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Faculty members in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences are involved in various types of collaborative and interdisciplinary research across the lifespan. The broad scope of current research endeavors addresses oral, written, and augmentative communication and communication disorders, including autism, fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, communication development in multicultural populations, hearing and psychoacoustics, literacy, and neurologic communication disorders in adults. Research efforts address the Division’s mission to advance the study of human communication processes through prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of speech, language, and hearing disorders.

Several of these research projects are highlighted in this exhibit. Additional projects are listed below. For a more complete listing, visit:

Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss

Co-Directors: Melody Harrison, PhD, Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, and Patricia Roush, AuD, Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery

The overall goal of the study is to examine a broad range of outcomes in early-identified children with mild-severe hearing loss. Child outcomes (e.g.) speech production and perception, language, academic, psychological, cognitive and family outcomes will be examined and compared to results from normal hearing children with similar backgrounds.

The study will involve 450 children with hearing loss and 150 children with normal hearing, their families and service providers studied at 3 centers; UNC-CH, the University of Iowa, and Boystown National Research hospital, Omaha, NE. Children between the ages 6 months and 6 years of age will be recruited and followed for a period of 3.5 years. Children will be tested upon entry into the study and then annually around the time of their birthdays. At least one parent must be fluent in English and the child can have no other diagnosed disabilities at the time of entry into the study.

In this study there will be three major classes of variables, Hearing loss-its severity and age of onset – serves as the principle health risk factor. Clinical interventions -hearing aid fitting and any subsequent therapies or intervention services, as well as non-clinical background characteristics involving home neighborhood and child attributes are treated as moderators. Outcomes reflect a broad class of variable that concern the various potential domains of child and family well being that may be affected by hearing loss.


Human Auditory Development Laboratory

Director: Lori Leibold, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

Current research projects include:

  • Studies examining age-related changes susceptibility to auditory masking.
  • Studies examining children’s performance in degraded or uncertain listening conditions.
  • Studies examining the acoustic cues that improve hearing in noise for infants and children.
  • Studies examining the effects of hearing loss on children’s ability to hear in noisy backgrounds.
  • Preliminary studies investigating the consequences of frequency-compression hearing aids on the ability to hear speech in the presence of noise for children with hearing loss.

The Carolina Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Project (CNDP)

Director: Molly Losh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Allied Health Sciences, and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

Directed by Dr. Molly Losh, CNDP is a group of multidisciplinary studies investigating the speech, language, and social-behavioral profiles that define different developmental disabilities. Specifically, our studies focus on autism spectrum disorders, fragile X syndrome, and Down syndrome and investigate the neuropsychological, genetic, and environmental features that may be associated with the behavioral and cognitive profiles of these different groups. Specific study goals include:

  • To understand the different strengths and weaknesses in speech, language, and social understanding across different groups and over development.
  • To define subtle language and neuropsychological profiles that may relate to the genes involved in autism and fragile X syndrome, among unaffected relatives, and trace their patterns of expression in families.
  • To document the interactions between genes and environment in speech, language, and social development.


Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership & Service (PEARLS)

Executive Committee: Grace Baranek, PhD, Professor, Division of Occupational Science, Linda Watson, EdD, Associate Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Elizabeth Crais, PhD, Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, J. Steven Reznick, PhD, Professor, Psychology

Several investigations by PEARLS’ researchers are studying the development of infants and young children with typical development and with developmental disabilities including autism. These include the Sensory Experiences Project, Infant Attention studies, Predicting Useful Speech in Children with Autism, and Grip Reactions and Anticipatory Control in Special Populations.

Our deepening understanding of early development is being applied to the challenge of identifying young toddlers who are at risk for autism and other developmental disabilities in the Development of the First Year Inventory. The PEARLS team also is conducting research to develop effective, evidence-based interventions for young children at risk for, or with diagnoses of autism and related developmental disabilities as part of the Early Development Project, and the Joint Attention and Symbolic Play Project.


Center for Literacy and Disability Studies (CLDS)

Director: Karen Erickson, PhD, David E. and Dolores J. Yoder Distinguished Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

Associate Director for Early Childhood Research and Practice: Patsy Pierce, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

Five principal goals guide the interdisciplinary efforts of the Center to:

  • Improve literacy of children, youth, and adults with disabilities by developing research-based strategies, tools, curricula, and model programs.
  • Increase the development and use of appropriate assessment and instructional strategies and materials to provide a wide range of educational opportunities for families and professionals.
  • Increase the understanding of the relationship between literacy and communication through research and development.
  • Improve the understanding and use of literacy learning strategies to enhance communication competencies of all persons with disabilities.
  • Support the development and implementation of new and existing policies that improve literacy learning opportunities for persons with disabilities by collaborating with local, state, federal, and private agencies and organizations.

Projects include

  • ABC-Link
  • Big Words
  • Deaf-Blind Model Classroom Project
  • Project Converge
  • Route 66 Literacy
  • Tar Heel Reader
  • The Time is Now in PreK


Life Interests and Values Project (LIV)

Investigators: Katarina Haley, PhD, Associate Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Jennifer Womack, BS, Clinical Associate Professor, Division of Occupational Science, Karen McCulloch, PhD, Professor, Division of Physical Therapy, Nancy Helm-Estabrooks, ScD, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

The purpose of this interdisciplinary study is to examine the feasibility of a new tool, the Life Interests and Values (LIV) Cards, that was recently developed by our research team for use with people with aphasia (PWA). This tool allows PWA to be active participants in the planning and evaluation of their own rehabilitation goals and programs. Currently, the LIV Cards are designed to support communication about the perceived importance of certain social, leisure, and everyday life activities. In this study, we will develop new artwork and rating procedures to extend the scope to include common emotions felt by people who have experienced a serious life event. Reliability and validity of all the LIV-Cards will be examined with 30 PWA recruited across the state of North Carolina. Two sessions of LIV Card administration will be conducted for each participant and analyzed for test-retest reliability, procedural efficiency, and independent task completion. Additionally, 30 friends or family members will serve as proxy co-respondents using a printed questionnaire that addresses the same content as the cards. An item-by-item analysis will be used to determine proxy/PWA agreement for the purposes of establishing response validity and capturing expected response differences between participants with aphasia and their proxies. Procedural efficiency, reliability, and validity measures will be compared to the results of a cognitive-linguistic assessment battery to develop candidacy criteria for the LIV Cards in future research and clinical applications.