In addition to the Thirty Million Words® Initiative, Dr. Suskind and her team have developed Project ASPIRE. Funded by Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences award #R324A110122, this curriculum focuses on how parent language can be harnessed to grow the listening and talking potentials of children with hearing loss.
The Case for Project ASPIRE
Now is a golden age for children born with hearing loss. Because of universal newborn hearing screening and technological advances in hearing aids and cochlear implants, a deaf child can achieve the same outcome as his or her typically developing peer. Tragically, children with hearing loss born into poverty do not always share in these amazing gains. There exists a significant achievement gap mirroring their typically developing peers, but with more profound consequences. For low-SES children with hearing loss, it is their ability to communicate with the world around them that is at risk.
A child’s early language environment plays a critical role in his or her listening and spoken language development. For children born into poverty, there is a well-documented inequity in their early language experience. By age four, disadvantaged children have heard approximately thirty million fewer words than their more affluent counterparts. This chasm is even greater for deaf or hard-of-hearing children in the low-income population, as these families are less likely to take advantage of their children’s auditory access or to create the optimum early language environment necessary for the best habilitation outcome. Project ASPIRE aims to work to close this gap.
We believe that within every parent of a child with hearing loss lies the ability to help him or her reach their listening and spoken language potential. Project ASPIRE, or Achieving Superior Parental Involvement for Rehabilitative Excellence, is a multimedia curriculum developed to harness and grow that potential.
Project ASPIRE is an evidence-based, Early Intervention curriculum for parents and children birth to five years, who have chosen a spoken language communication option. It is a family-centered curriculum, the underlying philosophy of which is that when all else is equal and appropriate auditory access exists, it is a child’s early language environment that ultimately determines the child’s success.
The foundation of Project ASPIRE is the science of behavior change. It is one thing for parents to understand that rich language, the use of verbal expansion, and the encouragement of conversational turns are critical for a child to learn how to talk. But how do we get parents to incorporate this behavior into their everyday lives? A behavioral intervention is the science of transforming knowledge into action. This is a fundamental tenet of our program and marks the real paradigm shift of our curriculum.
Project ASPIRE takes a classic listening and spoken language educational approach but is differentiated by an innovative platform and packaging which employs multimedia elements and a novel strategy we term quantitative linguistic feedback. The platform is a standardized, html-based, 10-module curriculum imbedded with video and animation to convey educational concepts and strategies. While the standardized format was developed to aid in fidelity of implementation, the curriculum is easily adaptable by therapists to meet the individual needs of each family.
The quantitative linguistic feedback component in Project ASPIRE utilizes the LENA: analogous to a ‘language pedometer,’ it allows parents to ‘see’ the language environment they provide their child during weekly LENA recordings. The resulting data provides concrete feedback for parents and informs their goal setting. Video modeling is also employed. Both therapist and parents video themselves implementing behavioral strategies and review the video for immediate and constructive feedback.
Project ASPIRE represents a six-year iterative development process, a process that will undoubtedly continue. The program has evolved through extensive formative testing and feedback from our target population and end users (parents and EI therapists), significant pilot testing, and critically, the involvement and input by a diverse and dedicated group of professionals.
A pilot study of Project ASPIRE — a quasi-experimental study with 32 families in the Chicagoland area — is currently underway. The study will include post-intervention follow-up at 3 months. Next steps for Project ASPIRE include a longitudinal, multi-institutional study to further test program’s efficacy. We also plan a Spanish translation of the curriculum, adaptation for telemedicine and continued professional development.
While there is no silver bullet to end poverty, we hypothesize that Project ASPIRE as a public health initiative will, with each increase of parent knowledge, come closer to ending the cycle of disadvantage and, most importantly, allow children of poverty who are deaf or hard-of-hearing the opportunity to meet their potential.