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Voice, Speech, and Language Program

Disorders involving voice, speech, or language can have an overwhelming effect on an individual’s health and quality of life. These disorders affect people of all ages with or without hearing impairment, including children with autism, those who stutter, and adults with aphasia or speech disorders.

The NIDCD Voice, Speech, and Language Program uses a wide range of research approaches to develop effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for individuals with communication impairments.

Research in voice and speech includes studies to determine the nature, causes, treatment, and prevention of disorders of motor speech production throughout the lifespan.

  • Researchers are learning how reflux from the stomach to the throat and vocal fold tissue harms the larynx. They have demonstrated that reflux significantly alters the expression of 27 genes associated with malignant changes of the larynx. Understanding how changes in gene expression lead to laryngeal injury provides a comprehensive model for identifying novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets to treat reflux-related injury.
  • Investigators are working to provide a direct means of producing speech to people with locked-in syndrome (LIS)—near-total paralysis caused by stroke, end-stage neural degeneration, or neuromuscular disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. People with LIS can use brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to help them communicate. NIDCD-supported scientists significantly improved the performance of a BCI device by developing a program that combines data collected from electrical signals in the brain with data from tracking eye movement. This hybrid system improves the accuracy and speed at which users can type words using BCI technology. Future work will translate this technology from the lab into the clinic or home for individuals with LIS, potentially helping them communicate more easily and effectively with physicians, caretakers, and family.

Research in language and language disorders includes studies on characterization, genetic and brain causes, and diagnostic and treatment approaches relevant to communication across the lifespan.

  • Language researchers supported by the NIDCD are exploring the genetic bases of child language disorders, as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders. NIDCD-supported studies have demonstrated that children with developmental speech and language problems are at considerable risk for learning disabilities and for psychosocial problems that emerge during adolescence or adulthood.
  • Researchers are developing effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for children with autism spectrum disorder or developmental language disorder, as well as for adults with aphasia. This research will further our understanding of the neural bases of language disorders.
  • Research on acquisition, characterization, and use of American Sign Language is expanding knowledge of the language used by many individuals who are deaf.
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