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Research

The faculty members in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Houston conduct research on various areas of human communication and disorders. Their research investigates the speech, language, and hearing patterns of various populations. To learn more about each of our faculty's research programs, please read the information below and visit the individual faculty web pages. For specific information about research in ComD, please contact the faculty member or members whose research matches your interests.

Margaret Lehman Blake, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

The right side of the brain plays an important role in communication, primarily in understanding what someone means as opposed to what they say. Understanding intended meaning involves identifying and integrating different kinds of cues from the context. In a conversation, the communicative context broadly includes who you’re talking to, how well you know them, what exactly they say, how they say it (e.g., their tone of voice), their body language and facial expression, as well as the environment in which you’re communicating. The right side of the brain is critical for identifying and integrating all of these cues that help you figure out what someone really means: if they’re joking, being sarcastic, or being truthful; if they’re anxious or sad; or if they’re full of uncontainable joy.

After damage to the right side of the brain, problems with understanding these kinds of cues cause subtle but critical changes to communication that result in misunderstandings. My research focuses on identifying where the breakdowns occur in the comprehension process, and how best to assess and treat them.

Ongoing projects include:

  • Examining the incidence and effects of Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that other people have knowledge, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and emotions that are different from your own) in acute through chronic stroke. This work is in collaboration with Tatiana Schnur and Abel Lei at Baylor College of Medicine.
  • Systematic reviews of the RHD literature to examine the incidence of specific deficits and patterns of co-occurrence of traditional RHD deficits. This work is being done as part of the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Sciences (ANCDS) RHD Evidence-Based writing group.

For more information, see Dr. Blake's faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Blake

Ferenc Bunta, Ph.D.

The main focus of Dr. Bunta’s research is on bilingual and cross-linguistic phonological acquisition in children with typical speech, language, and hearing and their peers with communication disorders (such as children with hearing loss who use cochlear implants). His work has been funded by the NIH/NIDCD, Department of Education, and the Spencer Foundation. Dr. Bunta has taught courses on phonetics, phonology, speech and language acquisition, bilingual language development, and speech science. For more information, please see Dr. Bunta's faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Bunta

Anny Castilla-Earls, Ph.D.

Dr. Castilla-Earls' primary interests are language assessment and disorders in Spanish-speaking monolingual and bilingual children. Her current research is oriented to a) find grammatical markers of language impairments that are accurate and stable across various levels of bilingual proficiency, and b) examine current assessment practices in monolingual and bilingual children, and c) promote the systematic use of research-based practices in clinic and educational settings.

For more information, please visit Dr. Castilla-Earls’ lab page, as well as her faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Castilla

Stephanie Daniels, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Daniels’ research, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is focused on neurogenic dysphagia, primarily stroke. She has pursued an understanding of the neural underpinnings of swallowing and stroke-related dysphagia and developing and validating a swallowing screening tool for suspected stroke. Current projects in continued collaboration with her colleague, Dr. Jane Anderson at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center are focused on developing a reliable telepractice model for the clinical swallowing examination. For more information, see Dr. Daniels’ faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Daniels

Kia Noelle Johnson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Kia N. Johnson is an associate professor within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Houston (Houston, TX).  She specializes in fluency disorders, with a specific focus on young children who stutter. Dr. Johnson’s current research interests include investigating the influences of temperamental variables on developmental stuttering in young children from a behavioral/observational and electrophysiological perspective.

The Stuttering Research Laboratory is currently recruiting children who DO and DO NOT stutter.  For more information about her research, send an email to: uhstutteringresearch@gmail.com.

For more information, see Dr. Johnson’s faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Kia

Ashwini Joshi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Joshi’s research interests are in developing evidence-based assessments and treatments for voice disorders. The two primary foci of her current research are identifying low-cost assessment tools for voice disorders and, developing an evidence-based protocol for rehabilitation after vocal fold surgery for benign lesions. A new grant from the National Institute of Health will allow for the measurement of patient compliance towards current post-surgical protocols. For more information, see Dr. Joshi's faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Joshi

Lynn M. Maher, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Maher's research interests are in the area of brain-behavior relationships, specifically in the area of aphasia, an acquired language impairment secondary to stroke or other brain injury. Over the past two decades she has explored the application of principles of neuroplasticity to aphasia rehabilitation. This line of research began in collaboration with her mentor, Dr. Leslie Gonzalez Rothi at the University of Florida, and addressed the constructs of errorless learning in rehabilitation and the impact of use dependent learning using constraint induced language therapy (CILT) in individuals with chronic and acute aphasia. She is continuing these ideas in collaboration with colleagues at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. These studies, funded by NIH/NIDCD and DOD explore the combined influence of noninvasive brain stimulation as an adjuvant to behavioral treatment for post stroke aphasia and primary progressive aphasia.

Dr. Maher is also a founding Board Member for the Houston Aphasia Recovery Center, a non-profit community center where individuals with aphasia and their communication partners are able to build and practice communication skills and receive information and support in an aphasia-friendly environment. HARC also serves as a platform to facilitate research efforts in the area of aphasia and supported communication. For more information, see Dr. Maher's faculty page and curriculum vitae

Maher

Monique T. Mills, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Mills’s research centers on narrative assessment and code-switching in school-age speakers who are bidialectal—having facility with both African American English (AAE) and Mainstream American English (MAE). Current projects include the following: (a) determining the impact of dialect density and narrative type on adult ratings of the integrity of children’s narration; (b) determining relationships among social capital, social class, and children’s narration; and (c) identifying eye-gaze pattern profiles in bidialectal speakers with- and without language impairment. Dr. Mills works with students in the Child Language Ability as well as collaborators at UH (Dr. Kia Noelle Johnson) and at other universities. She employs multiple methods to answer research questions such as experiments, ethnographic case studies, audiotaped language samples, focus groups, norm-referenced tests, surveys, and qualitative interviews.

For more information, see Dr. Mills’s faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Mills

Amber Thiessen, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Dr. Thiessen's research focuses on creating effective augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) displays for adults with acquired brain injuries and other neurological conditions and improving treatment outcomes through communication partner/facilitator training. Her current research projects focus on measuring the visual attention patterns of adults with traumatic brain injury and aphasia when viewing grids and visual scene images.

For more information, see Dr. Thiessen’s faculty page and curriculum vitae.

Thiesen
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