Latest Research and Clinical Approaches in Autism, Bilingualism, Cochlear Implants, Communication Development and More To Be Presented at ASHA 2017 Convention

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Largest Annual Gathering of Nation’s Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists Will Occur in Los Angeles November 9–11, 2017.

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As communication disorders remain among the most common conditions that Americans young and old experience, thousands of the nation’s audiologists and speech-language pathologists will convene in Los Angeles November 9–11, 2017, to explore cutting-edge research, technologies, and treatment advances and techniques in the discipline of communication sciences and disorders at the annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Among the areas of attention are the expanding candidate pool for cochlear implants, the effects of screen-based technology on communication and social development in children, the efficacy of a controversial treatment practice for nonverbal individuals with autism, new evidence surrounding cognitive advantages of bilingual people, and much more. Below are a few of the sessions that will occur at the 3-day conference:

The Effects of Electronic Versus Print Books on the Language Outcomes of Early Readers—As tablets and other screen-based technology become increasingly popular among young children, this systematic review aims to answer the question, “Among emerging readers, does the use of electronic or print books yield stronger language outcomes?” Although no significant overall differences were found, studies that looked at specific areas of language often favored either print or electronic books. Print book reading was shown to have a greater benefit for word recognition and overall comprehension, whereas e-book reading had a greater benefit for letter knowledge and phonological awareness. The authors concluded that both mediums should be used with children learning to read. They also suggest that parents, educators, and clinicians use these results when considering the point of the reading session or an area of weakness—for example, if a child needs to work on comprehension, a print book may be the better choice.

Rapid Prompting Method: Does This New Emperor Have Any Clothes?— Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is a practice that involves a facilitator holding and moving a letter board while an individual with autism moves their own hand to spell out words. It is intended to give nonverbal individuals the ability to communicate. This first systematic review of RPM was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the technique for communication skills, communication-related cognitive skills, and other areas. This is timely work, as RPM is becoming increasingly popular. Although the developer of RPM claims that the method results in extraordinary improvements in speech, language, and other communication abilities for people with autism, a review of multiple literature databases did not yield any studies that qualified for inclusion in this systematic review. The authors conclude there is no compelling or even suggestive empirical evidence that RPM delivers on claims of communication or educational benefits. They further state that RPM bears many similarities to Facilitated Communication (FC), a long discredited and harmful treatment practice that violates human rights and that has led to many wrongful allegations of sexual abuse. The lack of evidence of any clinical benefit, combined with FC similarities, leads the authors to recommend against its use. They note that parents, family members, and teachers should seek evidence-based treatment methods, which include existing high- and low-tech assistive devices for people who are nonverbal that do not require a facilitator. The authors also state that, as part of their code of ethics, clinicians must follow evidence-based practices.

A Glimpse Into the Vocal Demands of the Voiceover Artist—The landscape for voiceover artists is changing rapidly due to many factors. These include extensive vocal demands in the gaming world and recent complaints to the SAG-AFTRA union to make medical and wellness vocal care an area of attention for members. Two highly regarded voice actors will join speech-language pathologist Edie Hapner to discuss the extent of vocal demands across jobs in commercial, gaming, or audiobooks; the vocal hazards inherent in the job; and clinical advice for protecting one’s voice while working in this industry and for treating voiceover professionals.

Spectrum Shield: ASD Safety With Law Enforcement—Today, the first wave of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who received years of speech, behavioral, and occupational therapy are graduating high school and entering adulthood. Many are attending college, driving, and becoming independent. Some challenges may follow, including in interactions with law enforcement. There have been a number of high-profile news stories of problematic encounters. Given the unique social and linguistic needs of individuals with ASD, this seminar will present a training program designed to ensure the safety of people with autism when dealing with law enforcement in their communities. The focus is on teaching the verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication needed to keep one safe followed by simulated police encounters such as traffic stops and pat downs. Speech-language pathologist and presenter Pamela Wiley created this program with actress Holly Robinson Peete and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete as part of their HollyRod Foundation.

Telepractice Versus Face-to-Face Service Delivery Models Using a Phonemic Awareness Intervention With Head Start Preschoolers—Telepractice is a treatment model where services are delivered at a distance using technology. Its use is still not common, despite significant need in some rural and other areas of the United States where shortages of speech-language pathologists exist. This study investigated whether telepractice is effective as compared to face-to-face treatment in a sample of Head Start preschoolers for phonemic awareness intervention. Phonemic awareness is the ability to manipulate language into individual sounds, count syllables, and recognize rhyming words—and is critical for literacy and academic success. The study showed that the sample of Head Start preschoolers, a historically underserved population, benefited from phonemic awareness intervention provided via telepractice. According to the authors, parents should know that speech-language therapy provided via telepractice is effective. They may consider (a) asking their school principals to consider this as a solution in areas where there are shortages of speech-language pathologists or (b) seeking out telepractice clinicians on their own.

The Effects of Screen Technology Exposure on Executive Functioning and Social Skills of Children—This study investigated the effects of screen exposure on the executive functioning and social skills of children ages 9–11. Executive functioning is a key skill that allows children to perform and successfully complete tasks, which includes the ability to pay attention, manage emotions, multitask, and organize and plan. Although past studies have looked at the relationship between social skills and use of screen technology, this study is unique in that it also looks at executive function. The authors found that screen technology negatively impacts both social performance and executive function. Based on their results, they recommend that parents limit the use of screen technology in children—particularly at times when children should be observing and participating in social interactions, such as family gatherings and at dinner.

Impact of Subconcussive Hits on Symptoms, Cognition, and Balance in Collegiate Football Players—This study examines the cumulative effects of repetitive, subconcussive impacts on collegiate football players. The researchers describe the number of impacts sustained by 15 NCAA Division 1 football players during a 15-session spring practice. The study also looks at both acute (24-hour, 28-hour, 1-week) and short-term (pre- and post-season) effects of subconcussive impacts on a variety of domains, including symptoms, cognition, balance, and reaction time. This is the first comprehensive attempt to look at acute and short-term effects across domains among the same player set. The researchers found that exposure to subconcussive head impacts across the course of a spring practice season was related to acute and short-term changes in the number and severity of reported symptoms (e.g., headache, fatigue, and drowsiness) as well as to short-term changes in cognition. The evidence provided support for a full season study. If findings are consistent in the full season study, it will call for new efforts to better protect student athletes by minimizing exposure to head impacts—for example, through modification of drills.

Bilingualism and Cognition: Duration of Active L2 Use Impacts Cognitive Performance—This session presents original research examining cognitive processing in monolingual and bilingual French- and English-speaking adults ages 18–80, specifically investigating the Bilingual Cognitive Advantage (BCA) hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that bilingual people have certain cognitive advantages over monolingual people. The study found that there are cognitive processing differences that result from being bilingual. In the analysis of the data, longer active use of a second language was found to mitigate age-related cognitive declines among bilinguals. The findings contribute to the debate surrounding the BCA hypothesis and provide objective data supporting new insights on how the bilingual language experience affects cognitive processing. Future research is needed to further explore the neuroprotective implications of being bilingual.

Grand Rounds: Cochlear Implants—No Longer Just for the Profoundly Deaf—Advances in electrode arrays and surgical procedures have led to the increased likelihood of hearing preservation with cochlear implants. This has led to expansion of candidacy for traditional patients, greater consideration of patients for hybrid/electroacoustic devices, and greater consideration of off-label use of devices, such as patients with single-sided deafness. This session will explore state-of-the art test procedures and factors that are considered when determining cochlear implant candidacy for children and adults.

Note for media: If you are interested in attending any of these sessions, or interviewing any authors, please contact Francine Pierson at 301-296-8715 or fpierson(at)asha(dot)org.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 191,500 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders. http://www.asha.org

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Francine Pierson
ASHA
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