SCSD doctoral student wins Graduate Student Research and Creativity Award

Rachel Johnson
Rachel Johnson

Florida State University School of Communication Science & Disorders doctoral student Rachel Johnson received a Graduate Student Research and Creativity Award from the university’s Graduate School for her research involving a creative treatment approach for apraxia of speech.

Johnson is one of just six award winners of the award, which recognizes students for their outstanding research and creative productivity within their programs. Awards are made to students in three disciplinary categories: natural and physical sciences including mathematics and engineering; social and behavioral sciences; and the humanities and arts.

“Rachel is an outstanding doctoral student, both in terms of her coursework and her research aptitude,” Julie Stierwalt, associate professor at the School of Communication Science & Disorders, said.  “Her initiative to go beyond the borders of communication disorders and study underlying theories of motor learning has provided her with important insight that few clinicians or academics have in our field.” 

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website, apraxia of speech is a “speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently. It is not due to weakness or paralysis of the speech muscles (the muscles of the face, tongue, and lips). Acquired apraxia of speech can affect a person at any age, although it most typically occurs in adults. It is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that are involved in speaking, and involves the loss or impairment of existing speech abilities. The disorder may result from a stroke, head injury, tumor or other illness affecting the brain.”

Johnson’s dissertation will compare the effectiveness of two different treatment approaches in healthy adults learning novel speech motor movements, which will hopefully lead to follow-up study with adults with disorders.

“(Apraxia of speech) is one of the disorders that can affect adults, who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury, that is difficult for clinicians to treat because the research is very limited on what has found to be effective,” Johnson said.  “It’s very important for clinicians as well as our clients because it affects the quality of life a great deal due to the impairment in their ability to communicate.”

“In her primary line of research, she addressed critical elements in treatment, specifically dosage and stimuli selection,” Stierwalt said. “Her findings were extraordinary, eliciting accolades from her committee members who praised Rachel for exploring essential elements of treatment which are not easy to examine, but necessary in order to establish evidence base for our practice.”

Johnson was a clinician for five years before returning to obtain her doctorate and plans to graduate this summer.  She graduated with a B.S. in Biology from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington in 1999, and earned a M.S. in Communication Science and Disorders from East Carolina University in 2006.