Jennifer Kent-Walsh

2010 Clinical Research Grant, 2003 New Investigators Research Grant, 2001 Graduate Student Scholarship

Enabling the Future

Jennifer Kent-Walsh's 2001 ASHFoundation Graduate Student Scholarship, awarded when she was a doctoral student at Penn State University, helped initiate her early work in the area of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Two years later, as an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, an ASHFoundation New Investigators Research Grant allowed her to hire student support and start collecting pilot data as soon as she entered her new academic position. "As a beginning researcher," Kent-Walsh says, "it was empowering to have the necessary resources to begin my work immediately."

That propitious start led, in the successful years that followed, to numerous national and international presentations and publications as well as several awards, fellowships, and grants, including an ASHA Special Interest Division 1 Starfish Research Grant, a Disney "Helping Kids Shine" Grant, a FLASHA Foundation Research Grant, and a Winter Park Health Foundation Research Grant. Kent-Walsh also received funding from the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) to support the establishment of the FAAST ARDC (Atlantic Region Assistive Technology Demonstration Center), the first and only comprehensive assistive technology demonstration center in Central Florida serving the needs of individuals with disabilities across the lifespan.

In 2010, Kent-Walsh became the recipient of yet another ASHFoundation honor, this time a Clinical Research Grant to support an investigation examining a new approach to developing the expressive language skills of children using AAC. "Teaching Children who use AAC to Ask Inverted Yes-No Questions" targets the early grammatical skills critical for children using AAC to become generative and independent communicators.

This study is one in a larger series of investigations Kent-Walsh designed and has been conducting with student researchers and her main collaborator—and fellow ASHFoundation award recipient—Cathy Binger of the University of New Mexico. "The synergy that has grown out of our mutual passion for conducting AAC research with children with development disabilities cannot be underestimated," Kent-Walsh says of her work with Binger. "I truly believe that our best chance of achieving our field's ultimate goal of facilitating functional and meaningful communication for all individuals is reliant on collaborative problem-solving on the part of faculty and students."

Kent-Walsh, currently associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Director/Regional Coordinator of the FAAST ARDC at the University of Central Florida, is passionate about the potential of AAC to support effective communication and ultimately meaningful educational, social, and vocational outcomes for children with developmental disabilities. To enable this to happen, she says, "It is critical that our field maintain a central focus on research." In an economy that makes it increasingly difficult to obtain funding, it is more important than ever for the ASHFoundation to "carry on its encouragement and support of independent research. Its work truly enables the future of our profession as researchers strive to build funding track records that will allow them to secure funding from external sources to support their ongoing work."

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