Bright days

Joe Harrington

Grad students gain experience while improving lives at Hattie Larlham

For the past two years, the School of Speech Pathology and Audiology has been working with the Hattie Larlham research institute to improve the lives of children and adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

Every semester, the School of Speech Pathology sends four to eight graduate students to the institute’s main campus in Mantua to work on individual research programs. Speech Pathology graduate students must clock up to 375 hours of supervised clinical work to receive their degrees. Lisa Audet, an assistant professor at Kent State, supervises the students and is working with the research institute for the second year in a row.


Graduate students who go to the main campus have the chance to work with roughly 50 residents of the institute. Students typically have up to 10 “clients” or patients that they will work with individually.

“It shows the students what the pace is like in the real world,” Audet said.

The Hattie Larlham foundation is a group of agencies that provide need to people with disabilities. The foundation supports group homes, sheltered employment and other facilities. The school of pathology, however, works primarily with just one agency, the research institute.

“The research institute works across all those agencies to encourage the development and use of research in those environments” said Pam Mitchell, an associate professor and one of the research coordinators. “Specifically, researches that will help expand our understanding of how to improve the lives of individuals with very significant disabilities.”

Currently, the students are researching the development of peer relationships among the children at the school. Using methods like group therapy, the graduate students try to develop different forms of peer communications. Simply having the kids say hello or goodbye to each other would be a breakthrough, Audet said.

One student even discovered that no prior research had ever been done on one aspect of peer-to-peer communication: the relationship between older mentally handicapped children helping younger children with similar problems.

Another activity that the students do with the children is something Audet calls a “lunch bunch.” This is where students have the children eat lunch together to provide more interaction between the children. This activity is not open to every one of Hattie Larlham’s students because some are unable to eat orally and must be fed through other means.

“Our students are excited every day,” Audet said. “They show up early just to try and get the best toys.”

Along with the work the graduate students do, Mitchell is also planning a study of the impact of vibroacoustic research. Vibroacoustic research is the study of certain noises on the bloodstream and its affect on the body.

“Vibroacoustic research has shown to help the elderly and trauma victims,” Mitchell said.

The study is significant because it is one of the first vibroacoustic studies in the United States. Mitchell said that a rehabilitation engineer and an occupational therapist are joining the study group. The research hopes to increase the information on vibroacoustic technology in regards to helping the severely disabled.

Undergraduates in the School of Speech Pathology must have at least 25 hours of clinical observation hours to graduate, with 10 coming from course work alone. Undergraduate students can earn some of those hours by shadowing the graduate students at the main campus, Audet said.

Hattie Larlham is always looking for volunteers at any of their facilities. To become a volunteer for the Hattie Larlham foundation, visit the Web site at

Contact College of Education, Health and Human services reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].