Marla Folden and Olivier complete a puzzle together while practicing the pronunciation of new words.


From Professional Training to Research:

Acquiring a Unique Skillset with the M.Sc. Combined Program

by Laura Emily Evans & Sara Perillo

Volume 15 Issue 2

At the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, students in the Speech-Language Pathology M.Sc.(A) program complete two intense years of academic coursework and clinical training, exploring human communication and the treatment of disorders that can hinder it. The scope of the professional program is vast, allowing its graduates to work with a variety of populations.

In addition to the academic and clinical components of the training, students have the option of developing their research skills and completing a Master’s thesis through the M.Sc. Combined program. This optional component offers the student an opportunity to explore an area of interest in greater depth and acquire research skills and experience.

Beyond the Curriculum

Marla Folden, M.Sc. ’16, had worked with individuals with Down syndrome for many years before coming to McGill. She knew that difficulties with communicative function can impact interactions with others and levels of independence, and was motivated to study how treatments can reduce the disparity between language and speech abilities in this population.

Under the supervision of Dr. Susan Rvachew and Tanya Matthews in the Child Phonology Laboratory Research Clinic, Folden set out to investigate how adolescents with Down syndrome and suspected apraxia of speech respond to treatments designed for childhood apraxia of speech. She aimed to improve speech accuracy in her participants by selecting a treatment type in accordance with the individual’s psycholinguistic profile, rather than implementing high intensity treatment alone. She used a unique single subject randomization design to discover which of three high intensity treatments would help each person. Each of the individuals with Down syndrome respond positively to one of the treatments for childhood apraxia of speech compared to the control treatment. This study confirmed that individuals with Down syndrome can achieve improved performance after following specialized protocols in combination with high intensity practice.

Experience to Carry Forward

Research projects such as this one help bridge the divide between the realms of research and clinical practice, and develop an appreciation of the foundations of speech therapy. A key component of the speech-language pathologist’s work is in determining the cause of poor speech intelligibility, which informs the type of treatment provided. The approach for each specific population requires consideration of the source of the impairment, and of other potential disorders in addition to the speech disorder.

One of Folden’s greatest challenges in conducting her research was in the tremendous variations of the Down syndrome population. “All individuals with [Down syndrome] have multifactorial deficits: the challenge is to identify the key impairment source for each individual through appropriate assessment tools,” she says.

Folden has since graduated from McGill and entered the world of clinical practice in B.C., working with individuals with Down syndrome and a variety of comorbidities. Nevertheless, she notes that in the evidence-based practice of speech-language pathology, “[good] research questions pop into mind nearly every day.” She encourages students to gain experience with a population of interest, note questions and queries over time, and give research a try!

Financial support for this project was provided by the McGill Faculty of Medicine Summer Research Bursary and the Ruth Ratner Miller Foundation.