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The MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders (MITECD) is a comprehensive volume that presents essential information on communication sciences and disorders. The pertinent disorders are those that affect the production and comprehension of spoken language and include especially disorders of speech production and perception, language expression, language comprehension, voice, and hearing. Potential readers include clinical practitioners, students, and research specialists. Relatively few comprehensive books of similar design and purpose exist, so MITECD stands nearly alone as a resource for anyone interested in the broad field of communication disorders.

MITECD is organized into the four broad categories of Voice, Speech, Language, and Hearing. These categories represent the spectrum of topics that usually fall under the rubric of communication disorders (also known as speech-language pathology and audiology, among other names). For example, roughly these same categories were used by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in preparing its national strategic research plans over the past decade. The Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, one of the most comprehensive and influential periodicals in the field, uses the editorial categories of speech, language, and hearing. Although voice could be subsumed under speech, the two fields are large enough individually and sufficiently distinct that a separation is warranted. Voice is internationally recognized as a clinical and research specialty, and it is represented by journals dedicated to its domain (e.g., the Journal of Voice). The use of these four categories achieves a major categorization of knowledge but avoids a narrow fragmentation of the field at large. It is to be expected that the Encyclopedia would include cross-referencing within and across these four major categories. After all, they are integrated in the definitively human behavior of language, and disorders of communication frequently have wide-ranging effects on communication in its essential social, educational, and vocational roles.

In designing the content and structure of MITECD, it was decided that each of these major categories should be further subdivided into Basic Science, Disorders (nature and assessment), and Clinical Management (intervention issues). Although these categories are not always transparent in the entire collection of entries, they guided the delineation of chapters and the selection of contributors. These categories are defined as follows:

Basic Science entries pertain to matters such as normal anatomy and physiology, physics, psychology and psychophysics, and linguistics. These topics are the foundation for clinical description and interpretation, covering basic principles and terminology pertaining to the communication sciences. Care was taken to avoid substantive overlap with previous MIT publications, especially the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS). The Disorders entries offer information on issues such as syndrome delineation, definition and characterization of specific disorders, and methods for the identification and assessment of disorders. As such, these chapters reflect contemporary nosology and nomenclature, as well as guidelines for clinical assessment and diagnosis.

The Clinical Management entries discuss various interventions including behavioral, pharmacological, surgical, and prosthetic (mechanical and electronic). There is a general, but not necessarily one-to-one, correspondence between chapters in the Disorders and Clinical Management categories. For example, it is possible that several types of disorder are related to one general chapter on clinical management. It is certainly the case that different management strategies are preferred by different clinicians. The chapters avoid dogmatic statements regarding interventions of choice.

Because the approach to communicative disorders can be quite different for children and adults, a further cross-cutting division was made such that for many topics separate chapters for children and adults are included. Although some disorders that are first diagnosed in childhood may persist in some form throughout adulthood (e.g, stuttering, specific language impairment, and hearing loss may be lifelong conditions for some individuals), many disorders can have an onset either in childhood or in adulthood and the timing of onset can have implications for both assessment and intervention. For instance, when a child experiences a significant loss of hearing, the sensory deficit may greatly impair the learning of speech and language. But when a loss of the same degree has an onset in adulthood, the problem is not in acquiring speech and language, but rather in maintaining communication skills. Certainly, it is often true that an understanding of a given disorder has common features in both the developmental and acquired forms, but commonality cannot be assumed as a general condition.

Many decisions were made during the preparation of this volume. Some were easy, but others were not. In the main, entries are uniform in length and number of references. However, in a few instances, two or more entries were combined into a single longer entry. Perhaps inevitably in a project with so many contributors, a small number of entries were dropped because of personal issues, such as illness, that interfered with timely preparation of an entry. Happily, contributors showed great enthusiasm for this project, and their entries reflect an assembled expertise that is high tribute to the science and clinical practice in communication disorders.

Raymond D. Kent

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