Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Communication Sciences and Disorders Graduate Clinicians Work with Local Children

Plain and unassuming, just across from the Student Health Center, sits George Hall. George Hall, largely unnoticed by the general population, is home to one of the university’s most remarkable offerings: the Hearing Impaired, Language and Literacy Lab (HILL) Program. The HILL Program is divided into two classes: a preschool-age class for children with moderate-severe language impairments (ages 3-5) and a transition class for children who have moderate-severe language impairments and difficulty transitioning between activities or into a school environment (ages 5-7).

Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate student and clinician Whitley Bieser described the transitions class, saying, “The HILL Transition classroom helps in creating a foundation for success in the profession of Speech-Language Pathology. A foundation consisting of patiences, flexibility and creativity.”

The students in the HILL program are typically on the autism spectrum and are largely nonverbal. In the classroom, there is a 1:1 ratio of graduate clinicians from the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program, so each student receives individual attention. Graduate clinicians assisting transition class students work with them both in the clinic and at their respective schools, depending on their ability. Typically there are only four students per class every year, for a total of eight. The graduate clinicians are also assisted by undergraduate volunteers, and there may be more students if a child is actively being transitioned into school.

A typical day in class is just as hectic as any one might expect with children in the three to seven year-old age range. However, unlike other classrooms full of young children, the clinicians in the HILL Program actively encourage their students to speak and use their words. Some exercises include prompts to describe a toy, the weather, or how they’re feeling. After a period of free play time, the students are gathered up– often physically gathered into their clinician’s laps– into a circle for a group activity. Clinicians use songs that encourage participation, including ones that address each child and name the day, following simple, repetitive rhythms. Older children are taken to their own schools, depending on the day and how much time they’re assigned to spend there.

“Being a Speech Language Pathologist for a child with autism,” said Bieser, “challenges one to mold traditional teaching to supplement social, language and communication deficits. On top of that, one must provide needs for sensory processing impairments that may result in behavior problems.”

As the program is currently grant-funded program, the CSD program is able to provide these services without a cost to the students or their families. The only requirements are that children must be referred by a Speech-Language Pathologist. Students in the HILL Transitions class must also have documented transition issues by a teacher or SLP.

The HILL Program not only benefits local children with language impairments– the graduate clinicians’ hours count toward their 400 mandatory practicum hours they must work before they can graduate. Practicum hours must be carried out at an American Speech Language Hearing Association approved practicum site, of which the HILL Program is one. Practicum requirements include school-based settings and medical settings, like hospitals, long-term care facilities, private practices, and veterans’ homes; practicum sites can be found locally and all over the country. Graduate clinicians earning practicum hours must be supervised by a certified speech-language pathologist; Jennifer Johnson supervises the HILL Preschool class, while Amy Livingston supervises the Transitions class.

Of her work as a clinician at the HILL Program, Bieser said, “At the end of the day, the reward is so great for even the smallest accomplishments. This type of experience surpasses any knowledge one can gain from a textbook; this is where the real motivation is gained.”


by Katelyn Miller