Helping bilingual stroke patients to speak again is a primary research focus for José Centeno, Ph.D., associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at St. John’s University.
Centeno, a speech-language pathologist, was recently honored with a Certificate of Recognition for Special Contributions in Multicultural Affairs from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The certificate is awarded for “distinguished achievement and contributions” in clinical work or research with multicultural populations. Centeno believes it has made his efforts more visible. “I've received e-mails from so many in the field,” he said. “It's an extra incentive to keep going.”
Funding for some of Centeno's research on bilingual and minority persons with aphasia (a post-stroke language problem) has come from ASHA. It’s still a relatively new area of study, he noted. “There are so many bilingual people in this country,” he said. “The pattern of recovery from aphasia can be very complex for them.”
Most frequently, Centeno observed, an individual regains both languages. Yet many retrieve just one. The reasons remain unclear. “Some studies,” he explained, “suggest that the language a patient uses most frequently at the time of the stroke—rather than the native tongue—is the one that returns. Other work indicates that treating either language will help restore the other, or that focusing on both simultaneously will reinforce each other.”
The diverging conclusions, Centeno said, demonstrate that “no common factor has been found yet, which is why we do the research.”
Centeno, who calls speech-language therapy a “helping profession,” has found that teaching and research come together in the classroom. “My students get to see the real-world applications of what they’re learning,” he said. “They ask questions, and that gives me ideas for further socially relevant research to aid bilingual persons afflicted with aphasia.”
Ultimately, Centeno attributes much of his success to the University’s support for faculty research. “It makes St. John’s a very exciting place to work,” he said.