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Professors receive major grants for speech, hearing research


March 16, 2011

Professors in ASU's Department of Speech and Hearing Science and School of Social and Family Dynamics have garnered national funding for their research.

Jeanne Wilcox, a principal investigator working with Shelley Gray and Mark Resier, were awarded a four-year $4.2 million dollar grant for their work investigating early literacy skills for preschool children with developmental speech or language impairment. Shelley Gray, speech and hearing professor, and Samuel Green, from the School of Social and Family Dynamics, have been awarded a five-year $2.5 million dollar grant to study working memory and word learning in children with typical development and language impairment.

"The two grants awarded to Professors Wilcox and Gray and their colleagues Mark Resier and Samuel Green continues a string of funded grants and major research programs in the Department of Speech and Hearing science that address literacy, reading and language processing (including memory) in children with typical language development and those with language impairment," said William Yost, professor and chair of speech and hearing science at ASU. "This research addresses major issues in educating our nation's children, especially those with language impairments."

Eighty-two percent of children receiving special education services demonstrate a developmental speech and/or language impairment (DSLI) either as a primary diagnosis (DSLI being the sole impairment), or as a condition secondary to another primary diagnosis, such as developmental delay or mental retardation. Irrespective of the underlying diagnosis, children with DSLI often fail to develop crucial pre-literacy skills, such as oral language skills, which can lead to later literacy difficulties and reading failure.

The purpose of Wilcox's study is to assess the efficacy of a recently developed preschool oral language and early literacy curriculum package known as TELL: Teaching Early Literacy and Language Across the Curriculum for children with DSLI either as a primary or secondary impairment. TELL targets skills that have been shown to be important in reading decoding and comprehension: phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, print concepts, writing, vocabulary, and sentence length/complexity.

The Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) within the Department of Education is funding the research under a new grant called "Efficacy Trials with a New Early Literacy and Language Curriculum for Preschool Children with Developmental Speech and/or Language Impairment."

We developed the TELL curriculum through a previous IES grant and conducted preliminary testing that indicated the promise of the curriculum," Wilcox said. "We look forward to our collaborations with several local school districts to further understand the benefits of the curriculum for all young children, with a special focus on those with speech and/or language impairment."

Gray and Green's research grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health, and their project includes a partnership with the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where Tiffany Hogan will serve as a co-investigator and with the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona, where Mary Alt will serve as a co-investigator.

During the five year partnership researchers will develop a new working memory battery for children and test four working-memory-based word learning models in children with typical development who speak English or Spanish as their first language and in children with dyslexia, specific language impairment (SLI), and children who have both SLI and dyslexia.

The project will result in a newly developed valid and reliable working memory and word learning assessment battery, will contribute to our understanding of the deficits underlying poor word learning so that effective treatments can be developed, and will increase our understanding of the relationship between working memory and word learning.

"We look forward to working closely with school districts and families to achieve a better understanding of how working memory supports academic achievement and vocabulary acquisition in particular," Gray said.

"Research will begin this spring with the recruitment of second- graders from school districts in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Tucson, and Lincoln, Neb. For more information please e-mail Shelley Gray.