Communicative Disorders


Mahler, Leslie

Advisor Department

Communicative Disorders




This project analyzes the effects of speech-language treatment on patients with dysarthria, which is a motor speech disorder that results from disorders such as stroke, Parkinson's Disease, cerebral palsy, or Down Syndrome. Through the efforts of Dr. Leslie Mahler and a team of graduate students, quantitative and qualitative data of each patient's speech, pre- and post- treatment were gathered and compared. Each patient received treatment for six weeks, four times per week at the URI Speech and Hearing Clinic. The data on this project represents patients with Parkinson's Disease and Down Syndrome.


dysarthria; speech; parkinsons; down syndrome


Dysarthria is an impairment characterized by slow, weak, and imprecise muscle movements that affect one’s speech and communication. The specific characteristics of dysarthria vary depending on the site and extent of the lesion. Some general examples include articulatory-resonatory incompetence, imprecise consonants, distorted vowels, hypernasality, low pitch, harshness, strained-strangled voice and prosodic disturbances including slow rate. Dysarthria can be found in both children and adults, and is caused by neurologic disorders such as stroke, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or muscular dystrophy. Dysarthria can negatively impact one’s social participation. The extra effort it takes to speak and the frustration of not being understood typically discourages patients from contributing in a social environment, and can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Patients are treated for dysarthria at URI’s Speech and Hearing Clinic. The purpose of this project was to look at the effects of treatment on dysarthria of adults with Parkinson’s disease medically as well as socially. Quantitative and qualitative measures were used to assess patient’s and their significant other’s perceptions of their communication and swallowing deficits. Listener studies were conducted, where speech was recorded and played back for an unfamiliar listener to rate in terms of clarity and intelligibility. A computer program called the Multi-Dimensional Voice Program (MDVP) measured quantitative acoustic variables of voice quality, calculating more than 22 parameters on a single vocalization. A survey was also conducted asking patients to rate their own speech and swallowing on a scale, to gain knowledge on their own perception of the disorder.