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According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 55 percent of school-based speech-language pathologists have English Language Learning, or bilingual, children on their caseload. Only 7.9 percent of those students, however, receive the bilingual speech-language pathology treatment they need, because fewer than 2 percent of speech-language pathologists identify themselves as bilingual and only 8 percent have specialized training in bilingualism.
Elizabeth Peña, professor of communication sciences and disorders, and Lisa Bedore, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, in the College of Communication want to make sure there are enough speech-language pathologists to meet the needs of bilingual children.
“With an increasingly culturally diverse population it’s vitally important for speech-language pathologists to understand the difference between a true speech-language disorder and the natural process through which children acquire a second language,” said Bedore.
The 2008 Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that the demand for speech-language pathologists with expertise treating bilingual children will increase 11 percent each year, resulting in 30,000 new jobs by 2016.
So in addition to devising strategies to identify children with true speech-language disorders, Peña and Bedore are working to ensure these children can actually get the treatment they need from a speech-language pathologist who understands the complexity of bilingualism in young children.
The pair have focused on attracting master’s and doctoral students interested in serving young bilingual children by providing financial support for graduate school in the way of scholarships to fund stipends, tuition and fees.
Earlier this year, they landed two $800,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The grants are being used to recruit and support doctoral students who will expand the body of research in this field, and master’s students taking bilingual specialization courses and participating in off-campus clinical practica in schools that serve bilingual children with speech-language disorders. The grant will also be used to help train professionals already in the field — through in-service training at the local, state and national levels — on effective speech-language treatment to children from bilingual populations.
Earlier efforts to recruit students included the Bilingual Clinical Researcher Project, which involved graduate students in the original research project that tested 400 children to identify the diagnostic markers of language impairment. This project allowed graduate students to participate in research while completing their graduate training.
“The grants they brought in and the scholarships they were able to provide as a result are what enabled me to attend UT,” said bilingual speech pathologist and alumna Debbie Joyner, who works with Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and Connect Care Therapy for Kids, a home health therapy company in Austin. “What I learned through the bilingual speech pathology program sets me apart from many of my colleagues. With so many bilingual kids in Texas and many clinics having to turn families away for lack of therapists, I shouldn’t ever have a hard time finding a job.”