When language skills fail
Curry program helps people learn, or relearn,
how to communicate
By Anne Bromley
of you,” a mother said to her daughter. The statement is
not unusual. Parents often praise their children with these words.
But in this instance, the mother’s declaration represents
a breakthrough in family communication. She is a head-trauma victim,
and relearning how to speak signals her return to a higher quality
Those who work and study in the Curry
School’s Communication Disorders program help individuals
across the lifespan learn, or relearn, what associate professor
Randall Robey described as “an area that is fundamental
to the human condition” — using language to communicate.
“Humans cannot not communicate. Indeed, the medium for interpersonal
relationship is communication,” said Robey, who has directed
the program since 1999.
“The degree to which an individual is independent in communicating
with others bears a direct and fundamental relationship to quality
Whether a newborn has developmental problems or an older adult
loses language skills after a stroke, each can benefit from acquiring
skills and strategies for communicating effectively.
The Speech-Language-Hearing Center, a critical component of the
Communication Disorders program, still fulfills the primary mission
for which it was established more than 60 years ago: to provide
the community-at-large with access to services related to language
development, hearing loss, central auditory processing disorders,
difficulty talking after stroke or head injury, and accent modification
for individuals speaking English as a second language.
Since the center’s founding, the need for its services has
increased, according to center experts. Assistant professor and
speech pathologist Rebecca Lower, a Curry School alumna who joined
the Curry faculty this August, said medical advances account for
the increased need. Premature babies or stroke victims now survive
in greater numbers, and health professionals have become better
at identifying speech and audiology problems.
The center supports the mission of the Communication Disorders
program to prepare speech and language specialists through its
master’s and doctoral degree programs. At present, 76 graduate
and undergraduate students are enrolled
in the program.
Students get extensive clinical training at the center, which
offers screenings, evaluations, and treatment to its clients.
According to Deborah King, the center’s clinical director,
graduates of the program are trained to function in a wide variety
of settings, including rehabilitation centers, community health
clinics, university centers, research laboratories, private health
care agencies and practices, plus federal, state and local government
One attractive feature of the program is that students can conduct
their last-semester internship anywhere in the country.
Lower worked in several jobs as a speech pathologist before switching
to her current academic position. She said her goal is to make
sure her 50 students “have a picture of what it means to
work in the field right now in a real practice.” Joining
a team of professionals that participate in a person’s care
can be challenging, she said, because of the range of professional
knowledge involved. Teams often include physical therapists, occupational
therapists, special education teachers, physicians, and, of course,
Center faculty have helped write important legislation, such as
the Virginia law that mandates hearing screenings for newborn
infants before they leave the hospital. Staff audiologist, Debbie
Cox, helped draft similar legislation in North Carolina before
moving to Charlottesville.
In addition, the center’s faculty and students participate
in the Infant & Toddler Connection of the Blue Ridge program,
a state initiative that provides early intervention services and
support for children up to age 3.
For more information about the U.Va. Speech-Language-Hearing Center,
or to make an appointment, call (434) 924-6354.