New Professor Receives Grant for Assisted Communication Research

Christine Holyfield
University Relations

Christine Holyfield

Christine Holyfield, a University of Arkansas assistant professor of communication disorders, has received a New Investigators Research Grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation.

The foundation, a national organization that supports innovators with the goal of sparking innovation in communication sciences, has awarded six or seven of the $10,000 grants each of the past several years. Holyfield's proposal that was funded is titled "Comparative Effects of Symbol Representation on Acquisition in School-Aged Children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities."

She will compare assisted communication device features in relation to how quickly children with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn to use them.

"When children have limited speech and need to use augmentative and alternative communication devices, we need to see how we can reduce the learning demands of the technology," Holyfield said. "To what extent can we make the devices more intuitive and easier to learn so children spend less time learning the device itself and more time learning language?"

Augmentative and alternative communication devices often use photos or icons as representations of words the child is learning to say and understand. If children have to first learn what the icon or symbol is, it may be more beneficial to use the actual word spelled out instead, Holyfield said.

"Learning the actual words is a skill that's valuable to them in life, rather than learning to recognize symbols they will only see on a device," she said. "It might not be black and white, though. Learning quickly to use symbols can provide a clinical rationale for using them, if they are fulfilling their purpose."

Holyfield will work with students in area elementary schools to collect data. The grant funding covers one year. She will be honored at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association national conference in November in Boston.

Holyfield joined the faculty of the College of Education and Health Professions last fall. The New Investigators Research Grants are awarded to researchers who earned a doctorate within the past five years. Holyfield completed a completed a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders at Pennsylvania State University.


Ben Pollock, digital media specialist
College of Education and Health Professions


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