One of the primary reasons that led me to pursue a PhD was the experience I felt of “flying blind” as a clinician. Perhaps you can identify: equipped with my shiny certificate of clinical competence, I enthusiastically dove into the literature in an endless search for information that could help improve my patients’ lives. Unfortunately, all too often I found the evidence-base for answering practical clinical questions sadly lacking.
Furthermore, the materials I had at my disposal often seemed carelessly thrown together with no underlying theoretical or empirical support to justify or guide their use.
Thus, one of the projects that we launched during my time at Maryland was an examination of materials commonly found in workbooks for aphasia known as binomials. Binomials are a type of phrase completion item that elicits highly automatic responses such as “good and [bad],” “odds and [ends],” and “supply and [demand].” As any clinician has likely experienced, however, not all binomials are easily retrieved as can be observed in both accuracy and latency of the response, which leads to the question of which linguistic characteristics make particular items harder or easier for patients to retrieve.
For this study we tested both neurotypical adults and individuals with aphasia on a 128-item binomial completion task. We found that antonyms as well as binomials that did not share a phonological relationship predicted greater accuracy across participants. Items with fewer plausible responses predicted faster response time for both groups, whereas only neurotypical adults benefited from binomials that were higher frequency. In addition, there were some inconsistent results between groups with regard to grammatical category that might have been influenced by aphasia subtypes and/or interactions with other linguistic variables. In summary, clinicians should consider binomials that are not antonyms, that share a phonological relationship, and that have a greater number of possible responses as more challenging for their clients. Easier items are the converse For more details, please check out the full article in American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.
I’d like to end with some food for thought, which is far from an original idea: greater collaboration between clinicians in the field and clinical researchers would benefit all of us. In a perfect world, researchers would inherently recognize gaps in the literature that clinicians desperately need filled, whereas clinicians would understand that translational research first requires a strong scientific foundation on which to build. In the real world, clinicians have the clients, whereas researchers have the resources. Let’s work together to find answers for the individuals we all serve.
Cathy Torrington Eaton completed her PhD at HESP in 2014. Her diverse background includes clinical expertise in aphasia, and research in the cognitive underpinnings of speech sound disorder in preschoolers. She currently resides in France with her family where she works as a DODEA middle and high school SLP in Belgium, teaches online courses, and develops CEU modules for ASHA.