Cleft Palate Clinic

Image of child

The Communication Disorders Clinic was a hive of activity March 3, 2011, during the semi-annual Cleft Palate Clinic. The hallways were filled with parents and their children taking advantage of the free clinic to meet with physicians and other professionals who donate their time and expertise to assist families coping with the health and learning problems associated with cleft palate. Approximately one in every 700 children is born with a cleft lip or palate, thus services like those provided in the NMSU clinic are much needed.

Children with cleft palate and their families consult with members of an interdisciplinary team including a pediatrician, nutritionist, speech-language pathologist, ear-nose-throat specialist, speech scientist, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, audiologist, and orthodontist. They receive advice about how to schedule needed subsequent surgeries, removal of baby teeth, use of braces, working with their school’s speech language pathologists, understanding the school’s individualized education plan, and a host of other issues that children with cleft palate face.

Graduate students in the Communication Disorders program assist with the clinic, gaining invaluable experience in understanding the challenges cleft palate children must overcome and in communicating effectively with children and their families. In many cases, the patients are more comfortable communicating in Spanish, and several of the graduate students were able to serve as interpreters.

Image of Dr. Marlene Salas with clinic person

The NMSU Communication Disorders program is privileged to have two faculty members with expertise and research in cleft palate. Dr. Marlene Salas-Provance, ASHA Fellow, is associate professor of Special Education and Communication Disorders in the College of Education and Director of the Communication Disorders Program has many years of experience in working with children with cleft palate. Beyond her work in the U.S., she has volunteered to participate in projects in developing countries sponsored by Rotoplast International, which provides free reconstructive surgery and treatment to those with cleft lip and palate. To date, she has traveled to the Philippines, El Salvador, Venezuela, Peru, and China to offer her services. On her most recent trip to Shijiazhuang City, China, she screened 175 children who were being considered for possible surgeries. In addition to evaluation of potential patients, Salas-Provance worked with the children on their sound production before and after surgery and helped construct prosthetic appliances for those unable to receive surgery. She also gave parents information about early speech and language development and taught them strategies to use at home to improve language production. Salas-Provance has recently been elected to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the professional, scientific and credentialing association for 140,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists, speech-language pathologists and speech, language and hearing scientists. It provides governmental oversight and advocacy for legislative issues related to scope of practice, reimbursement and ethical practice.

Youkyung Bae with Nasometer

Youkyung Bae with Nasometer

Youkyung Bae joined the College of Education in 2009 as an assistant professor of Special Education and Communication Disorders and is a speech scientist. Dr. Bae received her first BA degree in English Language and Literature at Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea and then received her BS, MA, and PhD degrees in Speech and Hearing Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in the areas of anatomy, physiology, and acoustics of the human speech mechanism. Specifically, her research focuses on the relationships between the structural deviations of the velopharyngeal musculature and their speech consequences in individuals with history of cleft palate using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and acoustic analysis methods. Currently, Dr. Bae is recruiting children and adults with a history of cleft palate for her research to compare back of the throat structures and speech output (those interested in participating in her research project may contact her at She has recent publications of her work in the Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal and the Dysphagia Journal. Dr. Bae will serve as a research mentor for NMSU’s National Institutes of Health grant to prepare students in the southwest and Rocky Mountain region for careers in neuroscience research. Dr. Bae currently teaches a Voice/Head & Neck Anomalies course at the graduate level where graduate students learn the scientific aspects and clinical components for providing therapy for individuals with voice disorders and cleft palate. Dr. Bae and Dr. Salas-Provance will co-teach a new course dedicated to cleft lip/palate and other craniofacial anomalies in the spring of 2012.

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