Barbara Brown

Research Associate for the Dept of
Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences

Barbara Brown always wanted to find a way to combine her love of being a speech-language pathologist with her desire to implement the most cutting-edge research in that field.

Her job as a research associate for the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences allows her to do just that. As project coordinator for the Purdue Stuttering Project, Brown is helping professors Anne Smith and Christine Weber-Fox develop tools to identify children who are at risk to persist in stuttering — and therefore should receive therapy immediately.

Barbara Brown

Can you explain more about the Purdue Stuttering Project?

In general, the project works with Indiana children who stutter. The first five years of the program, which was funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and wrapped up earlier this year, looked at identifying which stuttering children were likely to recover on their own and which were likely to persist in stuttering. Previously, there hasn't been a good way to identify children who will continue to stutter, but that identification is important because the earlier children receive speech therapy, the more beneficial it is to them.

The second five years of the program kicked off this April, and professors Smith and Weber-Fox received a $3 million grant from NIH to support it. During this next phase, we'll further refine our methods of identifying children who are likely to persist in stuttering, and we'll use that information to develop screening tools to help speech pathologists determine which children should receive therapy right away. We've already started recruiting participants in this study — 14 Indiana children who stutter are enrolled so far.

What is your role in the project?

As project coordinator, I recruit participants, schedule their testing times, administer standardized tests to them and help parents find speech therapy services for their children as needed. For participants who live farther away, we try to get all the testing done in a two-day period. For participants who live locally, we split the testing into five 90-minute sessions.

We also run a variety of physiological tests to gather data. For example, we attach light-emitting diodes to the children's lips and jaws, and then a camera tracks their stability and coordination while they speak. We also measure brain waves while children listen to words and sentences and compare their brain activity with that of normally fluent children.

In addition to my work with professors Smith and Weber-Fox, I also help recruit and test children as part of Professor Lisa Goffman's project to examine motor and language development skills in young children.

Why is it important for children who might persist in stuttering to receive therapy right away?

Stuttering is a complicated neurodevelopmental disorder that involves brain circuitry, genetics, language and motor skills and emotional development. About 75 percent of children who stutter recover, but for the ones who don't, stuttering can be a severe disability. It affects people's education, social lives and professional lives. Studies suggest that the younger children are when they receive speech therapy, the more effective that therapy is. It's important to identify which children might end up as persistent stutterers so we can try to help them as early as possible.

What is your professional background?

I have bachelor's and master's degrees in speech pathology from Purdue, and I ran a private speech pathology practice locally for 10 years. Twelve years ago, Professor Laurence Leonard was looking for someone to coordinate his Purdue Child Language Program, and it seemed like a great fit. I've been at Purdue ever since. It's been an honor to be part of such high-quality and important work.

What's your favorite part about your job?

The best part is helping families with a problem that often has them very worried about their children's futures, and knowing that our work will continue to help children in the future. Stuttering does persist in some children, but as researchers we can provide tools and resources that will diminish the effect stuttering has on children's lives. In the end, we want to help children be effective and efficient communicators in every situation.