EWU Faculty Researcher Awarded Grant From HSSA of Spokane County

Hedieh Hashemi Hosseinabad, an assistant professor of communication sciences and speech disorders at EWU, recently received an $85,000 grant from the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County (HSSA), to advance her innovative use of ultrasound biofeedback to treat children with speech disorders arising from cleft palate.

Cleft palate, which occurs when a baby’s lip or mouth doesn’t form properly during pregnancy, is one of the most common birth defects among newborns in America. Oral cleft deficits impact an estimated 7,000 newborns here,according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still more children are working to overcome challenges related to the defect. 

Although surgery can repair the palate, speech therapy is often required to help school-age children work through resulting speech challenges.

This therapeutic technique involves positioning of an ultrasound transducer under the patient’s chin so the speech therapist can observe tongue movements as the child tries to pronounce difficult sounds like that of the “R”, which is a common problem.

These errors are not easy to resolve, Hosseinabad says, “because we can’t see what the child is doing during treatment.” Speech therapists can show the child how to pronounce certain sounds, but that can only go so far in advancing speech therapies, she explains.

Hosseinabad, who earned her doctorate at the University of Cincinnati and has been a member of the EWU faculty for three years, says the grant support will allow her to continue long-standing projects aimed at helping children with speech problems as a result of cleft palate. Last summer, for example, she facilitated a speech clinic using ultrasound biofeedback where eight children received speech therapy for their “R” sounds over an intensive two-week program. This is the first time Hosseinabad is able to marry her two areas of expertise.

This grant will allow her to treat six to seven children who have those residual errors as a result of their cleft. Hosseinabad’s plan is to investigate how using this technique in speech intervention can increase the children’s understandability.

Hosseinabad applied for this grant during the summer of 2020. The pandemic delayed the process by over a year. But she didn’t give up, and kept reaching out and the project eventually gained funding.

Hosseinabad earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Iran. After graduating, she spent the next two years working with children with cleft palate before earning her doctorate degree and arriving at EWU where she continues to advance life-changing treatments for children. 

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