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Translating research to change the way ​America ​​cares for ​​children and​ ​families.

We are internationally recognized as a leader in clinical and research programs focusing on childhood deafness, developmental language disorder, and related communication disorders. In 2013, we began a new frontier in neurobehavioral research using brain imaging techniques to better help diagnose and treat troubled children with severe behavioral and mental health problems.

Areas of ​Research

 

 

Balance ResearchDoctor doing Vestibular Reseach https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/balanceBalance Research
Center for Perception and Communication in Children (COBRE Grant)Cobre Areahttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/cobreCenter for Perception and Communication in Children (COBRE Grant)
Child and Family Translational Researchadolescent boy looking at the camera smilinghttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/translational-researchChild and Family Translational Research
Hearing and Speech Perception ResearchAudiologist tools on a medical charthttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/hearing-speech-perceptionHearing and Speech Perception Research
Neurobehavioral Research3T MRI machinehttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/neurobehavioralNeurobehavioral Research
Sensory Neuroscience ResearchDNA Strand - Researchhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/sensory-neuroscienceSensory Neuroscience Research
Speech and Language ResearchSpeech language research https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/speech-languageSpeech and Language Research

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Research Connection​

Read the latest news about life-changing research at Boys Town National Research Hospital.​

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Language Benefits of Hearing Aid Use are Significant in Fourth-Grade Childrenhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/language-benefits-hearing-aid-useLanguage Benefits of Hearing Aid Use are Significant in Fourth-Grade Children2020-09-08T05:00:00Z<p>While it is not the only factor, the quality of our children's hearing plays a pivotal role in how well they understand speech and develop spoken language skills. However, there is some ambiguity when it comes to assessing and treating kids with mild, bilateral hearing loss. In these cases, there is not always a strong clinical opinion for early fitting or consistent wearing of hearing devices. This is partly because these kids do not always appear noticeably different from their classmates in every day conversation, or on language tests, so clinicians and families may take a “wait-and-see" approach to hearing devices.</p><p>Scientists at Boys Town National Research Hospital and the University of Iowa have been collaborating on a series of studies to see what the real benefits of consistently worn and early fit hearing aids are for kids, and especially those with mild hearing loss. As part of this collaboration, Elizabeth Walker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, and others recently assessed both written and spoken language skills of fourth-grade children to identify the language risks associated with mild hearing loss [1].</p><p>In this study, the team compared 60 children with mild, bilateral hearing loss and 69 peers with typical hearing. All participants were tested the summer after fourth grade. Dr. Walker and her team found that kids with hearing loss had significant deficits in spoken language comprehension and understanding of morphology—the structural parts of words that indicate verb tense or plurality, such as  the word endings in “He is play<em>ing</em>" or “She walk<em>ed</em>" or “many cat<em>s"</em>. In contrast, vocabulary and reading were not significantly different between the kids with hearing loss and typical hearing.</p><p>The goal of this study was not just to see what the language differences were, but also to see how intervention with hearing aids affected these outcomes. Therefore, Dr. Walker's team also needed to know from caregivers how much the kids in the hearing loss group wore their hearing aids. Kids with milder hearing loss, whose caregivers reported more time wearing hearing aids, did better with comprehension of spoken language than kids with more severe hearing loss and/or lower hearing aid usage.</p><h2>What These Findings Tell Us</h2><p>Findings from this study show us that consistent hearing aid use is important for kids to reach their full language potential. Furthermore, waiting to see how kids with mild, bilateral hearing loss do before recommending hearing amplification could come at the cost of some language ability. This is something clinicians should emphasize to families of children with mild hearing loss. Along with educating families, clinicians should strongly consider early hearing testing and intervention for children with mild hearing loss.</p><h2>Related reading</h2><p>Last year, Ryan McCreery Ph.D., Director of Research at Boys Town Hospital, and co-authors published a paper titled, <em>Audibility-based hearing aid fitting criteria for children with mild bilateral hearing loss [2]</em>. That paper outlines a set of guidelines for assessing when children with mild, bilateral hearing loss should be fitted with hearing aids based on language outcomes. <a href="/news/checking-speech-audibility-importance-when-assessing-hearing-loss">Read more about that study</a>.</p><h2>References</h2><ol><li>Walker E. A., Sapp C., Dallapiazza M., Spratford M., et. al. (2020) Language and Reading Outcomes in Fourth-Grade Children With Mild Hearing Loss Compared to Age-Matched Hearing Peers. <em>Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch</em>. 51(1):17–28. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-OCHL-19-0015" target="_blank">https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-OCHL-19-0015</a>. </li><li>McCreery R.W., Walker E.A., Stiles D.J., Spratford M., et. al. (2020) Audibility-based hearing aid fitting criteria for children with mild bilateral hearing loss. <em>Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch</em>.​ 51(1): 55–67. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-OCHL-19-0021" target="_blank">https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_LSHSS-OCHL-19-0021</a>.</li></ol><h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div> ​<br>
Alcohol and Cannabis Use Alter Emotional Processing of Future Eventshttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/alcohol-cannabis-use-disruptionAlcohol and Cannabis Use Alter Emotional Processing of Future Events2020-08-27T05:00:00Z<p>​Alcohol and cannabis are two of the most commonly abused drugs, and early use puts kids at higher risk of long-term cannabis and alcohol use disorders. Because their brains are still developing, there are substantial concerns about the long-term impacts of substance use. At Boys Town National Research Hospital, we often work with kids with substance use issues and our neurobehavioral research team is working to provide clinicians with a better understand of the impacts of substance use on the brain.<br></p><p>While most people understand that our short-term judgement is impaired under the influence of alcohol or cannabis, there is also evidence that regular substance use leads to longer term impairment in judging good or bad outcomes. With this in mind, the neurobehavioral research team, led by Joseph Aloi, M.D., Ph.D. and James Blair, Ph.D. recently conducted a study of 112 adolescents, 14 to 18 years old.  Their goal was to determine the extent the teens' prior alcohol and cannabis use affected how their processing of possible future outcomes.<br></p><div class="is-clearfix"><div class="inline-image is-size-7"> <img src="https://assets.boystown.org/hosp_peds_images/OB_Picture.png" alt="brain activity" style="max-width:100%;" /> <p>Figure 1. Brain regions involved in responding to emotional outcomes that are less responsive in those with heavier prior cannabis use.</p></div><p style="margin-bottom:1rem;">The researchers found that severity of prior cannabis use, in particular, changed how the adolescent’s brains responded to high-intensity good, or high-intensity bad possible futures. This activity can be seen on brain scans in brain regions known to respond to emotional outcomes.<br></p><p>Representing emotional outcomes well is important. To live well, we need to act to avoid highly negative futures and work towards highly positive ones. The data from this study showed that cannabis use significantly impairs this ability.. </p><p>This problem also has implications for treatment. When someone comes in for treatment, one of the tools clinicians rely on is the person’s motivation to change drug use. A diminished capacity to imagine and and work towards a positive future identifies yet another difficulty faced by adolescents with a history of high cannabis use.​</p></div><p>One thing we don't yet know is how long these changes are. It will be important to determine the extent to which successful treatment, including the Boys Town model, reverses this difficulty. </p><h2>References</h2><ol><li>Aloi, J., Blair, K. S., Meffert, H., et. al. (2020) Alcohol use disorder and cannabis use disorder symptomatology in adolescents is associated with dysfunction in neural processing of future events. Addict Biol; epub ahead of print. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/adb.12885" target="_blank">https://doi.org/10.1111/adb.12885</a> </li></ol><h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div> ​<br>
Ryan McCreery, Ph.D., Recognized for Professional Achievement with Prestigious ASHA Awardhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/prestigious-asha-professional-achievement-award-ryan-mccreeryRyan McCreery, Ph.D., Recognized for Professional Achievement with Prestigious ASHA Award2020-08-03T05:00:00Z<p>​​​We are very pleased to recognize our Director of Research, <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/faculty/ryan-mccreery">Ryan McCreery, Ph.D.</a>, for his selection as a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA has more than 211,000 members and is the primary professional, credentialing and scientific organization for speech-language pathologists, audiologists and speech/language/hearing scientists. Fellowship is the most prestigious recognition they can award for professional contribution and achievement. </p><div class="is-clearfix"><div class="inline-image is-size-7">​​​​​​​​<img src="https://assets.boystown.org/hosp_peds_images/McCreeryRyan.jpg" alt="Ryan McCreery, Ph.D." class="inline-image__image" /> <h2 class="is-size-5">Ryan McCreery, Ph.D.</h2><p>Director of Research, Boys Town</p></div>​ ​ <p>Dr. McCreery was nominated by his colleagues, including ASHA Fellow Mary Pat Moeller, Ph.D. Among his many leadership strengths, Dr. Moeller emphasizes that “Dr. McCreery brings a rare combination of clinical and scientific expertise, people skills, management knowledge, the ability to make tough decisions and a strong vision for the future of the organization he is leading.” </p><p>Ryan joined Boys Town National Research Hospital in 2004 as a research audiologist. He worked with Pat Stelmachowicz, Ph.D., former Director of Audiology at Boys Town Hospital, who realized that Ryan would make an excellent researcher and encouraged him to pursue his doctorate. Ryan earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2011, researching hearing and top-down processing of auditory information in children. </p><p>Along with being Director of Research, Dr. McCreery is also Director of the Audibility, Perception, and Cognition Laboratory. His current research is advancing our understanding of the importance of auditory experience, including optimal hearing amplification in kids with hearing loss, for the proper development of language. </p><p>Dr. McCreery’s research helps families and clinicians understand the importance of consistently wearing hearing aids to facilitate a rich sound environment that supports healthy brain development. Ryan also recently published guidelines that emphasize language understanding and development when fitting hearing aids in children. Dr. McCreery also notes that “children who lack sufficient sound exposure early on, may not attain their full language potential even if they get that experience later in life.” </p><p>One of Dr. McCreery’s regular collaborators, Beth Walker, Ph.D., at the University of Iowa describes his research by saying, “Ryan McCreery has accomplished more in terms of promoting evidence-based practice in pediatric audiology in 10 years than most people accomplish in a lifetime.” </p><p>To understand why Dr. McCreery deserves this award, you simply need to look at how versatile he is as an investigator, leader and administrator. Brenda M. Ryals, Ph.D., is a professor at James Madison University and a colleague of Dr. McCreery. She sums up her support for his award with: “A brief review of Dr. McCreery’s resume provides easy evidence for his skill and success at administration. It is nothing less than astounding to review the speed with which Dr. McCreery moved from Research Audiologist in the Boys Town Hospital Hearing Aid Research Laboratory (2007) to Director of Research in 2017. Such a speedy advancement is a strong indication of his superior skills in administration, as well as the high degree of regard with which he is held by peers and higher administration.” </p><p>Ryan also takes a special interest in mentoring researchers who are at the beginning of their careers and helping them to meet their full potential. Many of his peers would likely agree with Adam Bosen, Ph.D., who said, “He is willing to commit resources, both institutional and his own time, to ensure the success of researchers at Boys Town. Despite his numerous responsibilities, he has never turned down a request to meet with me and has always provided high quality advice on anything I have asked him about. I have said numerous times that I think Boys Town National Research Hospital is the best place in the world for me to start my career, and I believe that Ryan's leadership is an essential component of what makes Boys Town excel in hearing science.”​</p><p>Dr. McCreery is highly sought after for his ability to communicate clinical and scientific information. He has given over 160 talks. His schedule is always full but never too full to find time to look out for the needs of his colleagues. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. McCreery remains energetic and committed and likely has many years ahead in a career that has already benefitted so many. </p><p>​On behalf of Boys Town National Research Hospital, we would like to congratulate Dr. McCreery for being recognized for his research, clinical care and leadership and for his contributions to advancing the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology to improve the lives of children and families. </p><h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div></div>
Developmental Language Disorder Affects Adult Learning Toohttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/developmental-language-disorder-affects-adult-learningDevelopmental Language Disorder Affects Adult Learning Too2020-07-24T05:00:00Z<p><a href="/knowledge-center/red-flags-developmental-language-disorder">​Developmental language disorder (DLD)</a> is a common condition, affecting around 7% of the population. A key feature of DLD is that it cannot be explained by other conditions that affect language learning like intellectual disability, <a href="/knowledge-center/autism-spectrum-disorder">autism s​pectrum disorder</a>, or <a href="/knowledge-center/about-hearing-loss">hearing impairment</a>. In other words, the primary problem is difficulty learning, understanding, and using language. The problem arises in childhood; however, DLD persists into adulthood, interfering with language learning in ways that can affect educational and professional achievement. </p><p>Most research on DLD is focused on school-aged children ​where the goal is to support effective strategies for educational programs. For adults with DLD, there is much less awareness and information. <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/faculty/karla-mcgregor">Karla McGregor, Ph.D.</a>, and her team at Boys Town National Research Hospital have been working to address this information disparity. </p><p>In a series of studies they hav​e examined the ability of young adults with DLD to learn and recall new words. Dr. McGregor explained that “there are many parts to learning a new word, including its sounds, spelling, meaning, grammatical role, and its appropriate use”. Her research shows that adults with DLD have strengths and well as weaknesses in various aspects of word learning. </p><p>In their most recent study [1], the team found that learning new words is a challenge for young adults with DLD but, once learned, their memory for the new words was generally good. There is also an interesting finding from this study that the women demonstrated stronger retention of the words than men, although this finding varies across studies. When it comes to new words, learning the sounds and their order is difficult for people with DLD, but learning word meaning is also a relative strength. </p><p>One of the biggest challenges with DLD is awareness. It is a prevalent condition, but many people have never heard of it. Researchers at Boys Town Hospital and around the world are working to educate people, develop resources, and raise awareness. If you are interested in learning more about these efforts, check out Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder (RADLD) and <a href="https://www.dldandme.org/" target="_blank">DLDandMe.org</a> for more articles and information.</p>​ <h2>References</h2><ol><li>McGregor, K.K., Arbisi-Kelm, T., Eden, N., Oleson, J. (2020) The word learning profile of adults with developmental language disorder; Autism & Developmental Language Impairment; 5(1) 1–19. DOI:10.1177/2396941519899311</li></ol><h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div>
Researchers Investigating How Isolation is Stressing Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemichttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/how-isolation-social-distancing-affect-kids-mental-healthResearchers Investigating How Isolation is Stressing Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic2020-07-22T05:00:00Z<p>​There are many societal impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond just the viral illness. One of the most widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the sudden, unexpected social isolation resul​ting from adults and children being encouraged or forced to stay at home, sometimes with accompanying job loss. W​hile isolation helps to slow the spread of the virus, it also creates another stressful and unhealthy set of problems.</p><p>Researchers at Boys Town National Research Hospital, led by <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/faculty/stuart-white">Stuart White, Ph.D.</a> and <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/faculty/anastasia-kerr-german">Anastasia Kerr-German, Ph.D.</a>, are attempting to determine how the sudde​n shift this spring has been affecting children who, without any transition, went from highly social school environments to at-home isolation. According to Dr. White, this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, and technology and media make it unlike any historic comparisons. </p><p>Since COVID-19 virus transmission is still a concern, Dr. White and Dr. Kerr-German designed <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/neurobehavioral/current-studies/covid-19-isolation-study">an online study to assess how the stress of this pandemic is affecting kids</a>. The study has several components to help us get a clear idea of how kids are handling stress. Kids who participate will fill out a survey that asks relevant questions about things like how they are coping, how they feel about being at home, and their relation​ships. Parents will also complete a survey asking questions about how the family is coping with the pandemic. </p><p>Along with these quality of life indicators, youth will complete a series of downloadable computer tasks. Dr. Kerr-German says that their task performance will quantify things like emotion regulation, attention, and adaptive thinking. Finally, the data from the assessments will be put into biological context with hormone levels from a small hair sample. </p><p>Dr. White explains that human hair stores certain biological markers of stress that can be reliably analyzed for up to 3 months after a stressful event. Hair samples are also ideal for this study because they can be easily done at home and sent through the mail with minimal precautions. </p><p>This research will support our own extensive youth care programs, as well as supporting best practices at other organizations. School administrators and other policy makers are also in need this kind of critical information as they weigh the importance of returning to school and assessing what complicating factors they will need to deal with when they are allowed to return. If you are interested in finding out more about this study, you can contact the lab at <a href="mailto:DCN.lab@boystown.org">DCN.lab@boystown.org</a>.</p><h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div>
Childhood Sexual Trauma Alters Emotional Regulation and Brain Developmenthttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/childhood-sexual-trauma-alters-emotional-regulation-brain-developmentChildhood Sexual Trauma Alters Emotional Regulation and Brain Development2020-06-25T05:00:00Z<p>​​​​Traumatic experiences during childhood have the ability to disrupt long-term brain development and function. Advances in imaging technology have shown us that not all traumatic experiences do this in the same way. Sexual trauma, in particular, severely alters how the brain responds to perceived threats as the child learns to deal with the terrible experience.</p><p> <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/faculty/karina-blair">Karina Blair, Ph.D​</a>. is a behavioral neuroscientist at Boys Town National Research Hospital, and an e​xpert in the area of how trauma affects brain development. She has been using functional brain imaging (fMRI) to investigate the areas of the brain that are involved in trauma, and especially looking for changes that persist long after specific events and relative to different types of trauma.</p><p>Much of the literature on post-traumatic stress is focused on the amygdala, a small, almond-shaped region in the brain that is associated with emotional responding and fear. In a recent paper, Dr. Blair was interested in how other regions that may also be involved might also be altered.</p><p>For this study, Dr. Blair worked with 23 adolescents who had reported sexual trauma, and 24 adolescents who had not experienced significant trauma as comparisons. Participants were placed in an fMRI scanner that allowed her to measure increases or decreases in brain function in specific anatomical regions while they were shown either threatening or neutral images.</p><p>Dr. Blair and her team identified several areas of increased activation during threatening stimuli. These areas of the brain were in the frontal lobe that we know are involved in emotional responding and regulation that are also necessary for understanding social situations. The data appears to suggest that past sexual abuse may cause exaggerated responses when these kids are exposed to stimuli that are perceived as threatening, or potentially threatening.</p><p>Dr. Blair's work helps clinicians at Boys Town Hospital, and elsewhere, understand what has happened to the brains of children after trauma. It's a useful tool for selecting and developing appropriate treatment plans. Unfortunately, these kids also end up in trouble more frequently. Understanding that, unless they get the right help, their brains have been altered for the long-term, if not permanently. This shows the critical need to help children get the right help and not punish them for things beyond their control. </p><p>For over 100 years Boys Town has been treating and advocating for children under these and other terribl​e circumstances. Our research team is critical to our efforts to provide the best care possible for these youth.​<br></p><p>Read more about the <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/neurobehavioral">Center for Neurobehavioral Research</a> at Boys Town.</p><h2>References</h2><ol><li>Blair, K. S., Bashford-Largo, J., Shah, N., et. al. (2020) <i>Sexual Abuse in Adolescents Is Associated With Atypically​ Increased Responsiveness Within Regions Implicated in Self-Referential and Emotional Processing to Approaching Animate Threats</i>. Front. Psychiatry; <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00345" target="_blank">https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00345</a>.</li></ol> <h2>Research Newsletter</h2><p>Please sign up to receive occasional research news and events emails from Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><div align="center"> <a class="button is-primary" href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/newsletter">Newsletter Sign-Up</a></div>

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