For almost a decade, Nina Santus treated a range of people with unique speech and language disorders. And while she loved what she was doing, she knew she could do even more by going back to school.
Today, the third-year doctoral student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Special Education is specializing in fluency, or the smoothness of a person's speech. Through her studies and research, she is able to bring together two of her biggest passions: guiding and teaching future speech-language pathologists and serving people who stutter.
In addition to assisting with fluency research, Santus supervises and instructs graduate students in the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic while they work with clients. Although her focus is on children who stutter, she has extensive experience treating clients with dysphagia, aphasia, articulation, and cognitive-linguistic deficits.
This fall, Santus begins her research at several area elementary schools, where she will investigate whether treating young children more frequently and for shorter durations can increase fluency.
Because children who stutter may not want to read aloud, the disorder can affect their success in reading, she says. It may also affect children in the proper use of phonetics, speaking, listening, fluency, and expression. Her research aims to define future intervention methods and treatments.
"The data we obtain will be analyzed to determine best practices, as well as possible needs for incorporating changes to the (individualized education plan) process, and the frequency and duration of treatment," she says. "Decreasing or eliminating dysfluencies in students who stutter will increase their academic and overall success in schools."
After designing and administering a survey to dozens of speech-language pathologists, Santus discovered a need for continuous education in fluency treatment in public schools. If this practice is incorporated, she believes school-based speech-language pathologists will feel more comfortable treating children who stutter.
Santus plans to graduate in the spring of 2016 and hopes her work with local elementary schools will result in more positive treatment outcomes, especially in underserved children who rely on school-based professionals for treatment.