February 26, 2020
Over the past fifteen years, and armed with over $5 million in grants through the U.S. Department of Education, Associate Professor of Communication Disorders Mary Andrianopoulos has funded the training of over 100 full-time graduate students in speech-language pathology (SLP). Thanks to an innovative series of awards that are predicated on delivering speech-language interventions to students with autism through applied technologies, such as telehealth (telepractice) service delivery models and computer-based instruction, she has cemented her status as mentor to the next generation of SLP specialists.
Andrianopoulos’ latest DOE award, a $1.25 million grant for the “Interdisciplinary Preparation of Related-Service Professionals in Evidence-Based Practices: High-Risk Students/Families and Remote Technologies” – or iPREP, for short – will ensure the continuation of her legacy. Over the five-year grant period, Andrianopoulos and co-director Mary Lynn Boscardin, along with co-investigators and school psychology specialists Sarah Fefer and Amanda Marcotte, all from the College of Education, will recruit and engage future cohorts of graduate students in an interdisciplinary curriculum and research-to-practice culminating experiences. Their work will enable them to design and deliver evidence-based, data-driven interventions and decision-making models and better serve the needs of students on the autism spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disabilities, including high-risk students and families.
“Telehealth, or telepractice, service delivery models involve the application of computer-based instruction using videoconferencing platforms and high speed Internet and enables specialists to deliver services in real-time regardless of geographical distance,” says Andrianopoulos. “This is especially beneficial to professions with critical shortages, such as speech language pathologists and school psychologists, and in rural areas.”
Current research supports that many students with diverse learning styles and special needs show an affinity for technology and acclimate very well and thrive academically through the use of these technologies, notes Andrianopoulos. Students on the autism spectrum receiving speech-language interventions using telepractice are more focused, predictable, and need less prompting compared to when speech-language services are delivered on-site.
The novel aspect of the iPREP grant is that it focuses on the interdisciplinary preparation of speech language pathologists and school psychologists, since children and adolescents with communication impairments are found to be at greater risk of emotional health disturbances and poorer academic achievement. Andrianopoulos reports, for example, that bullying ranks as one of the greatest concerns to schools nationwide and that girls are more apt to be bullied than boys. Students with disabilities are at one and a half times greater risk of being victims of bullying and repeated bullying. Students with speech language impairment, autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, and from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are also at greater risk.
“Our students will engage in interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to screen and identify the speech and linguistic strengths/weaknesses and socio-emotional well-being of students who are at risk for speech-language deficits and/or emotional disturbances,” says Andrianopoulos. “These experiences will provide a foundation for our future professionals. They’ll be better equipped to build supports for students with diverse needs, disabilities and high-intensity needs.”