AAC Leadership Project Receives $1.2 Million Grant

The Penn State Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Leadership Project, led by Janice Light, the Hintz Family Chair in Children’s Communicative Competence, has received a $1.2 million doctoral training grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

"This project responds to the serious shortage of Ph.D.-level faculty members who by fulfilling leadership roles in research and in preparing speech-language pathologists can improve services and results for children with severe communication disabilities, such as those associated with autism, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injuries," said Light. "These children are unable to rely on speech to meet their communication needs and may require AAC assistive technology to enhance their communication. Without research to determine evidence-based practices and without pre-service training to prepare speech-language pathologists to implement these evidence-based practices, these children are at grave risk in all areas of development and educational achievement."

According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, there are extreme shortages of Ph.D. faculty members—less than 1,500 nationwide—who are prepared to conduct research on communication disabilities, and only a tiny proportion of these scientists focus on the needs of children with severe communication disabilities who require AAC. There are also grave shortages of Ph.D. faculty members who are engaged in pre-service training to prepare the next generation of speech-language pathologists in the competencies required to provide evidence-based services to high need children with severe communication disabilities who require AAC.

"The dearth of qualified Ph.D. faculty conducting AAC research and personnel preparation has profound negative consequences for the quality of services provided to high-need children with severe communication disabilities," said Kathryn Drager, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders and a co-investigator on the project.

Over a five-year period, the project will support ten Ph.D. students who are committed to obtaining employment in an institute of higher education where they will conduct research and prepare future speech-language pathologists to provide evidence-based services in early intervention or in a school setting. The doctoral scholars will complete a comprehensive research-based curriculum that integrates academic courses, mentored research experiences, mentored college teaching experiences, leadership training, and outreach opportunities.       

Krista Wilkinson, a professor of communication sciences and disorders, also is a co-investigator on the grant. Erinn Finke, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders; Jessica Currall, a research associate; and Barbara Roberts, an instructor, are involved with the grant as well. More information about the grant and associated research is on the web at: aac.psu.edu.


Editors: Janice Light can be reached at JCL4@psu.edu. Kathryn Drager can be reached at kdd5@psu.edu. Krista Wilkinson can be reached at kmw22@psu.edu. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.