"There is so much we do not know about many childhood speech disorders. We can unravel some of these mysteries by studying the motor control involved in speech production. Our objective is to use this information to develop better clinical methods."
Maria Grigos examines the development of motor speech skills in both children who are developing normally and those with speech impairments. “I use a motion capture system to record and track movement of the speech structures, namely the lips and jaw, during speech. This helps me better understand the speech motor skills of normally developing children, which gives me a foundation for comparing children with speech disorders.”
In 2006, Grigos received a Steinhardt Summer Grant Development Award to study children with a disorder called developmental apraxia of speech (DAS). “Children with DAS have a hard time planning the movements of their speech structures. As a result, their speech can be very difficult to understand. There is so much we do not know about many childhood speech disorders. We can unravel some of these mysteries by studying the motor control involved in speech production. Our objective is to use this information to develop better clinical methods.”
Grigos is also in the midst of a collaboration with department colleague Harriet Klein and Lisa Davidson of the Linguistics department in the College of Arts and Science. “We’re studying children’s production of the “r” sound from four perspectives: perceptual, acoustic, kinematic and ultrasound visualization. We are following children as they undergo treatment to improve production of the “r” sound, to see whether improved production is accompanied by changes in lip, tongue and jaw movement.”
Another collaboration, with department colleague Christina Reuterskiöld-Wagner, examines the relationship between working memory and speech motor skill in young children. “We’re looking at how working memory - children’s ability to recall and repeat words - affects their ability to produce sound, and how the connection between the two relates to their reading ability further down the road.”
Many students, both graduate and undergraduate, are drawn to the cutting edge technology Grigos uses. “This technology is appealing to students because it’s not invasive. It offers us a way of looking at the motor speech skills of really young children without, for instance, using electrodes. This allows us to work with children as young as 18 months old.”
Because Grigos is director of the department’s undergraduate program, she is especially committed to engaging undergraduates. “Ours is a pre-professional program, so we’re helping undergraduates build a foundation in the field.” To further this, Grigos initiated the Undergraduate Research Honors Program as an opportunity for undergraduate students to become involved in research with a faculty mentor. “Being mentored is a great way to spark their interest in research,” she says.”
Grigos describes her students as excited and motivated to learn about the relationship between theory and practice. “I am excited to see that many of our students express an interest in pursuing research in doctoral programs, post-doctoral programs and beyond. That’s exactly what I’m trying to encourage.”