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New Mexico State University

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NMSU professor studies new technology as biofeedback method in speech therapy

If Teresa Brobeck has her way, New Mexico State University will become a regional center for palatometry, a new technology used in therapy for people with speech disorders.

New Mexico State University graduate student Sahra Serna, left, and assistant professor Teresa Brobeck, right, demonstrate the palatometry equipment which Brobeck is studying at the university's Speech and Hearing Center this fall. (Photo by David Pierre)

Brobeck, an assistant professor of special education and communication disorders, plans to study palatometry and its effectiveness as a biofeedback method for two of her clients at the university's Speech and Hearing Center this fall.

Palatometry, which is also called palatography and electropalatography, is used to record the timing and location of tongue contact with the hard palate during speech and swallowing functions using custom-made pseudopalates.

"So much of speech is based on your tongue touching your palate at a certain time," Brobeck said.

The pseudopalates, which are worn on the palate and teeth, are being made with the help of Dona Ana Branch Community College students in the dental assisting program and the program's director Martha McCaslin. The students make dental impressions and a stone model of a client's mouth, which is sent to the company that manufactures the pseudopalates.

Only a few institutions in the United States use pseudopalates, including the National Institutes of Health and the University of California at Los Angeles, Brobeck said.

The palatometry equipment will benefit the Speech and Hearing Center's clients by allowing them to see and correct the placement of their tongues during speech and swallowing, making it a valuable biofeedback method. It can be used for clients who have deficits in speech sound production related to hearing impairment, neurologic disorders and other articulation disorders and also for clients who have deficits in swallowing function due to tongue weakness.

The equipment also will benefit speech pathology students by allowing them to learn how speech sounds are produced and giving them an opportunity to become familiar with instruments that can be used in treatment.

Brobeck hopes her research can also help students, faculty and staff who are interested in improving or altering their speech sound production, such as people who are learning or have learned a second language.

"It would be very beneficial to be able to learn how to make the different sounds associated with languages by seeing the different tongue placements," she said.

While there is a database of tongue-palate contact points for the English language, there are no databases for other languages. With the help of graduate student Sahra Serna, Brobeck hopes to develop a database on the Spanish language.

Brobeck and Serna will present a poster on palatometry at the annual convention of the New Mexico Speech-Language Hearing Association in October.

Since New Mexico has a high incidence of cleft lip and palate, which can affect speech, Brobeck would like to educate the community about palatometry. Most rural areas in the state don't have the resources to use palatometry for their clients.

"I think we have the potential to be a regional center for palatometry in this state," she said.

One such lending center is CLEFTNET, which is based at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, Scotland. The center works with clients who have disorders associated with cleft palate.

"They have shown terrific results after using this technology with their clients," Brobeck said.

NMSU currently has four pseudopalates that are used by Brobeck and others who will be involved in the palatometry research. She hopes to obtain grants for more equipment to move toward her goal of forming a regional palatometry center.

"The way I see it, if I have the potential to help somebody, why wouldn't I?" she said.

Brobeck is a speech pathologist with a specialty in adult neurologic disorders and in speech, language and swallowing functions. She teaches graduate courses on voice, motor and swallowing disorders and an undergraduate introduction course to communication disorders.