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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Language services to improve for Indiana's Latino children with IU speech therapy grant

Editor's Note: A Spanish language version of this release can be found at:

August 18, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Speech and Hearing Sciences professor Raquel Anderson hopes her newly funded STEPS program will one day help offer Spanish-speaking children with communication disorders and their families the same access to and quality of speech-language services currently available to their monolingual, English-speaking peers.


IU Bloomington Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences faculty members Laura Murray, left, Karen Forrest, Melanie Mazur and project director Raquel Anderson will manage STEPS, Indiana's only speech-language pathology program training clinicians to work with linguistically and culturally diverse children and their families.

Print-Quality Photo

The new Speech Therapy Education, Practicum and Services (STEPS) for Latino Children and Families program begins this month at IU Bloomington with $699,094 from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. And based on both U.S. Census and Indiana Department of Education projections, the need to identify and better serve Latino English-learners with special needs in the state will only grow.

In just the past 10 years, the number of new Indiana public school students who need to learn English has increased by more than 400 percent, and eight in 10 of those youth speak Spanish. At the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Anderson hopes to use the federal funds to turn out a new wave of highly qualified Spanish-English bilingual speech-language pathologists to diagnose and treat English language learning Latino students facing communication disorders and to work effectively with their families.

Population trends show Indiana's Latino community continuing to grow at a faster rate than other immigrant groups, following what has been observed across most of the Midwest. Anderson points out that speech-language pathologists in public school systems are challenged to provide appropriate services for Latino English language learners, including identifying the presence of communication disorders.

"Data from several nationwide surveys suggest that practicing speech-language pathologists, as a group, do not feel competent in managing communication disorders in linguistically diverse populations, including the correct identification of disability," she said. "In fact, a primary concern identified in one recent survey of school speech-language pathologists was insufficient competence in identifying true language disability in English language learning children and in working with these children's families."

At least 24 graduate students are expected to join the two-year program over the four years the project has been funded. When a student receives a year of funding in STEPS, he or she also agrees to a two-year service commitment to work as a speech-language pathologist in Indiana schools with a high Latino enrollment.

Those jobs are expected to be waiting in both rural and metropolitan areas of Indiana, as one in five elementary schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools System currently has Latino enrollment over 25 percent, while at the same time, some small towns such as Frankfort, Ind., have seen Latino enrollment rise to as high as 29 percent.

Undergraduates proficient in Spanish speaking and who express interest in working with the Latino population will be recruited into a master's program where coursework and clinical and field experiences focus on both linguistic and cultural diversity as well as on clinical practice in schools, Anderson said, and STEPS will be the only speech-language pathology program in the state focusing on training clinicians to work with linguistically and culturally diverse children and their families.

Delighted to see the program initiated, Anderson still noted concern that the challenges facing Indiana's public schools may be more severe than realized through current statistics.

National statistics show that 10 percent of children entering school will have moderate to severe language disorders, that another eight percent of school-age children are language impaired. Accordingly, if the incidence of communication disorders is merged with the data on Latino growth within Indiana, an increase of Latino children on school speech-language pathologists caseloads is inevitable. Anderson noted that only 3.1 percent of Indiana's school-aged students being served under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are Latino.

"This discrepancy suggests that Latino children have limited access to the services provided under IDEA to which they are entitled," she said.

Anderson, the project's director, is an active Latino community advocate in Bloomington, serving as past board president of the Latino Community Center (Centro Comunal Latino) and as vice chair of the City of Bloomington Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. In 2006 she received the IU Committee on Multicultural Understanding faculty award and last year received a Certificate of Recognition for Special Contributions in Multicultural Affairs from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Faculty joining Anderson on the project will be department chair and professor Karen Forrest and master's program coordinator and professor Laura Murray, both of whom will serve as faculty mentors, and Melanie Mazur, a clinical assistant professor who will serve as the project's clinical supervisor.

To speak with Anderson or other members of STEPS, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or