Dr. Kellyn Hall, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders (CSD)

Hard to swallow

This graduate course, offered every fall and required for students in the graduate CSD program, prepares future speech-language pathologists to work with people of any age who have difficulty swallowing. More common in older adults (68 percent of residents of skilled nursing facilities have this diagnosis) but affecting 1 in 25 people of any age, dysphagia can cause choking and lead to pneumonia, malnutrition and dehydration.


Students are trained to perform and interpret modified barium swallow” tests, in which a video X-ray is taken of a patient swallowing food mixed with barium. The tests enable a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to determine the cause of the problem and plan treatment.

Purée of Happy Meal

To better understand their patients, students put themselves on a liquid diet for a day, eating only puréed food and drinking thickened liquids. “That’s a real eye-opener. Try putting a Happy Meal in a blender and drinking that for lunch,” said Hall, who also has the students journal about their experience.

Cross training

Classes in the course are sometimes combined with nursing classes, allowing students in both disciplines to learn together and from each other.


Hall did a postdoctoral fellowship on the effect of surgeries on swallowing function at the University of Chicago in 1991-92 and later published Pediatric Dysphagia: A Resource Guide, written for SLPs working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders.

Suggested reading

Dysphagia: Clinical Management in Adults and Children (second edition), Michael Groher and Michael Crary

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