FHSU participants receive national convention honors

HAYS, KS -- One Fort Hays State University faculty member was named a fellow of a national professional association, another was appointed to a key national post and two graduates were selected to present their work at a November convention in New Orleans.

Dr. Fred Britten, professor of communication disorders, was named a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and Dr. Amy Finch, associate professor of communication disorders, was named a coordinator of a special interest section of the national association.

In addition, the work of two FHSU alumni was presented, Christy Holcombe, Hays, and Tara Stauth, Cimarron, both 2001 graduates.

The convention attracted more than 10,000 members for four days of sessions exploring technological and scientific advances in the diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders, highlighting the findings of some of the nation's top researchers in this field.

Keynote speakers were former First Lady Barbara Bush and actress Marlee Matlin. FHSU was well represented at the convention by faculty presenting research, chairing committees and, in Britten's case, receiving a major award.

Finch served on the resource panel for an interactive forum on augmentative alternative communication (AAC), which deals with providing supplemental or alternative means for individuals who have very limited communication abilities. Often, individuals requiring AAC have multiple disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and autism. One example of an AAC system is an object or picture board that a non-verbal person can point at to aid communication. AAC systems also include electronic devices, such as computers that provide spoken output of messages.

Finch, a specialist in AAC, will begin a three-year term in January as coordinator of ASHA's Special Interest Division (SID) on AAC. ASHA -- with more than 100,000 members -- has only 16 SIDs.

"Being asked to serve as a division coordinator is a big responsibility and a distinct honor," said Dr. Marcia Bannister, chair of FHSU's Department of Communication Disorders. Finch is currently the continuing education coordinator for the SID.

At the Awards Ceremony Nov. 16, Britten was named an ASHA Fellow.

Britten also chaired the meeting of the Legislative Council Coordinating Committee.

Dorothy Fulton, assistant professor of communication disorders at FHSU, with
faculty colleagues Finch and Britten, presented the results of an experiment done by Holcombe. Fulton was the advisor for Holcombe's master's thesis.

The study measured the effectiveness of teaching "phonemic awareness" to preschool children through singing. Children who lack good phonemic awareness have difficulty relating sounds to their letter symbols.

Using experimental and control groups, Holcombe accompanied herself on the guitar in two Head Start classrooms. In one classroom, Holcombe emphasized phonemes in her singing. The other group of children heard the same songs, but without the phonemic emphasis. The researchers found that the children in the first group significantly increased their ability to name sounds and to tell the difference between sounds and words. In other words, their "phonemic awareness" increased greatly, helped by the speech pathologist's musical delivery.

Another FHSU graduate, Stauth, presented a case study with Bannister and Finch. Their study analyzed the relationship between length of utterances and fluency in a young child who had difficulty communicating because of severe stuttering. Speech pathologists define "fluency" as the ability to speak without stuttering. Bannister is a nationally certified specialist in the treatment of stuttering at FHSU's Herndon Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.

The researchers found that their subject stuttered less when they encouraged him to speak in short utterances in a play-based setting. The child was asked to identify items he pulled from a grab bag and to softly say the names of various objects spotlighted by a flashlight in a darkened room. Speaking in a softer than normal voice tends to decrease stuttering, and such focused activities helped the child simplify his utterances.

The result was an increase in fluency, which speech pathologists can help a child build on in longer and longer utterances.

In a session titled "Career Paths for Clinical Faculty," program specialist Marla Staab joined Britten and four other colleagues in presenting a comparison of career pathways in communication disorders at four different universities. Faculty in communication disorders are expected to provide clinical education and supervision to their students, in addition to the traditional roles of classroom teaching and research. The team compared policies, procedures and criteria to help participants understand career possibilities in university settings.

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 103,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists.

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