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Speech and Language Research


Speech language research

​​​​We combine clinical services, innovative research and national outreach focused on language, communication development and early interventions for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Translational research programs within this Center focus on the study of child language and communicative development in children who hear and in those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Our ultimate goal is to contribute evidence that will guide early and ongoing interventions for children and their families. These laboratories are housed in the Lied Learning and Technology Center at Boys Town National Research Hospital.



Brain, Learning and Language Laboratory M. Conway, Ph.D.Brain, Learning and Language LaboratoryResearchLab
Language Learning and Memory Laboratory R. Gordon, Ph.D.Language Learning and Memory LaboratoryResearchLab
Word Learning Laboratory McGregor, Ph.D.Word Learning LaboratoryResearchLab
Working Memory and Language Laboratory AuBuchon, Ph.D.Working Memory and Language LaboratoryResearchLab


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The Vocal Development Landmarks Interview Helps Clinicians and Families Track Vocal Developmental Milestones Vocal Development Landmarks Interview Helps Clinicians and Families Track Vocal Developmental Milestones2019-09-18T05:00:00Z<div class="embed-container">​​​ <iframe src="" width="560" height="330" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div> ​ <p>Monitoring how babies progress through the early stages of vocal development is important for professionals and families, especially when infants have developmental challenges, such as cerebral palsy, hearing loss, down syndrome, cleft palate, or other special needs. It is essential that children who are at risk for speech and language delays are identified as early as possible so interventions can be tailored to minimize developmental risk. Drs. Mary Pat Moller and Sophie Ambrose at Boys Town National Research Hospital, along with Dr. Anne Thomas of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, developed the Vocal Development Landmarks Interview (VDLI) for this purpose. </p><p>They recognized that the best way for professionals to monitor an infants' vocal development is to ask the parents about the child's vocal productions. However, they also realized that a better tool was needed to allow professionals to do that. The VDLI is a parent-report instrument for infants and young children who are not developmentally ready to cooperate with more structured testing [1]. It incorporates what has been learned from years of laboratory-based observations about the orderly stages of vocal development that babies go through and involves parents as the best resource for understanding if their child is meeting these vocal milestones. </p><p>The VDLI design uses a series of digital slides with audio files containing authentic infant vocalizations to ensure parents know exactly what vocal behavior the professional is asking them to report on. The vocal behaviors are also arranged in developmental order, beginning with those typically observed by 6 months of age and ending with those typically observed by 21 months of age.</p><p>According to Dr. Ambrose, “The feedback we've gotten is that the tool really helps both parents and clinicians learn about behaviors to watch for and which behaviors to encourage the development of next in early intervention." She also indicated that clinicians reported wanting a tool that was easy to use with families in homes, which led the team to collaborate with the Technology Core at Boys Town National Research Hospital to create the VDLI as an iOS App that allows for maximum accessibility and portability. For more information on the VDLI, watch the included video in this article or access their recent publication cited below. For help with downloading the app and its related resources, you can contact Dr. Ambrose at </p><h1>References</h1><ol><li>Moeller, M. P., Thomas, A. E., Oleson, J., & Ambrose, S. E. (2019). Validation of a parent report tool for monitoring early vocal stages in infants. <em>Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 62</em>(7), 2245–​2257. <a href=""></a>​<br></li></ol>​​​​ <br>
Christopher Conway, Ph.D. joins Language Research Team at Boys Town National Research Hospital Conway, Ph.D. joins Language Research Team at Boys Town National Research Hospital2018-08-03T05:00:00Z<p>​Boys Town Hospital continues to expand its communication research to include language learning and development for all children. The Hospital's Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning is pleased to announce Christopher Conway, Ph.D., will be joining the team on August 8.<br></p><p>Having spent his career in the academic setting, most recently as an Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgia State University, Dr. Conway will lead the Brain, Learning, and Language Laboratory, focusing on the brain's ability to process speech and language.</p><p>"I'm very excited to be able to focus full-time on research," said Dr. Conway. "Our research will help us understand the processes and mechanisms of language acquisition and will have a real impact on helping children who experience a language delay or have a communication disorder."</p><p>Dr. Conway and his research team will be working on many initial studies including neuromodulation – directly stimulating brain networks to help facilitate children's language learning.</p><p>"There is some research to suggest that such neuromodulation techniques can help stimulate plasticity in the brain, allowing it to be more adaptive and better able to learn complex patterns of information in the environment," said Dr. Conway. "Our lab will have such neuromodulation capabilities and will allow us to start investigating the possible benefits this could have on the brain's ability to learn language and other complex domains."<br></p><p><br></p>
Boys Town National Research Hospital Expands Communication Research to Help more Children Town National Research Hospital Expands Communication Research to Help more Children2017-08-10T05:00:00Z<p>​For more than 40 years, Boys Town National Research Hospital has been internationally recognized for hearing research, education and clinical care. Starting this August, Boys Town Hospital is expanding its communication research to include language learning and development for all children. The Hospital's Center for Childhood Deafness program has been renamed Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning to reflect the new focus that will help more children and families.<br></p><p>Leading the charge is Karla McGregor, Ph.D., newly appointed senior scientist and director of the Word Learning Lab. McGregor joins Boys Town Hospital this August, after spending 12 years at the University of Iowa as a Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders.<br></p><p>“We are excited to welcome Dr. Karla McGregor to Boys Town Hospital," said John Arch, Hospital Director and Executive Vice President of Health Care at Boys Town. “Her experience and expertise in speech pathology will help guide the hospital's expansion of translational research in language development."​<br></p><p>McGregor was previously the director of the Word Learning Lab at the University of Iowa. The research of the Word Learning Lab focuses on how individuals learn, remember and use words, and how these functions can be supported for those who have developmental language disorders.<br></p><p>The work began at the University of Iowa and will continue at its original location and at the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning when McGregor arrives at Boys Town Hospital.<br></p><p>“I want to spend some time listening to the clinicians at the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning to learn about the work they do and their visions for the future," McGregor said. “It's important to me to connect the clinical and research mission in ways that are meaningful and exciting to both parties."<br></p><p>Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning Director, Mary Pat Moeller, Ph.D, shares McGregor's excitement in seeing the research go beyond deafness and address the needs of hearing children with developmental language disorders.<br></p><p>“I have long recognized that to serve children with hearing loss we must pay considerable attention to the theories and methods of child language researchers like Dr. McGregor," Moeller said. “I see this as a rare and special opportunity to collaborate with a giant in our field."<br></p><p>McGregor finished at the University of Iowa at the end of June and will begin work in the Word Learning Lab in August. Upon arrival, McGregor will be working with Moeller and Cathy Carotta, Ed.D., Associate Director of the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning, to learn the administrative processes and procedures. McGregor will assume acting director of the Center for Childhood Deafness, Language and Learning in August 2018.<br></p><p>“As we grow our research programs, we are able to better serve our mission and change the way America cares for children, families and communities," said Arch.  <br><br></p><p><a href="">Read the full article</a> <br></p><p><br></p>
Research Aims to Improve Speech Perception Testing for Spanish Speaking Children Aims to Improve Speech Perception Testing for Spanish Speaking Children2017-06-27T05:00:00Z<p>​Speech perception testing is a critically important tool for assessing children's auditory skills, determining candidacy for sensory devices, and guiding language intervention. A large number of children in the US are raised in Spanish-speaking households (>15%), but speech perception testing is typically performed in English or omitted altogether, due to a lack of appropriate test materials and a shortage of Spanish-speaking audiologists. Moreover, speech perception testing is typically performed in quiet or in relatively steady state noise despite the prevalence of complex and time varying sounds in children's real-world listening environments. The proposed work will develop an easy-to-administer clinical test of speech perception, allowing audiologists (regardless of their language proficiency) to appropriately evaluate Spanish- and English-speaking children in both noise and two-talker backgrounds.</p><h2><strong>Specific Aims</strong></h2><ul style="list-style-type:circle;"><li> <strong><em>Aim 1: Refine test materials and streamline procedures</em></strong></li><li><strong><em>Aim 2: Establish reliability and validity across listener age and hearing status</em></strong></li><li><strong><em>Aim 3: Evaluate procedures in a clinical setting</em></strong></li></ul><p><strong>IMPACT:</strong> The research team assembled to carry out the proposed work includes expertise in basic hearing science, auditory development, speech perception, clinical research, bilingualism, biostatistics, language assessment, and audiology, ensuring the final produce will be a clinical instrument that is both rigorous and practical. The end result is expected to improve our ability to evaluate and thus treat hearing loss in children. </p><p><strong><em>Speech perception testing is one of the most important clinical tools we have for evaluating children's communication abilities.</em></strong><strong> </strong><strong><em>The current failure to comprehensively evaluate speech perception in bilingual children is a significant public health problem that restricts our ability to differentially diagnose auditory disorders, monitor performance over time, and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions in this population. </em></strong>Assessment and intervention resources for pediatric audiologists have fallen behind the rapidly changing demographics in the US. We are under both ethical and legal obligation to address this service gap: the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act specifies that children be assessed in their native language whenever feasible (<a href="">US Department of Education, 1997</a>).</p><p><strong><em>There is growing consensus that speech recognition performance in a complex speech masker is a better predictor of children's functional listening skills than performance in steady noise or multi-talker babble. </em></strong>Speech perception tests are typically administered in quiet, in relatively steady-state noise, or in multi-talker babble. Informational masking is widely believed to reflect a failure of higher-order auditory processes such as sound source segregation and selective attention; thus, inclusion of a complex speech masker provides an opportunity to tap into the perceptual and cognitive processes that underlie speech understanding in real-world environments containing complex and time-varying sounds (e.g., Hillock-Dunn et al. 2014). </p><h2><strong>Innovation</strong></h2><p><strong><em>The proposed work will yield a scientifically rigorous and clinically efficient test of children's English and Spanish speech perception. </em></strong><strong><em>The development of this speech perception tool takes into account the fact that most audiologists in the US are not fluent in Spanish.</em></strong>  The proposed clinical tool offers an innovative solution for audiologists with limited Spanish proficiency. Specifically, the audiologist administering the test does not need to speak the test language to obtain a valid score. The development of the present tool avoids these problems by using recorded materials for task instruction and stimulus familiarization, and asking children to respond by pointing to the picture associated with the target word. This general approach has been used with some success in the past to evaluate bilingual children's speech perception in quiet (e.g., Comstock and Martin, 1984); the present work is novel in that it evaluates<em>masked </em>speech perception with English and Spanish stimuli that are rigorously controlled and balanced across languages</p><p><strong><em>The proposed test will allow pediatric audiologists, for the first time, to characterize </em></strong><strong><em>speech-in-noise performance as well as functional hearing</em></strong><strong><em> in a two-talker masker.</em></strong> Completion of this work will yield a speech perception tool used to measure performance in the presence of speech-shaped noise or two-talker speech.</p><p><strong><em>Our approach of adapting masker level and using a closed-set response extends the range of ages and auditory abilities of children than can be tested using the same clinical test. </em></strong>Several features of the proposed speech perception measure facilitate its use with children spanning a wide range of ages and auditory skills. Closed-set word recognition reduces the impact of working memory and linguistic familiarity, which can impact sentence recognition (<a href="">e.g., memory or linguistic familiarity; Klem et al., 2015</a>). Limiting the set of alternative responses makes the task relatively easy (<a href="">Miller et al., 1951</a>), such that all but the most severely impaired children can perform the task in quiet, whereas adapting the masker level prevents ceiling effects in the best performers. The forced-choice, picture-pointing response eliminates scoring errors associated with speech production problems or non-native accents (<a href="">Ross and Lerman, 1970</a>;<a href="">Rimikis et al., 2013</a>), and this type of task has been used successfully for evaluating monolingual English-speaking children as young as 4 years of age. <br></p><p><br></p>
Mary Pat Moeller to Receive Highest Career Honor Pat Moeller to Receive Highest Career Honor2013-10-24T05:00:00Z<p>Mary Pat Moeller, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Childhood Deafness at Boys Town National Research Hospital will be presented with the Honors of the Association award, which is the highest career achievement award given by the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association's (ASHA), on November 15, 2013 at the ASHA National Convention in Chicago, IL.</p><p>"I am humbled, honored, and a bit overwhelmed to be receiving this prestigious award," said Dr. Moeller. "It is special to be recognized by my peers for doing work that I love. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the field, and I am grateful to my family and colleagues who have supported me throughout these endeavors."</p><p>Dr. Moeller has been selected to receive the Honors of the Association for her distinguished career accomplishments and contributions in early intervention and translational research involving children who are deaf and hard of hearing and their families.</p><p>"Dr. Moeller's research has had a profound impact on early intervention strategies for children who are deaf or hard of hearing," said John Arch, Executive Vice President of Boys Town Health Care and Director of Boys Town National Research Hospital. "Her concept that interventions should be family-centered along with her ability to illustrate the power of parent/child interactions has had an international influence on early intervention strategies and outcomes for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families."</p><p>In 1981, before federal legislation mandated early intervention, Dr. Moeller was already making enormous strides on the local level. In collaboration with colleagues in the Omaha Public Schools, she designed an innovative intervention program called Diagnostic Early Intervention Project. Every newly-identified child who was deaf or hard of hearing was placed in the program for an intensive period of diagnostic intervention to determine the best placement and options for the child and family. This was an early effort to use best evidence to guide the course of intervention.</p><p>1990 was the start of a 10 year information dissemination effort to foster collaboration among researchers, clinicians, educators and parents in childhood deafness and child language. Through a National Institutes of Health Research and Training grant, Dr. Moeller developed a series of scholarly meetings called "Issues in Language and Deafness," in addition to Pediatric Audiology conferences and several sets of research conference proceedings.</p><p>"These programs provided a platform for discussion on early identification of hearing loss," said Walt Jesteadt, Director of Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital.</p><p>The 10 year conferences were distinguished, inventive, and noted as having "the greatest impact on the field," stated nominator John Bernthal, Ph.D., Director/Chair and Professor of Special Education and Communications Disorders at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.</p><p>Nationally, Dr. Moeller has collaborated or consulted with several organizations: The National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (Utah State University), Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Coalition Promoting Family-centered Early Development of Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing. Focusing on family-centered early intervention, Dr. Moeller in collaboration with Brenda Schick, Ph.D., Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, developed a series of <em>Read with Me</em> and <em>Sign with Me</em> DVDs and curriculum materials to guide parents in stimulating early language skills in their children.</p><p> was created in 2000, from a NIDCD grant awarded to Dr. Moeller, to address the need to educate families on newborn hearing screening and follow up. To this day it continues to be the only comprehensive web site for parents of newly diagnosed children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The site, available in both English and Spanish, is accessed world-wide and offers answers to practical questions parents may have about hearing loss, the latest advances in hearing aid technology, resources available in their community, parenting tips, and insights from other parents of deaf or hard of hearing children.</p><p>As a result of newborn hearing screening, children with mild to severe hearing losses (hard of hearing) are identified in infancy, which is much earlier in the past. This presents an opportunity to prevent communication delays, but there is very little research evidence documenting whether early intervention is making a difference for these children and their families. For the past five years, Dr. Moeller has collaborated with the University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill on an $8.9 million NIH multi-center grant to study the effects of educational programs and audiological services on the outcomes of children who are hard of hearing.</p><p>Dr. Moeller's work has reached global influence. She has spoken at conferences in Dubai, Italy, China, New Zealand, South Africa, England, and Holland among others. In Austria, she led an international consensus conference that resulted in the publication of best practice guidelines in early intervention for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.</p><p>During the ASHA award ceremony, colleagues and members will watch a video celebrating Dr. Moeller's career as she walks across the stage to receive the Honors of the Association award. Sophie Ambrose, PhD, Senior Research Associate at Boys Town National Research Hospital describes the award similar to "receiving an Oscar in our field."</p><p>Congratulations Dr. Moeller on this significant national honor and your remarkable work to help children and ​families.<br></p>

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