UA Receives Grant to Help Bilingual Children's Speech

Children who are bilingual can be misdiagnosed regarding speech impediments due to a lack of knowledge among experts. University of Arizona Associate Professor Leah Fabiano-Smith recently received a $2.5 million grant to help solve this issue.

Speech-language pathologists, or SLP's, have many standardized tests they can use to assess English-language-only children, but there is only one test for bilingual children.

"School-based speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, are required to provide culturally competent services to all children, including those who speak both English and Spanish," Fabiano-Smith said in a UA press release. "They face a great clinical challenge: accurate identification of speech sound disorders in children who speak two languages."

With the 5-year grant from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, Fabiano-Smith will continue her research to reduce health and educational disparities for bilingual children.

Fabiano-Smith and her research team have partnered with Sunnyside Unified School District, which has about 82 percent Latino students, to make solid determinations if students need help with pronunciation due to being bilingual, or due to a speech disorder.

"SLPs have some confidence when assessing bilingual children whose primary language is English, but lack confidence when assessing bilingual children whose primary language is Spanish," Fabiano-Smith said in a UA press release. "What helps is if you look at both the English and Spanish of Latino children together, instead of just looking at one or the other to make a diagnosis. By combining skills in both languages together, you get a much more accurate diagnosis."

Research focusing on bilingual children's education is becoming increasingly important in Arizona and nationwide as the percentage of bilingual children increases. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Latino children make up 25 percent of U.S. elementary school students. This number is expected to reach 30 percent by 2030.

The research grant will help Fabiano-Smith address an increasingly time sensitive issue.

"We are in danger of misdiagnosing a generation if this problem is not solved now," Fabiano-Smith said in a UA press release.

UA President Robert C. Robbins acknowledged the grant, mentioning the commitment the UA has to students of all ages and linguistic backgrounds.

"The UA's status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution is driven by our commitment to the academic success of every member of our community, and Dr. Fabiano-Smith’s work with bilingual children is a vital contribution to this part of our mission," Robbins said. "I am very excited by what this grant will enable."