Cathy Binger

2003 New Century Scholars Doctoral Scholarship, 2005 New Investigators Research Grant, 2006 New Century Scholars Research Grant, 2006 Research Travel Grant

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? And, most importantly, how do we maximize language development for these children? 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 skills in all language domains, including semantic and morphosyntactic 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 is an extension of the work for which she was earlier awarded an ASHFoundation New Investigators Grant. Her Foundation-supported work led to funded grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders—first an NIH R03, followed by a recently funded NIH R01 grant (a large 5-year project shared by another past awardee from the University of Central Florida, Jennifer Kent-Walsh). That initial ASHFoundation accomplishment led directly to the next accomplishment, and then the next, "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 R03 grant, and that R03 grant then led to our recently funded—and much larger—R01 grant. It’s all important and it’s all connected.” 


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