Moody faculty initiative offers free speech and language screenings for children

Brittany Wagner

A faculty initiative in the Moody College of Communication is offering free speech and language screenings to children who suffer from hearing loss and can’t afford treatment.

The initiative is led by Madhu Sundarrajan, clinical assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, and graduate student Caitlin Baker.   

Sundarrajan said they are offering free screenings to children under eight years old in the Austin area who may have any type or degree of hearing loss. Sundarrajan invited Baker to be a part of her program. The pair use a standardized test to analyze the speech and language capabilities of the children. The testing materials are compact enough to make the duo mobile, enabling them to travel to area school districts to perform the 20-minute screenings. 

“[We look] at different areas of language,” Sundarrajan said. “We also add a spontaneous language sample, where the child gets to talk about what they did last weekend [for example], and that gives us a good idea of what their skills are in a typical conversation setting. We add that information to what we get out of [the standardized test to] make a conclusion.”

Sertoma, a national service club dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by hearing loss, awarded Sundarrajan a one-year grant for the project in March.

Holly Walls, director of mission activities and COO of Sertoma, said 35 agencies applied for the grant earlier this year and a team of speech pathologists and audiologists judged the proposals. 

“Our grant program is all about reaching people with hearing problems,” Walls said. “[It supports] parents who have children with hearing issues or speech issues [and pays for] new equipment for labs and audiology clinics to help support students or clinics reach those who cannot afford a lot of the treatments and appointments that they need in order to have good hearing health.”

Baker said she values getting to interact with the families and knowing she can help their children onto a path of success even if they have limited health insurance coverage. 

“The ability to communicate is an extraordinary ability we often take for granted,” Baker said. “I am so happy I have found a profession where I can help make sure all children have the opportunity to communicate to the best of their ability.”