Interview With Dr. Ciera Lorio of Illinois State University

Ciera M. Lorio, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Prior to completing her doctorate, Dr. Lorio worked as a school-based speech-language pathologist, serving children in preschool through 5th grade. Her research focuses on language/literacy development and interventions, especially caregiver- implemented interventions designed for at-risk populations.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or speech pathologist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Lorio and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in researching child language and literacy?

My interest in research and language/literacy started as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, where I volunteered on a research team to compare parent-child shared book reading for preschoolers with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This early research experience gave me confidence to join other research projects as a Master’s student, and I believe my undergraduate and graduate research experiences supported my later practices as a school-based speech-language pathologist (SLP). In the public schools, I regularly worked with young students who struggled with both language and literacy, and I often wondered how I could increase carryover of language/literacy interventions into classroom and home settings. My questions related to coaching and caregiver-implemented interventions led me to Florida State University, where I had opportunities to learn more about language/literacy as it relates to ASD, at-risk populations, coaching, and early intervention.

What are some of the most important things we have learned about this area in the past couple of decades?

We know there is a substantial link between vocabulary development in the early childhood years and later reading achievement in elementary school and beyond (Dickinson and Porche, 2011; Suggate, Schaughency, McAnally, and Reese, 2018). Young children with strong vocabulary knowledge tend to be better readers, and research is showing parents and educators can support emergent literacy and vocabulary development during those early years through typical daily routines, such as shared book reading (WWC, 2007; 2010). Researchers are continuing to refine programs that support caregivers in providing interventions that enhance vocabulary development, especially for children at-risk, including those with developmental delays and children from low-income families (Huebner and Meltzoff, 2005; Lonigan, Purpura, Wilson, Walker, and Clancy-Menchetti, 2013; Lorio and Woods, 2018).

How can teaching interventions to parents/educators help improve outcomes for children with language and literacy needs?

Young children, especially those 4 years and under, tend to spend most of their time with their parents. They may also spend much of their time with educators if they attend a daycare or preschool. To set children up for later language and literacy success, these caregivers need to be involved in that process right from the start. The use of coaching can be powerful in supporting caregivers’ use of language/literacy interventions. Coaching is different from “training.“ Coaching is active, collaborative, and individualized; it includes caregivers as decision-makers in intervention planning and implementation. By coaching caregivers to use language/literacy interventions, we can help them gain the confidence and tools they need to build their child’s foundational language and literacy skills, which will ultimately set their child up for later academic success. When caregivers also provide interventions (instead of just the SLP), we increase the amount of time a child receives interventions. As SLPs, we cannot do it alone. Caregiver involvement and regular collaboration is critical, especially in those early developmental years.

What are some of the challenges of doing this?

Each family and classroom is different. Caregivers have varying levels of background knowledge related to language/literacy development, and most will need different amounts of coaching to support their use of interventions. Not every family or classroom has the same needs and priorities, and sometimes it can be challenging to adapt your coaching practices to meet the needs of the individual learner. Other challenges include building a trusting relationship with the caregiver and finding the time to meet for coaching and collaboration, especially in classroom settings. However, even with these potential challenges, coaching caregivers can be powerful in supporting the language and literacy skills of young children, and it is an area we need to continue researching in order to identify ways to limit these challenges.

You have also made several presentations on the use of telepractice with children with autism. How can telepractice benefit these children?

During my doctoral program at Florida State University, my colleagues and I designed clinical opportunities for our graduate students to provide interventions to preschoolers with ASD using telepractice (Lorio, Delehanty, and Woods, 2017). Our graduate students targeted language, literacy, and social goals with the preschoolers during group sessions and individually coached their caregivers on strategies that supported carryover of interventions into the home. We saw increases in child responses during sessions, and the caregivers reported telepractice to be acceptable and useful, commenting positively on the opportunities for peer interaction during our group telepractice sessions. Other studies including telepractice for children with ASD have also resulted in promising outcomes (e.g., Vismara, Young, and Roberts, 2012; Wainer and Ingersoll, 2015; Meadan et al., 2016; Pickard et al., 2016). We are in the early stages of understanding telepractice, and this is an area that continues to need additional research in order to refine our use of telepractice across various age groups, disabilities, and types of intervention.

How do you choose new research projects to pursue?

When I choose a new research project, I try to make sure it will meet the needs of individuals in my community or the general population. It is important to design research projects that are clinically relevant and align with the needs of children, SLPs, and other professionals in the field.

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my research that directly influences individuals in my community. I enjoy conducting studies that include coaching to support caregiver-implemented interventions. The educators and families I work with are learning and building skills during the study, and it has been wonderful to get feedback from my participants so I can improve the intervention or training/coaching program in future studies.

What is your advice to speech pathology graduate students?

First, you chose a great career! There are so many opportunities in this field, and you will certainly have a significant impact on many people’s lives. My advice for graduate students is to take advantage of being a student. Don’t expect perfection. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and then learn from them. Ask a lot of questions. Your professors and clinical educators are there to guide you, and they love it when you seek deeper levels of understanding. Take advantage of all the learning opportunities in front of you. There will be many, and when you graduate and you are on your own in the field, you just might miss those learning opportunities and the mentors you had to support you along the way. Soak it up, and enjoy every minute!

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