$112k grant to fund clinic at UNT that will develop auditory testing protocols for children with autism

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 09:33

DENTON (UNT), Texas – The majority of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience some form of auditory processing issue, yet there are currently no set standard testing procedures for them. With the help of a $111,843 grant from Sonova USA, Inc., researchers in the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service’s Department of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology hope to change that.

“Children with ASD can experience a variety of auditory processing problems that vary greatly from what occur in children without ASD, and they are a highly underserved demographic in audiology,” said Dr. Erin Schafer, professor and director of graduate studies in audiology. “With this clinic, we will be able to compile and pool data that will allow us to closely look at the areas where they struggle most and establish an efficient and sensitive testing protocol.”

Only the UNT Speech and Hearing Center and Hearts for Hearing in Oklahoma will offer auditory services specifically for children with ASD, and UNT’s clinic will be able to provide intervention services for the children, thanks to the results of a previous study funded by a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) grant. In the study, Dr. Schafer and Lauren Mathews, principal lecturer, confirmed that use of remote microphone hearing technology from Sonova USA, Inc., computerized listening training and guided repetitive practice of processing speech in noise improves auditory processing abilities in individuals with ASD.

“We will provide individuals with ASD evidenced-based intervention to address their difficulties with processing of speech in noise,” Mathews said. “During the two-and-a-half years of the THECB study, we were able to develop and refine processes and therapeutic activities to efficiently and effectively target processing speech in noise.”

Dr. Schafer says that Sonova USA, Inc., manufactures remote microphone technology, the Phonak Roger Focus, that was used in their most recent research.

“Our THECB-funded study, as well as several other published studies confirm that use of remote microphone technology, which sends a teacher’s voice directly to a child’s ear at a comfortable volume, significantly improves speech understanding and classroom behavior in children with ASD. Given the measurable benefits, we will continue to fit this effective hearing technology on children with ASD.”

Dr. Schafer says she will publish the results of the Sonova USA, Inc., funded study in hopes of creating international standard operating procedures for audiology testing of children with ASD.

Dr. Neale Chumbler, dean of the college, says it’s exciting to see the researchers’ collaboration come full circle.

“Our college is fortunate in that we are equipped with the tools and talent needed to facilitate not only the research and data collection to develop these testing standards for children with ASD, but that we can actually use proven treatment methods our own researchers developed,” Dr. Chumbler said.

Dr. Schafer and Ms. Mathews plan to begin providing these clinical services late Summer 2019.

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