Thursday, October 24, 2013

Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education professor named an ASHA fellow



photo of Sandra Gillam
Dr. Sandra Gillam
A professor in the Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education department at Utah State University is now an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association fellow.

Dr. Sandra Gillam’s award recognizes her contribution to communication sciences, and it’s one of the highest honors given by the professional association.  ASHA is the certifying body for audiologists and speech-language pathologists.

She will receive her award at the ASHA Convention in Chicago next month.

Her work supports an important field. “For many children with language impairment their struggle is lifelong.” For example, a child with a language impairment may experience grammatical problems when they are five years old, struggle with reading comprehension in the third or fourth grades and ultimately with expressing themselves and solving complex problems in high school. The language impairment doesn’t go away, rather it at manifests itself in different ways over time.

“A large number of children with behavior problems also have a language problem,” Gillam said. And it doesn’t stop with school—job prospects and lasting relationships also require good language comprehension and production skills that support effective communication.

“In my opinion the children in our schools deserve the same level of services for their language learning and academic needs as a child with a medical issue,” Gillam said. “We should be working hard to bolster the underlying language skills they need to meet the Common Core Curricular Standards. Ethically, we should be doing this to the best of our professional abilities.”

Her research has focused on the assessment and intervention for children with disabilities and language impairments. Her most significant research project has been developing the Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy program. Its manual and materials are used by speech language pathologists, special educators and classroom teachers across the US and Canada.

SKILL approaches language as it is used in conversation and in classroom settings and academic instructional materials. It was designed to target narrative comprehension and production skills. It is unique, Gillam said. “Most instructional materials in the field are designed to enhance an individual skill such as improving use of past tense forms, rather than teaching children to integrate multiple skills at the same time.”

And the work continues. Gillam and a team of graduate and undergraduate researchers are now laying the groundwork for an additional section in the SKILL manual, aimed at improving narrative skills for students with high-functioning autism (ASD).

It has been a very enlightening project, Gillam said. “We have learned that some children with ASD do not perform like many other children with language impairments. For example, they often come up with really interesting stories, but have difficulty talking about and relating to the characters in a story. We are excited to see how they do with the program and what they can teach us about how to make it better.”

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