Within the Department of Communicative Disorders, faculty and students conduct research in many areas within the field. The following areas are particular foci of the faculty’s published work in recent years. Current and prospective students are encouraged to inquire about research experience in any of these areas, or others, and can learn more about recent research by students on our Research Opportunities page.

Autism and Language Development

Dr. Angela Barber’s primary research interests center on early detection and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, particularly in children who live in rural and underserved communities. Dr. Barber’s intervention research focuses on the efficacy and feasibility of family-mediated social communication interventions for children with ASD by measuring both child and family outcomes. Dr. Barber also examines factors that influence accessibility to early ASD interventions and resources. Finally, Dr. Barber’s work addresses differential pedagogical methods that contribute to speech pathologists’ self-efficacy and clinical skills for working with individuals who have ASD.

Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorders

Recently Dr. Memorie Gosa has been the principal investigator on projects involving the prevalence of feeding difficulties in children with autism; achievement of oral feeding skills in infants born prematurely; benefits of sidelying during bottle feeding for infants in NICUs; evidence-based systematic review of feeding therapy interventions for improving oral intake; and clinical application of systematic desensitization for improving variety of oral intake.

Rural Hearing Health

Dr. Marcia Hay-McCutcheon  and her colleagues have used the mobile audiology clinic (the Hear Here Alabama truck) to discover that both physical health and emotional well-being are affected in those with hearing loss. In addition, they have found that adults with hearing loss with limited access to hearing health care, have poorer social support networks and fewer positive social interactions compared to adults with hearing loss who have greater access to hearing health care. These two findings are important because overwhelming evidence suggests that poor social support and limited positive social interactions can have devastating effects on overall general health. Her most recent work has suggested that overall quality of life can be affected for those without access to hearing health care.

Her current work focuses on two areas including, 1) conducting studies to help understand the social consequences of hearing loss for those without access to hearing health care; and 2) identifying the importance of providing specific rehabilitation services, including amplification, for adults who cannot afford hearing health care or who have no hearing health care resources in their communities.

Speech Production

Dr. Anthony Buhr is interested in the organization of behavior from a dynamic systems perspective. Within this perspective, speech is a complex behavior in which linguistic processes and vocal tract movements are organized by communicative intentions. A communicative intention may be thought of as an idea that one wishes to convey to others, for the purpose of influencing others’ thoughts or actions.

The fluency with which one communicates intentions depends on a variety of factors within the social environment:

  1. Knowledge about the topic you are trying to communicate (i.e., experience communicating the intention).
  2. What the listener (or audience) may already know about the topic (i.e., how well you know the listener).
  3. How well the listener appears to comprehend (or agree with) your communicate intention (i.e., social feedback from the listener).
  4. Whether the communicative act facilitates long-term social goals  (i.e., the communicative act accurately reflects one’s social self).

Early Childhood Development

Dr. Hyunjoo Yoo’s research interests include investigating infant vocal development, mother-infant interaction, and early affect communication, which are foundations for speech and language development. She has been pursuing two lines of research in the hope of finding how infants develop infrastructure of vocal interaction and how caregivers play a role in infant language development: one line seeks mechanisms of caregiver-infant interaction (e.g., turn-taking) and the other line pursues acoustic correlates that account for the link between perception and production of infant and caregiver speech in vocal interaction. This understanding will not only provide deeper insight on speech and language development and early intervention but also assist in prediction of disorders such as autism.

Computational Neuroscience of Communication

Dr. Evie Malaia studies dynamic brain network organization in both neurotypical and special populations (such as children on Autism Spectrum, Deaf users of sign languages, etc.) using neurophysiology, neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral methods. The goal of her research is to understand what neurocomputational algorithms underlie the use of external signal (visual and auditory language) for communication and cognition, and variability of these algorithms across clinical populations.

Social and Regional Dialectal Variation

Dr. Paul E. Reed’s primary research interests involve social variation in the spoken language of the American South and Appalachia. The goal of his research is to document and explore what features vary across the region, and what social factors (age, gender, region, etc.) influence variation. In particular, Dr. Reed focuses on how place-based attachment, what he calls rootedness, interacts and intersects with other social factors. This research helps future clinicians to understand the full breadth of dialectal variation and linguistic differences across the region. Further, this data can help create adjustments to commonly used assessments that incorporate dialectal difference into the scoring mechanism.