Speech-Pathology program offers students unique, hands-on clinical experience

Dr. Karen Karner instructing students in the speech-pathology lab

Speech-Pathology program offers students unique, hands-on clinical experience


The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma is one of six universities in the state to offer a speech-language pathology degree at the undergraduate level. However, the university goes above all the others with the on-campus clinical practicum offering students hands-on experience that most wouldn’t receive until graduate school.

During their senior year, students in USAO’S speech-language pathology program are required to work directly with clients with communication disorders, under the close supervision of certified speech-language pathologists. The John A. Morris Speech and Language Clinic is the university-affiliated clinic in which students work with clients during their practicum experiences.

This year, the clinic added a new technology to aid with clients, thanks to the university’s Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions grant. The grant provided the clinic with three iPads loaded with Proloquo2go, a symbol-supported communication app to promote language development and grow communication skills.

“We have several clients who are verbally restricted,” said Dr. Karen Karner, director of the clinic and assistant professor of speech-language pathology. “We have been working with these kids for years, and when the opportunity for the grant came up I knew what I wanted to do. Many people in this area are latching onto the Proloquo2go app because of its ability to generate sentences for the client.”

The clinic’s clients usually range between four and eight years of age. When working with verbally restricted children, the student clinicians have a hard time discerning what the client does and does not understand. With the addition of Proloquo2go, the clients are able to construct responses by selecting symbols on the iPad that correspond with words and phrases. The clinician then hears the response played back aloud. This allows them to know the child understood what was being said while simultaneously allowing the client to voice their response.  

“So many of these kids are growing up with this type of technology,” Karner said. “If we can teach these children how to navigate through the pages of the app, they can find the words that make the sentences and then it will talk for them. Basically, what we are doing is giving that child a voice they’ve never had before.”

The app holds endless conversation possibilities and has already had inspiring results being used at USAO’s clinic. One client learned the power of “no” while working with a student clinician this semester. During their routine activities, the client was able to voice her desire, showing her understanding of the situation and control of the app.

“It is amazing to me that no matter how involved a child’s disabilities are, they always find a way to say no,” said Karner. “She told the clinician that she no longer wanted to do the current activity and scrolled through three icons to construct a sentence to portray that she knew how to communicate what she wanted. It was a huge moment because the child knew what the program could do for her. That child got her voice that day.”

After seeing the result of the app on campus, Karner has begun working with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Oklahoma in hopes of spreading the possibilities outside of the clinic. They are working with one specific client to supply her with her own iPad loaded with the app and a stand mounted on her walker to help with mobility.

“This is why I got in this field,” said Karner. “With the Proloquo2go, because you can change the pictures and put in what you want it to say, it is pretty limitless in what kind of communication you can generate. As their communication levels increase, you can adapt the program. The children’s voices can grow with them.”

About the John A. Morris Speech and Language Clinic

The John A. Morris Speech and Language Clinic has operated as a part of USAO since 1972. A practicum site for students of speech-language pathology, the clinic serves clients from the community of Chickasha and the surrounding area. The clinic is named in honor of John A. Morris, who founded of the program in 1945.

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