Teacher and Clinician

DEPARTMENTS

Teacher and Clinician

Dena Granof shares insights from 19 years in Communication Sciences and Disorders

AUSTIN, Texas

Dena Granof, senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has announced she will retire from the College following the spring semester after 19 years of service. Granof leaves behind a legacy of inspiring thousands of students. As a clinician, she assessed patient needs and treatment planning for those who have suffered neurological brain damage – whether genetic, or through accident or stroke.

After joining the doctoral program at UT, Granof was mentored by the late Lear Ashmore and acted as a clinical supervisor, working with graduate students, earning her doctorate in speech pathology in 1982. Shortly after, Granof ran a private practice for eight years, and spent an additional five years as director of speech, language and cognitive therapy for the Starbright Pediatric Rehabilitation Institute. Granof joined the faculty full time in 1994, teaching everything from introductory courses to graduate seminars, covering a variety of both child and adult communication disorders.

Why did you choose to work in the field of communication disorders?
I just found it incredibly interesting, and I recognized the importance of communication in our lives. I saw what could happen when both children and adults had a communication disorder. I wanted to help children develop adequate communication skills and be a part of helping adults regain lost skills.

Can you describe how methods have changed in the treatment of communication disorders?
What we did back then and what we do now has changed primarily because of the research. When I received my master's, areas like dysphagia weren't even part of our profession. The first dysphagia journal was not published until the mid-1980s. What we teach and strive to do is rely on the best available research. We look for efficacy in methods, techniques, procedures, and I teach my students what is currently known as best practices. But I make sure that they are aware that many of these therapy techniques will change.

As someone who has worked in the area of dysphagia, how would you describe the disorder to someone unaware of the condition?
It is difficulty in being able to eat and swallow adequately, safely, and with pleasure.

How is this condition treated?
With many of the patients, you're not looking for a cure. It's about changing the dynamics, because you're dealing with multiple conditions. For example, in adults, you can see a lot of improvement in the first four to six months post-stroke, but we may be dealing with a range of deficits that need work such as auditory comprehension, auditory processing, syntactic abilities, word finding, word production, and dysphagia. Changes to the cognitive and motor system are going to cause communication problems.

Another example is that babies aren't able to feed orally until 34 to 36 weeks gestational age. If they're born earlier than that they don't have the motor skills or the reflexes in place yet, so we work with the families to establish that. Our job is to come up with a plan of strategies and techniques to keep them safe and see if they can recover. You can do alternative means of feeding, like through a tube – certainly the reasons and the causes that created their conditions matter – but we look at what skills do they have and what skills do they need, understanding the entire swallow process, and figuring out what's not working and what we can do as a solution.

What other challenges are there in dysphagia rehabilitation?
The most difficult part is working with a domain or skill that is really important to everyone. Eating is very socially and culturally based. In working with stroke patients who have part of their bodies paralyzed and can't understand what's being said to them, they are also struggling to talk and make themselves clear. Changing the type of food they are allowed to eat and the way they now need to eat is one more difficulty they have to deal with.

What has changed in the department since '82?
We have gotten larger and grown. I remember having 150 undergraduate majors (in CSD) and now we have more than 400 undergraduates. It's become more competitive and we don't have space to admit everyone that wants to major in CSD. We are now ranked as one of the best programs in the county.

What advice would you most want to impart to your students? 
Have fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Enjoy what you do. Keep learning.

What do you plan on doing now that you're retiring?
I'm going to plead the fifth on that one! I tell people that I have a 20-year retention span. I spent 20 years on the clinical side with some teaching, and close to 20 years teaching with some clinical work, and I feel like I have one more chapter. I have some ideas. There are some things in the community I'd like to get involved in. I am looking forward to the opportunity to experience new challenges.


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Media Contact:
Nick Hundley, (512) 471-7209