UF team wins best paper award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

headshots Nittrouer Lowenstein Antonelli
Dr. Susan Nittrouer, Dr. Joanna Lowenstein and Dr. Joseph Antonelli

Researchers from the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have received the 2021 Editor’s Award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) for their article, “Parental Language Input to Children With Hearing Loss: Does It Matter in the End?,” published last year in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research’s language section. The award will be presented November 17 at the ASHA Research Academic Town Meeting.

The paper by Susan Nittrouer, Ph.D., a professor in the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences; Joanna H. Lowenstein, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences; and Joseph Antonelli, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of statistics, examined the long-term effects of early parental language input on later language acquisition among children with hearing loss.

The Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Editor’s Award is presented to the most meritorious single article appearing in each journal section in the preceding year. According to the ASHA website, “Winning articles are selected by the editor-in-chief in collaboration with the editors on the basis of experimental design, teaching-education value, scientific or clinical merit, contribution to the professions, theoretical impact, and/or other indices of merit. It is truly a high honor.”

Nittrouer, the paper’s lead author, has previously received four Editor’s Awards for articles published in the speech and hearing sections of the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Now, with the new award from the language section, she has been recognized for outstanding research in all three of the journal’s sections.

The current article explores parents’ language interactions with their children and the effects of those interactions on language development in children with hearing loss.

“For most parents, the bedtime story is a daily ritual, as are the ongoing dialogues with our young children, such as, ‘Let’s get you dressed for school.’ ‘Why don’t you wear your Superman shirt today?’ ‘Oh look, I think it might rain,’” Nittrouer said.

There is ample evidence that children’s language development suffers when they do not receive this level of parental input, and the negative effects are exacerbated for children at risk of language delay due to factors such as hearing loss, Nittrouer added.

Yet, most research conducted on parental input has been limited to impacts on very young children, usually not beyond preschool-age. To understand the effects on later language acquisition, the UF team followed 100 children with and without hearing loss for six years, from ages 4 to 10 years, and assessed both parental language behaviors and child language abilities. They found that children benefited in the long term from early parental language behaviors that facilitated the child’s discovery of appropriate motor control patterns for producing speech that is readily understood by others. The findings have important clinical implications, Nittrouer said.

“First, as clinicians we must be more nuanced in how we coach parents of children at risk of language delay to talk to their children, and second, we must focus more clinical efforts squarely on emerging speech motor control in young children with hearing loss,” she said.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.