while they all have been initiated, researchers are in the very beginning stages.

“We have five years of work (ahead),” she said.

The first of the projects, Light explained, examines brain computer interface, and focuses primarily on individuals who have minimal movement, whether from a brain stem stroke or ALS. The goal of this particular project, which is being led by Melanie Fried-Oken at Oregon Health and Science University, is to develop improved ways for these individuals to access and control computers to talk, work and conduct other activities.

Essentially, brain computer interfaces function by placing electrodes on the user’s head, and letting the brain response guide and control the computer.

“That kind of technology is in early development stages, but it offers exciting possibilities for individuals who are ‘locked in’ and are unable to communicate” Light said.

Read more about the research projects CSD is conducting, in collaboration with other health systems, as part of the grant for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC) from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

CSD receives grant to improve quality of life for those with unique communication needs

Penn State's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), in collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and InvoTek, has been awarded a grant for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC) from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

The grant, which provides approximately $5 million of funding over a five-year period, consists of four components: research, development, training and dissemination, said principal investigator Janice Light, who holds the Hintz Family Endowed Chair in Children’s Communicative Competence. David McNaughton, professor of special education, will lead the training and dissemination activities.

“We were the only Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center funded on Rehabilitation Strategies, Techniques and Interventions,” Light said. “We are really excited about the research, development, training and dissemination activities that we have planned and the new collaborations that we will be building, both in house at Penn State with the College of Engineering and the College of Information Sciences and Technology, as well as nationwide with other leading research centers. This is an incredible opportunity to advance the field and improve outcomes for children and adults with the most complex communication needs.”

Read more about the grant for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Group recognizes professor for work on House bill

Ingrid Blood advocated for Medicare coverage of telehealth services provided by audiologists, speech-language pathologists

Ingrid Blood, professor of communication sciences and disorders (CSD) at Penn State, has been recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Political Action (ASHA) Committee for her advocacy on the Telehealth Bill.

ASHA's Federal and Political Affairs department organizes meetings with members of Congress and their staffs for special interest groups and committee members visiting the national office while they are in the greater Washington, D.C., area. The purpose is for ASHA members to lobby on behalf of ASHA's legislative priorities and to build relationships with those offices. Blood, who visited in June, advocated for Medicare coverage of telehealth services provided by audiologists and speech-language pathologists.

Recently, Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) introduced the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014 (H.R. 5380) which would allow audiologists and speech-language pathologists to get reimbursed by Medicare for providing telehealth services to beneficiaries. ASHA staff were informed by Congressional staff that Blood's advocacy on the subject is why the piece was added to the legislation. Read more about Ingrid Blood's advocacy on the Telehealth Bill.

CSD Team Poster Award Recipients

Congratulations to Jennifer Thistle, Ji Young Na, CSD Professor Krista Wilkinson, Lisa Catanoso, Rebecca Keyes, Hilary Lee, and Melissa Wenzel for their award winning poster submission. The team submitted a poster titled “Preferential Attention Patterns to Humans vs. Animals: Implications for Photograph-Based AAC Displays” which was designated a Meritorious Poster Submission for the 2014 ASHA Convention to be held in November. The Meritorious Poster Submission recognition is for proposals judged by the Convention Program Committee to show extraordinary, exceptional, and innovative work. Each Topic Committee has the option of recommending one or two top-rated posters for this special distinction. The committee received 1611 total poster submissions in 2014, and only 55 were selected for meritorious recognition. This poster is among those posters that received the highest ratings from Topic Committee reviewers across both submission categories of professional education and research.

New Laboratory Facilities

A sound-attenuated booth has been installed in the basement of Ford Building. The booth will house equipment for electroencephalography (EEG) and auditory evoked potentials (AEP), allowing researchers and clinicians to measure brain responses to sounds and other stimuli. EEG and AEP methods provide insight into the brain activity underlying speech, language, and hearing processes. For more information, please contact Dr. Carol Miller.

The Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic helps people face communication challenges

Trip. Fall. Crash. Smash.

When Terri Foster's face slammed into the dresser at the nursing home where she worked, her life changed forever. The blow injured the frontal lobe of her brain, leaving her forgetful, depressed and barely able to communicate.

A year later, Foster still could not function. She lost her job as a nurse's aide, she was unable to do simple chores at home and her stuttering prevented her from having meaningful conversations. Her family suffered too. Her husband mourned the loss of the woman he had married, and her 10-year-old son couldn't understand why his mom never wanted to get out of bed.

Foster knew she needed help, but she wasn't getting it from doctors. It wasn't until she began therapy at the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders that she truly began to heal.

According to Gordon Blood, professor and head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the clinic provides assessments and interventions for people with delays or disorders in hearing, language, fluency, voice, articulation and phonology, including those with severe speech impairments requiring augmentative and alternative communication. Such communication impairments, he said, may result from developmental delays, congenital disabilities such as mental retardation, hearing impairment, autism, cerebral palsy or acquired disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, strokes or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The clinic also provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to get hands-on experience as well as a laboratory for faculty members to conduct research.

Read more about the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic.

ASH Foundation New Century Doctoral Scholarship Awarded

Congratulations to CSD Ph.D. candidate Jessica Caron who has been awarded an American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation New Century Doctoral Scholarship. The awards are competitive awards provided to outstanding students in research doctoral programs who are committed to pursuing teacher-investigator careers in communication sciences and disorders.

Students Pass Candidacy Exams

Congratulations to Jessica Caron and Michelle Therrien who have both passed their candidacy exams. Jessica conducted three studies to advance the understanding of the role of social media to enhance communication f or individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Michelle studied conducted a systematic review of the research on peer interaction for children who use aided AAC, considered implications for practice and determined suggested directions for future research.

Department News from Penn State News

A research-based literacy program teaches children with little or no speech to read, write, and relate to others.


Penn State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), in collaboration with a variety of other health care organizations and research centers, is leading research, training and dissemination of information to improve outcomes for those who rely on alternative communication.


Penn State's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has been awarded a grant to improve quality of life for those with unique communication needs.


Ingrid Blood professor of communication sciences and disorders (CSD) at Penn State, has been recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Political Action (ASHA) Committee for her advocacy on the Telehealth Bill. ASHA staff were informed by Congressional staff that Blood's effort is why a section supporting services provided by audiologists and speech-language pathologists was added to the legislation.


May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. Learn how the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic at Penn State helps people with their communication challenges -- and gives students real-world experience.


Twenty-one student-athletes from the College of Health and Human Development are among eighty-three Penn State student-athletes to have earned Academic All-Big Ten Honors for earning a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher during the 2013 fall semester.


Krista Wilkinson, professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State, has been named editor of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (AJSLP).


If you ask Will Martin what he was up to this time last week, chances are he was sorting out last-minute details for THON weekend, now successfully in the record books. As overall chairperson for the world's largest student-run philanthropy, Martin has had a multitude of tasks and more to deal with this past year. Yet through all of the meetings, some of which extended into the wee hours of the morning, and all of the myriad fundraising tasks, he has managed to excel outside of THON -- in his courses, in his research and in his preparations for the future.


When a State College musical theatre group composed of children and young adults with Down syndrome gave its inaugural performance in April, it was to a packed house and a standing-ovation finale. "There are no words to describe the feeling of watching these young people perform," said Krista Wilkinson, professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State. "The standing ovation at the end of the show said it all. People were in tears." After four months of rehearsals, the performance was held April 21 in Kern Building on Penn State's University Park campus. Plans currently are under way to organize and perform another show this fall.


One of the benefits students have at a major national research university like Penn State is not only learning from faculty in the classroom but also working alongside them -- in the laboratory or the library -- doing research. Undergraduate students like Christine Theberge and Josh Yeh, who are conducting their own undergraduate research, and those who hold research assistant positions have the opportunity to expand their knowledge in areas of academic interest while developing valuable research skills and relevant work experience.