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.
“Well the first time that I received Foundation money was as a doctoral student. I was at Penn State, and I had returned to school after working for eight years as a clinician. And as you can imagine, that’s a real financial hit to do that. And receiving that Foundation money part way through my doctoral program really helped me finish up my program, it provided financers for me not only to continue my program, but also to help fund some of the research I was doing during my dissertation year. That was extremely helpful.
I’ve also been very fortunate to receive some additional funding from the foundation in the form of research grants. And that grant money has been instrumental in helping me complete several key research projects. And I’m very happy to report that that Foundation money has helped lead me very directly into securing funding from the National Institutes of Health. So I’m now working on my first NIH grant project, and we’re just starting data collection on that project, and that’s been very exciting. And I strongly believe that that would not have happened had it not been for the support of the Foundation. Those grant agencies look very favorably upon receiving other smaller funding from agencies such as the Foundation, and those grants are very hard to come by; they’re very scarce in our field. And so that funding was really instrumental in helping me get to where I am now.
The work that I do is with children, primarily young children, who use what we call augmentative and alternative communication. So these are children who have severe-to-profound motor speech disorders, can be from a variety of things. The kids I work with tend to have disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, lots of different kinds of syndromes, and for whatever reason it’s very hard to understand their speech, if they have speech at all. And so we work with them to look at other ways for them to communicate, including lots of computerized technology, voice output computerized devices.
My research really focuses on developing intervention programs for them, so that they’re not falling behind with their language skills, so that they’re able to communicate effectively, even though they have profound speech disorders. And this really helps them in two primary ways. One is to help prevent behavior problems. You can imagine how frustrating it would be for a young child, or anybody, to not be able to communicate effectively. And we see lots of behavior problems with these kids—behavior challenges—when they don’t have the kinds of communication solutions that are easy for them to use. So that’s one thing.
The other primary focus is on their language skills—helping them build their language skills from a young age. A lot of these kids end up not reaching their full potential because they suffer from low expectations. People think they don’t speak well, so we shouldn’t have them in the regular classroom, but a lot of the kids I work with, they’re cognitively fine. They’re perfectly capable. They just need a viable means of communication to really help them through that. So that’s what my area of focus really is with these kids.
We see pretty dramatic differences pretty quickly with a lot of the work that I do. They’re pretty straightforward interventions, and a lot of it’s a matter of access, providing children with the right vocabulary, and in the right kind of mode of communication that’s easy for them to use, and then we see very rapid changes and improvements. Often within, you know, working with a child over the course of four or five sessions they go from being able to use single-word messages to being able to put simple sentences together, once we give them the right kinds of tools, and we use the right kinds of intervention techniques for them. So it’s very exciting for these kids to see the light bulb go on, and to have families just be so excited to see that somebody’s finally figured out a way for these kids to reach their potential.”