Christine Holyfield

Christine HolyfieldCommunication Sciences and Disorders (Penn State)

Background: Prior to returning to pursue a doctoral degree, I worked as a speech-language pathologist and the AAC specialist for a school district near Chicago. Although I enjoyed supporting so many students who used AAC (they made up almost my entire caseload), I chose to return to school to affect change in a different way. My hope was, and continues to be, that by contributing to the knowledge base through research and by preparing future passionate and knowledgeable SLPs through pre-service teaching, I can work toward more positive outcomes for a large number of individuals who use AAC.

Current Interests: I am focused on supporting school-aged and adult individuals with developmental disabilities in building their (a) participation in major life arenas (e.g., school), and (b) language. Specifically, I work to support growth in participation and language for individuals who communicate in mostly unconventional, idiosyncratic ways. I conduct research evaluating the efficacy of various technology in supporting that growth.

Sample Presentation/Publication: Holyfield, C., Drager, K., Caron, J., & Light, J. (2016, August). “Just-in-time” programming: Developmental appropriateness and implications for beginning communicators. Presentation at the Biennial Conference of The International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC), Toronto, Canada. (handout as a pdf)

For this presentation, I shared about two studies. In the first study, I evaluated the accessibility of an AAC app from a linguistic, motor, visual, and cognitive standpoint by describing how typically developing young children used the app. When the young children were successful using the app, I decided it was an AAC option that might be relatively accessible and impart a relatively low number of demands on users. Then, in the second study, I evaluated the efficacy of the app as a communication support for a very different population – adolescents who were beginning communicators. The presentation is one that captures my research because it includes both basic and intervention research evaluating a new technology option for use as AAC.

Additional Information: Christine Holyfield (from AAC.PSU.EDU)

Think Tank Presentation Topic and Discussion Starters

Currently, I am working on a project evaluating the effects of a short video training intervention on the accuracy of middle school students’ judgments of short video clips depicting the behaviors of peers with multiple disabilities who are presymbolic communicators. The middle school students are being asked to decide:
(a) was the behavior communicative? (yes/no) , and
(b) if yes, what was being communicated?
Initial results indicate that a short video training can effectively increase the accuracy of students’ judgments. Future research I plan to conduct includes translating any effects of training into face-to-face interaction between individuals with multiple disabilities who are presymbolic and communication partners, examining any effects of increased partner responsivity on the development of symbolic language, and incorporating other information (e.g., contextual) with behavioral information to support partners in identifying and supporting the use of potentially communicative behavior.
There are significant challenges associated with this research area. A glaring one is the fundamental uncertainty associated with interpreting the potential communication of individuals who are not communicating symbolically. It is a tenuous but necessary venture in the pursuit of supporting communication and interaction in individuals who are communicating presymbolically. Another challenge lies in promoting equitable interactions and relationships among school-aged and older individuals who are presymbolic and their peers.
Questions I have include:
  1. How can we maximize the certainty with which we ascribe meaning to the communication of individuals who are not yet using symbols to confirm such ascription? What sources of information can we gather and synthesize? What information should be prioritized or weighted most heavily?
  2. Are there strategies we can draw upon or conditions we can create that will maximize the equity of interactions and relationships between school-aged and older individuals who are presymbolic or early symbolic communicators and their peers?
  3. What outcomes might be most important to consider from both a language development and quality of life standpoint? How can we measure with sensitivity more incremental changes that could be occurring before the emergence of symbolic communication?


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