Revealing Prosody’s Role in Dysarthria Kathryn Connaghan investigates how it’s not just what you say but how you say it that contributes to a speaker’s communication success. Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions  |   August 01, 2018
Revealing Prosody’s Role in Dysarthria
Author Notes
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Dysarthria / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   August 01, 2018
Revealing Prosody’s Role in Dysarthria
The ASHA Leader, August 2018, Vol. 23, online only. doi:10.1044/
The ASHA Leader, August 2018, Vol. 23, online only. doi:10.1044/
Name: Kathryn Connaghan, PhD, CCC-SLP
Title: Associate Research Scientist, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northeastern University; Research Fellow, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, MGH Institute of Health Professions
ASHFoundation Awards:
  • 2013 New Century Scholars Research Grant ($10,000): “Prosodic Categories in Speakers with Dysarthria Due to Cerebral Palsy”

  • 2002 Graduate Student Scholarship (International)

What is the focus of your research?
My focus is advancing our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of speech impairment experienced by children and adults with motor speech disorders. I’m interested in uncovering the particular aspects of motor speech impairment that affect daily communication interactions and overall participation; that can be targeted in assessment and treatment; and that can identify disease onset and progression.
My recent work has focused on the role of prosody (the rate, rhythm and intonation of speech), not only as a characteristic of speech impairment, but also as a potential strength of speakers with motor speech disorders. We are learning more about how it’s not just what you say (the consonant and vowel sounds), but how you say it (the pitch, loudness, rhythm, stress) that contributes to how well a speaker is understood, is perceived to sound “typical,” and is successfully communicating in everyday life.
How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
It allowed me to undertake the necessary initial foundational projects to launch this line of research. The seed money contributed to essential research costs such as equipment, consultation and participant stipends. These studies have provided me with the necessary pilot data and presentation/publication record to secure further funding. In other words, ASHFoundation support has been key to implementing this program of research. Moreover, this foundational work has allowed me to branch off into new research directions, such as understanding the social impacts of motor speech disorders and identifying speech markers to identify the onset, progression and response to treatment of motor disorders.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
I hope that my work, in concert with that of other researchers, provides evidence to support the development of speech prosody interventions that increase speech intelligibility and naturalness—facilitating people’s communicative participation. Ultimately, our goal as speech-language pathologists is to support people’s ability to successfully communicate in their daily lives, and this pursuit is key in driving my work.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
First, working as a clinician early in my career, I became acutely aware of the need for efficacious treatments of motor speech disorders. The need to fill the gaps in the knowledge base to support the development of these interventions was a key factor in my decision to pursue a research career. Second, I realized that we may be getting only part of the story when, as a field, we focus on the segmental (consonant, vowel) aspects of motor speech disorders, while somewhat neglecting prosody in treatment and research. Third, I have been extremely fortunate to have outstanding mentors throughout my career. Their guidance and support have been invaluable, and their passion continues to have significant influence on my research program.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
I cannot overstate the impact of ASHFoundation funding on my research career. My career path has been unique and nontraditional, with an absence from the field for a period of time. It can be extremely challenging to re-enter the field of research and to secure funding to support the development of an independent line of research. Having the ASHFoundation support made all of the difference for a successful re-entry. I am so grateful!
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August 2018
Volume 23, Issue 8