A Unique Approach to Improving Intelligibility Kaitlin Lansford investigates training conversational partners to understand people with dysarthria. Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions  |   July 01, 2017
A Unique Approach to Improving Intelligibility
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Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Dysarthria / Normal Language Processing / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   July 01, 2017
A Unique Approach to Improving Intelligibility
The ASHA Leader, July 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.22072017.np
The ASHA Leader, July 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.22072017.np
Name: Kaitlin Lansford, PhD
Position: Assistant Professor, Florida State University
ASHFoundation Awards:
  • 2014 New Century Scholars Research Grant ($10,000), “Use of Crowdsourcing to Assess the Ecological Validity of Perceptual Learning Paradigms in Dysarthria”

  • 2012 Speech Science Research Grant ($5,000), “Perceptual Similarity in Dysarthria and the Implications for Learning”

  • 2007 Summer Institute Travel Grant

What is the focus of your research?
My research is focused on the perception of speech produced by individuals diagnosed with dysarthria. Dysarthria, a motor speech disorder arising from neurological damage or disease, is characterized by articulatory imprecision, prosodic disturbance, abnormal vocal quality and/or resonance. Intelligibility disorders, in which listeners are unable to decipher the speaker’s message, are a common consequence of dysarthria. Due to the progressive nature of a number of common causes of dysarthria (for example, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease), many speakers are not ideal candidates for traditional intervention approaches that target intelligibility by improving the quality of the speech signal.
Because traditional intervention may not be appropriate, one limb of my research agenda aims to advance an alternative intervention approach: one that targets intelligibility by improving the listener’s ability to understand the speech via a perceptual training task. During perceptual training, listeners undergo a familiarization experience with disordered speech, improving their ability to understand that speech in subsequent encounters. This work, conducted in collaboration with Stephanie Borrie, an assistant professor at Utah State University, has important clinical implications—it has the potential to offset the communicative burden from the speaker onto his/her partner or caregiver.
How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
With the emergence of telepractice and computer-based interventions in speech-language pathology, home-based treatment is becoming more common. For many reasons—including the demands associated with caring for people with progressive neurological disease, lack of access to experts with the specialized training, and cost—it may be impractical and perhaps unfeasible for a spouse or caregiver to undergo perceptual training in a laboratory or clinic. A home-based perceptual training protocol would be convenient for them. But we didn’t know if the training effects demonstrated in the laboratory—where the listening conditions are controlled by the experimenter—could be elicited in more real-life settings, such as at home in front of the computer or iPad, with the television blaring in the background. In other words, we did not know if this approach was ecologically valid.
My 2014 New Century Scholar’s grant supported an investigation that used crowdsourcing, through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to assess the ecological validity of perceptual training paradigms. Crucially, the perceptual training data collected from Mechanical Turk listeners were equivalent to the data collected from laboratory listeners, demonstrating the ecological validity of perceptual training for improving the intelligibility of speakers with dysarthria. The results, published in the American Journal of Speech Language Pathology in 2016, supported the continued advancement of this line of research. A number of projects are underway to further explore perceptual training as a means for improving intelligibility disorders in dysarthria.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
The ultimate goal is to provide an alternative and complementary therapeutic option to clients and caregivers affected by dysarthria.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
During my clinical training at Arizona State University, I was struck by the lack of evidence-based options for improving intelligibility available to people with dysarthria. As a master’s student, I joined the Motor Speech Disorders Lab, directed by Julie Liss, to learn more about dysarthria. Through this experience—which turned out to be the catalyst for my career in academia—I became passionate not only about current diagnostic and remediation practices in dysarthria, but also research. When I received my master’s degree, I applied to the doctoral training program at ASU so that I could deepen my understanding of dysarthria and research.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
Prior to receiving the 2014 New Century Scholar’s grant, I received an ASHFoundation Speech Science Grant in 2012. So my work has had a history of ASHFoundation support, which extends well beyond the funds I received. First and foremost, receiving these grants early in my academic career reinforced and fortified my research focus. It was heartening to find that other academics, further along in their careers, saw that my research focus had merit. Second, the ASHFoundation provided me with an opportunity to collect the preliminary data necessary for applying for future federal funding. It is with the support of the ASHFoundation that I have been able to grow my research agenda. For that, I am deeply grateful.
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July 2017
Volume 22, Issue 7