Research in the Department of CSD

Students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program can have an opportunity to work with world-renowned researchers and faculty members in groundbreaking research. This includes the department’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication group, led by leading researcher and faculty member, Janice Light.

As a student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program, you will have the opportunity to assist faculty members with research projects, getting firsthand experience in a research environment. You may also collect data, listen to data samples, be involved in coding.

List of currently active projects

The Psychosocial, Perceptual and Acoustic Laboratory (PAL) (Dr. Gordon Blood and Dr. Ingrid Blood) conducts research projects using a variety of analysis procedures and techniques ranging from extensive survey and qualitative studies, acoustic and aerodynamic analyses of the voice output to auditory brainstem studies in adolescents and adults with communication disabilities. Current investigations include:

  • Immediate and long-term impact of bullying and victimization in children and adults who stutter
  • Advocacy roles, perceptions and attitudes of school-based personnel (e.g., speech-language pathologists and educational audiologists) in eliminating victimization in children with communication and social disabilities (e.g. stuttering, autism spectrum disorders, hard of hearing)
  • Perception of speech and voice quality in individuals with speech, hearing and voice disorders
  • Neural mechanisms responsible for disfluent speech in people who stutter
  • Impact of environmental factors on acoustic, glottographic, aerodynamic measurements of the adult and aging voice
  • Hearing loss prevention in college-age students

The long-term goals of our research are to 1) improve evidence-based services for individuals with communication disabilities and 2) better prepare the next generation of SLPs to assist in addressing the attitudinal, behavioral and cognitive aspects of communication and social disabilities.

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Developmental Disabilities Laboratory (Dr. Kathryn Drager) houses projects that seek to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, specifically school-age children, adolescents, and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism. Studies in this laboratory also examine applications for individuals within low-resource communities, where technological solutions may not be readily available. In all contexts, research is ongoing investigating interventions within daily life. The lab is equipped with digital audio and video recording and editing capability.

The Orofacial Physiology and Perceptual Analysis (OPPAL) Laboratory (Dr. Nicole Etter) focuses on ways humans process and use sensory information for the purposes of speech production and feeding. OPPAL is home to a unique stimulus delivery system, custom designed to deliver tactile inputs to orofacial skin surface during simultaneous performance of visually guided behaviors in the lower face. We are interested in better understanding the relationship between sensation (auditory and orofacial somatosensation) and skilled movement behaviors used for speech production. We are analyzing how this relationship may be altered as a feature of healthy aging, neurologic disorders (stroke or traumatic brain injury), and/or lifestyle variables (smoking history, etc.). Additional work in the lab focuses on the use of technology and Engagement Theory for adults completing home-based motor speech interventions.

The Autism Spectrum Disorders Laboratory (Dr. Erinn Finke) houses state-of-the-art digital audio and video equipment as well as computer workstations that are equipped for analyzing and editing audio, video, and eye tracking recordings and performing a variety of statistical analyses. A wide variety of testing instruments for assessing language, communication and social skills in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is also available. Research in this laboratory focuses on improving communication and social outcomes for individuals with ASD and/or complex communication needs. Specifically, the ongoing research projects in this laboratory are investigating how intervention efforts can be redesigned to improve social interactions between children with ASD and their typically developing peers, particularly focused on friendship-based outcomes. We are investigating the use of video games as a context for promoting interactions between children with ASD and their peers, as well as how individuals with ASD use social media outlets to connect with others via online environments.

The Speech Production Laboratory (Dr. Ji Min Lee) houses projects that seek to understand why less comprehensible speech occurs by examining speech sound and tongue movement. The long term goal of the laboratory is to develop strategies to enhance speakers’ speech intelligibility (e.g., speakers with dysarthria). Research in this laboratory focuses on kinematic characteristics (with an emphasis on tongue movement) that influence speech intelligibility and acoustic variables in speakers with and without speech disorders. The Speech Production Laboratory is equipped with a portable 3 dimensional electromagnetic articulography (Wave system, Northern Digital Inc.). The system allows examining tongue movement with synchronized acoustic signals in a non-invasive and safe way.

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Laboratory (Dr. Janice Light) houses a wide array of state of the art AAC assistive technology designed to meet the needs of individuals with significant communication disabilities. This assistive technology is used to support research, education of families and professionals, and service delivery to people with significant communication disabilities. The AAC labs also serve as a resource center for individuals who require AAC, their families, professionals, and Penn State students and faculty. The AAC Labs house all of the assistive technology, have digital audio and video recording and editing capability, and allow for meeting space.

The Child Language Development Laboratory (Dr. Carol Miller) focuses on typical and atypical language development in children and adults. The lab is equipped to collect high-quality analog and digital audio and video recordings. Necessary computer hardware and software is available for digitizing and editing audio as well as video. Several powerful statistical analysis software packages are used to meet a wide variety of research needs. Software for the analysis of language transcripts is also available. The lab is equipped with a number of instruments for assessment of language and cognition, and hardware and software for conducting computer-based experiments.

The Adult Neuroplasticity Laboratory (Dr. Chaleece Sandberg) conducts behavioral and neuroimaging experiments to help uncover the neurophysiological changes underlying behavioral changes associated with successful therapy for language and cognition deficits in adults with acquired brain injury and to develop therapies that promote generalization and neuroplasticity. To this end, the lab utilizes fMRI and EEG imaging resources within the Social, Life, and Engineering sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC). The lab is equipped with the necessary hardware and software to conduct imaging and behavioral experiments and to analyze fMRI, EEG, and behavioral data, and with the necessary instruments to conduct in-depth assessments of language and cognition, including high quality video recordings.

The Laboratory for the Study of Visual Supports in Communication and Education (Dr. Krista Wilkinson) houses a variety of projects that seek to improve the effectiveness of visual support used in communication intervention for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Many such children use visual schedules, calendars, or communication books that have pictures of upcoming activities, desired foods, friends, or favorite social activities. The studies in this laboratory examine how systematic consideration of the construction of these displays (placement and color of the symbols on the aid, for instance) might influence functional communication or learning outcomes. The research includes basic studies of visual processing conducted within the laboratory as well as applied instructional procedures embedded within storybook reading activities that take place in children’s homes or schools. Future planned studies include neuro-imaging studies that will allow us to examine brain responses to the visual communication symbols presented on the displays.