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Grants bolster scholarships for students studying autism, pediatric hearing loss

Dec. 27, 2019, 10:20 AM


by Kelsey Herbers

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences has received three new grants from the U.S. Department of Education to train graduate students to work with children with autism and hearing loss.

Combined, the grants will provide $3.75 million to fund more than 50 scholarships over the next five years.

One of the projects, titled, “Interdisciplinary personnel preparation to serve infants and young children with autism,” is the only training program in the country that offers a combined classroom and practicum experience to prepare professionals in speech-language pathology, early childhood special education and behavioral analysis to work with young children with autism.

The project, led by Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, chair of Hearing and Speech Sciences and associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, will enable its 21 scholars to meet the requirements to become board certified behavior analysts or board certified assistant behavior analysts by the end of their training.

“Current numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The core social communication and behavior deficits of individuals with ASD can create a dynamic of limited social experience or social exclusion, which can contribute to impaired development and learning,” Tharpe said. “Comprehensively trained speech-language pathologists and early childhood educators can help initiate screening, diagnostic and developmental assessments and intervention and, thus, diminish wait times that can be associated with less-than-optimal outcomes.”

“I couldn’t be happier that we were able to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Education the importance of having well-trained professionals working with children with ASD. This unique professional training program will serve as a model to the rest of the country.”

The other two projects will provide scholarships to students pursuing a career in pediatric hearing loss. One grant will support master’s students in deaf education with an emphasis on auditory verbal training while the other will support audiology and speech-language pathology students who want to focus their careers on children with hearing loss.

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