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Spotlight on our Awardees: Cathy Binger

Higher Expectations

Cathy Binger won't accept the fact that very low expectations currently exist for children who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Through her ASHFoundation-funded research, she's determined to eradicate that perception and to make a positive change in these kids' lives.

Binger, a multiple awardee of ASHFoundation grants and an associate professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM), is working on two related lines of language research involving young children who use AAC. The first aims to develop specific intervention techniques to facilitate language development and involves a close study of the mechanisms that are in play with this population—what, for instance, are the language rules used by children who use AAC? How do they learn these rules? What mistakes do they make? Are they different from the mistakes made by those children who learn to talk? Binger's second line of research is concerned with how to work effectively with communication partners of children who use AAC and involves instruction for educators, families, and peers.

The immediate goal of Binger's work is to ensure that children who need AAC are being supported in their language development. She hopes to change the focus of those who work with them from developing the children's pragmatic skills to expanding more of their core language skills.

But Binger hopes that what she accomplishes in her research will go far beyond her own work—"My hope is that completing this work might help other investigators doing similar work just as the work of others has helped me and also, of course, help children who need AAC as well as their families and educators."

This awareness leads Binger to her ultimate goal of benefitting children with different disorders such as cerebral palsy or childhood apraxia of speech or those with intellectual disorders or syndromes. "Some of these children will become intelligible speakers and some may not," Binger says. "But we can still help ensure they reach their full communication potential."

Binger's present research, an extension of the work for which she was earlier awarded an ASHFoundation New Investigators Grant, is currently supported by an NIH RO3 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. That initial ASHFoundation accomplishment led directly to the next accomplishment—as well as to her tenure at UNM—"a classic case of how ASHFoundation funding should work."

Support for the funding, says Binger, is essential. "Research is the lifeblood of our field. If we don't have innovative people completing research to help us move forward, we stagnate. Support for our work is not only necessary for us," she adds, "but for our clients and our clinicians. ASHFoundation funding has contributed to many of the presenters we come to hear at scientific conventions. People don't necessarily see that connection but there's a very direct link. For me, another invisible link is the fact that my ASHFoundation funding led to an RO3 grant; this new grant, in turn, brings indirect costs back to my department that can help others in our department attend the ASHA Convention. It's all important and it's all connected."

Note: Information current at time of interview.

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