We are proud to announce that Dr. Kristen Allison has been selected to receive CP NOW’s Research CP Award! Dr. Allison is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Northeastern University and is the Director of their Speech Motor Impairment and Learning Lab (SMILe). She has extensive experience working with children who have neurodevelopmental disabilities as both a therapist and researcher, and is passionate about improving speech and communication outcomes for the cerebral palsy (CP) community. Through this award, Dr. Allison would like to urge the development of more personalized and participation-focused approaches to speech-language interventions for people with CP. She also aims to equip parents and caregivers with information to help them better advocate for the most impactful speech-language services.

CP NOW partnered with the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN) to create this grant award. Our goal was to advance the community’s research priorities identified through our Research CP program. We invited researchers to submit proposals up to $30,000 that would advance the Research CP agenda while also supporting the strategic goals of both CP NOW and CPRN. Dr. Allison’s proposal best met our conceptual criteria while scoring the highest for overall scientific impact. We are particularly excited to support Dr. Allison’s work in the area of communication because of the lack of research in this field, and its potential to improve the lives of those with CP and their families.

Dr. Allison’s project addresses two of the key questions identified by the Research CP initiative:

  1. “How do we best maximize functional independence and life participation of children and adults with CP?”
  2. “Which interventions are associated with better functional outcomes, controlling for GMFCS level, age, and comorbidities?”

How does Dr. Allison’s project relate to these Research CP questions?:

“Communication is an essential and understudied component of independence, life participation, and functional outcomes for individuals with CP. Over half of children with CP have communication impairments that negatively affect their social participation and quality of life. Despite the frequency of communication difficulties among children with CP, there is a critical lack of knowledge regarding how children’s speech and language profiles influence their participation in social activities and interactions. This knowledge is essential for designing speech-language interventions that maximize participation and quality of life for children with CP. This research would advance these research priorities by improving understanding of how communication profiles of children with CP relate to participation in life situations. This would provide the foundational knowledge needed to develop effective speech language interventions for children with CP.”

What led Dr. Allison to focus on communication research in CP and why is the CP NOW award important to her work?

“My interest in communication outcomes for children with motor disorders stemmed from my clinical work as a speech language pathologist at Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) in Baltimore, where I worked from 2005-2011 and treated children with various developmental and acquired neurological disorders, including many children with CP. The majority of children on my caseload had motor disorders that affected their speech production and functional communication, and I found little evidence to guide treatment decisions.

“Universally, parents talk about the importance of communication to their child’s ability to make friends, participate in school and recreational activities, and to their eventual independence. My prior research has largely focused on understanding the speech and language presentations of children with CP and identifying factors that relate to speech intelligibility, and I want to expand that work to better understand how communication factors affect participation. I believe that better understanding the participation barriers that result from communication impairments will help pave the way for development of speech-language treatments that more effectively maximize functional communication outcomes for children with CP.”

Why does Dr. Allison feel that having answers to her research questions are important to the CP community?

“Caregivers, physicians, and speech-language pathologists need to understand differences in the participation barriers faced by children with different communication profiles <ie augmentative communication device users versus individuals with speech who are more difficult to understand> in order to effectively work as a team to help children with CP surmount these barriers and reach their potential. This project aims to generate information that medical professionals and caregivers can use to better identify children with CP at the greatest risk of participation restrictions due to their communication impairments, and help prioritize speech-language therapy goals most important to maximizing participation.”

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Congratulations to Dr. Allison! We are grateful for her commitment to the CP community and to individuals with CP and their families who have struggled to find meaningful communication solutions. CP NOW is grateful to all of you who helped make this project possible and who continue to help us meet our mission to optimize the lifelong health, wellness, and inclusion of people with cerebral palsy and their families.