Interdisciplinary Teams Join Forces to Help the Hearing-Impaired

Jan. 14, 2013

The following is the beginning of "Breaking Through,"  the cover story in the latest edition of UT Dallas Magazine.

UT Dallas Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 1

This article is excerpted from the cover story of the latest edition of  UT Dallas Magazine. For the complete version and other stories, see the online version.

Andy Cobb was ready to swing for the fences when his dad called out from the bleachers behind home plate,“Hey, Andy, scoot back a foot or two!”

Andy quickly adjusted his stance, waited for the next pitch and knocked it out of the park.

What would be a feel-good Little League moment for most families was something more for Mary Cobb. She thought about how different life might have been for her boisterous, athletic, confident third-grader.

“It’s those normal moments in day-to-day life, the times when Andy hears us and responds like any other kid,” Cobb said. “That’s when I imagine what might have happened if he had been born 50 years ago—before cochlear implants.”

Because hearing and speaking come so naturally, people take communication for granted. The same parents who sprint for the video camera to capture their child’s first words may find themselves, a few years later, sighing and rolling their eyes as their talkative toddler narrates daily activities nonstop.

Andy Cobb (left), Melissa Sweeney (center) and Andy's mother, Mary Cobb (right)

Callier patient Andy Cobb (left), enjoys a moment with Callier program manager Melissa Sweeney (center) and his mother, Mary Cobb.

But what if a baby doesn’t notice when Daddy comes into the room loudly singing a silly song about five little monkeys? What should parents do if their three-year-old’s unintelligible speech draws confused looks from playmates? Or a young person’s inability to interact normally creates a paralyzing obstacle to adult success? Or a doting grandmother can’t hear her grandchildren on the telephone?

These basic symptoms of the failure of one of the most fundamental aspects of human interaction are the subject of high-level interdisciplinary work engaging researchers and clinicians across campus. Their team approaches have earned the University an international reputation for educational excellence, innovative patient care and groundbreaking investigation of communication disorders.

“We bring the scientists together with the engineers to figure out what is needed to help patients.The engineers learn about potential difficulties with technological solutions, while clinicians and scientists develop an understanding of the building blocks that go into making a new therapeutic option successful.”

Dr. John Hansen,
distinguished chair and associate dean for research in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

Scientists, clinicians and students from varying disciplines collaborate on leading-edge technologies and therapies capable of dramatically improving the lives of children and adults with speech or hearing challenges. From neuroscientists and engineers researching the debilitating symptoms of tinnitus among veterans to speech-language pathologists and developmental psychologists formulating strategies for identifying language deficits in young children, these disparate experts are sharing insights and expertise to find ways to help people communicate better.

Dr. John Hansen, distinguished chair and associate dean for research in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, said these projects set UT Dallas apart from many universities that also have outstanding engineering programs or top-rated speech and hearing departments.

“We bring the scientists together with the engineers to figure out what is needed to help patients,” Hansen said. “The engineers learn about potential difficulties with technological solutions, while clinicians and scientists develop an understanding of the building blocks that go into making a new therapeutic option successful.”


For the rest of this article and more, see the online version of UT Dallas magazine.


Media Contact: Emily Martinez, UT Dallas, (214) 905-3049, emily.martinez@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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December 22, 2014