Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers Name: Anna Sosa, PhD, CCC-SLP Title: Associate professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northern Arizona University ASHF awards: My main research focus has been in the area of phonological development and speech sound disorder in young children. Specifically, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at the ... Foundational Questions
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Foundational Questions  |   June 01, 2016
Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers
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ASHA News & Member Stories / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   June 01, 2016
Foundational Questions: A Researcher’s ASHF-Launched Quest for Answers
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.21062016.np
The ASHA Leader, June 2016, Vol. 21, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.21062016.np
Name: Anna Sosa, PhD, CCC-SLP
Title: Associate professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northern Arizona University
ASHF awards:
  • 2012 New Investigators Research Grant ($5,000), “Caregiver-Infant Communicative Interaction During Play”

  • 2006 ASHA Research Conference Travel Grant

  • 2005 Student Research Grant in Early Childhood Language ($2,000), “Lexical Effects in Early Phonological Acquisition”

What is the focus of your research?
My main research focus has been in the area of phonological development and speech sound disorder in young children. Specifically, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at the relationship between lexical and phonological development. Because of my clinical work and teaching in early intervention, however, I have also become quite interested in looking at the impact of different environmental factors, specifically the communication environment, on early language development.
How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
The New Investigators allowed me to really get this second line of research started. Without that award, I probably wouldn’t have been able to start looking at how different everyday interactions between parents and infants impact the interaction that takes place between them. It was a relatively small award ($5,000), but it was exactly what I needed to get this study done.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
The findings from this ASHFoundation-funded study were very clear: The type of activity that parents and infants engage in has a very strong influence on both the quantity and quality of the language used during the interaction.
When they play with books and traditional toys, parents talk more and are more responsive to their babies’ communication attempts than when they play with electronic toys. They also use a lot more vocabulary words that are related to the themes presented by the toys. I think this is something that parents and communication professionals are thinking a lot about as we see such an increase in the use of mobile, electronic devices by children and parents.
Is there going to be a long-term effect of this change in everyday interaction on the language, social and overall development of infants and children? The technology is way ahead of the research in this area! We have more and more devices, programs and apps—many of them marketed as educational—but almost no research about their possible impact on development. I think the study just scratched the surface and I hope it will encourage others to start looking at this more aggressively.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
This project was directly motivated by a question from the parent of a client with language delay. About three years ago, a mom asked me if she thought she should buy a “baby laptop” advertised as helping teach language to young children. She knew that her child had language delay and, based on what she had seen about this product, she was hopeful that it might accelerate her child’s language learning. While my inclination was to discourage her from buying the electronic toy and encourage her to spend her time reading to and playing with her child, I didn’t really have any solid evidence to back up my opinion. Of course we have lots of evidence that reading to young children and engaging in one-on-one play is very beneficial for many areas of development—so I could safely recommend that—but we didn’t have anything specific about the impact of electronic toys.
In addition to my interest in the electronic toys, I also wanted to find out how play with traditional toys compared to play with books. Parents are regularly encouraged to read to their children from birth and are often given books at well-child appointments to encourage it. Numerous studies have found positive impacts of reading on later language and literacy development. I have met several families, however, for whom reading with their very young babies is not a preferred activity. It may be that the parent is uncomfortable with the activity, or it may be that the child doesn’t particularly seem to like sitting and looking at books. I wanted to have some concrete information about how these two activities compared in terms of how much parents talk and what the interaction is like.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics in December, and has received a lot of attention in the media and from other researchers interested in this area. It has helped me develop more of a national and international presence in the field and has led to many interviews, news articles, and invitations to present at national and international conferences. It has been very exciting! I hope that the study success will help me continue with and expand this line of research, which seems to be of great interest to a wide audience.
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June 2016
Volume 21, Issue 6