Improving Public Education

Communication Sciences and Disorders wins $2.5 million in grants
US Department of Education

The need for competent speech-language pathologists to instruct and interact with students in public school districts is critical.

To fill this shortage, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders recently earned two grants from the U.S. Department of Education of $1.25 million each over five years to support two distinct initiatives designed to foster communication between students and educators. Both grants will train speech-language pathologist graduate students with the Lessons on Instructional Collaboration (LINC) project focusing on best practices to address the needs of culturally linguistic children and the Language Intervention as a Foundation for Transition (LIFT) program using the most effective methods to support children with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they transition to adulthood.

LINC Project
According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 61 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home but only about 4.7 percent of speech-language pathologists report they are bilingual and only 9 percent of speech-language pathologists rated themselves as very qualified to provide services to multicultural populations.

The Lessons on Instructional Collaboration for Speech Language Pathologists project (LINC SLP), is a five-year grant that will provide stipends and tuition to 30 speech-language pathology master's students interested in serving infants, toddlers and school-aged children from culturally linguistic and diverse backgrounds with training focused on specialized coursework in collaborative and cross-cultural communication. In addition, providing clinical services to children through discussion with parents and teachers is an essential part of the program.

“A critical role and responsibility of speech language pathologists in schools and early intervention programs include working in partnership with parents and teachers to meet the child's needs,” said Anita Perez, principal investigator and research scientist associate in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “Effective collaboration relationships engage parents and educators in the planning and development of interventions, decision-making processes, and opportunities to contribute as equal partners.”

LIFT Program
According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), 90 percent of speech-language pathologists worked with children who had autism disorders, 55 percent regularly served clients who are non-verbal with 26 percent of their caseload identified as having severe to profound impairments, creating a specific training regimen necessary to properly address communication needs and treatment within these populations.

The Language Intervention as a Foundation for Transition (LIFT) program provides a specialized training curriculum for working with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they transition to adulthood. Clinical Assistant Professor Jessica Franco is the principal investigator on the grant, through which seventy percent of funding will provide stipends and tuition to master’s students interested in the specialization with the remainder going towards materials and administrative costs.

“LIFT project scholars will develop the knowledge and skills to provide quality speech-language pathology services to school age children with significant disabilities,” said Franco. “Through providing or supervising treatment to those in need, those children can have a successful transition into post-secondary education and the workforce.”

Faculty from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Department of Special Education will provide the training, coursework and hands-on practicum to an estimated 30 scholars through the five years of funding. Each student will participate in the project for one year, typically in year two of the two-year master’s program.

Perez and Franco will collaborate on the projects this fall with Department of Communication Sciences Disorders Professors Elizabeth Pena and Lisa Bedore with consultation from Patricia Greenfield and Blanca Quiroz from the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles.

According to a 2014 report from U.S. News “Best Graduate Schools,” UT Austin holds the tenth-ranked speech language pathology program in the United States and is also considered a national leader in training bilingual specialists in communication sciences and disorders.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer