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2017 Summer Institute Intensive Session

Minnesota Early Intervention Summer Institute

Session 3

So Much More Than Baby Talk: Supporting Social Communication and Relationships for Young Children in the Contexts of Stress and Disability


Children’s social and language development are intricately connected, and relationship capacities can be dramatically affected when language development is disrupted. Anchored in understanding of typical language and social development in the first three years, this seminar will explore how professionals and families can support children’s social and linguistic competencies. In addition to considering the broad contexts for children’s social and linguistic development we will consider two special circumstances for supporting children’s language, one environmental and one biological. We will examine: 1) how highly stressful home environments, and 2) characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder, may impact children’s capacities to communicate and engage in relationships. For each, we will consider how professionals can support families’ capacity to enhance children’s language and social development.   

View Dr. Gallagher's TedTalk "The Healthy Child: Assembly Required" on YouTube

Session Objectives

In this session, participants will:

  • Revisit typical language and social development in children’s first three years of life, and how adults support language and social development in typical contexts
  • Examine the effects of stress on development, and consider strategies for supporting social communication for children experiencing traumatic stress
  • Learn how characteristics of ASD affect early development, and explore strategies for supporting social communication and relationships for children with delays and disabilities
  • Consider and plan for how strategies promoting language and social development can be supported with diverse families

Intended Audience

Early childhood educators, allied health professionals, early interventionists, paraprofessionals, home visitors, child welfare professionals

Intended Skill Level



Kathleen (Kate) Gallagher, Ph.D., is the Cille and Ron Williams Community Chair for Early Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Along with teaching and research, she engages with communities in Nebraska and the Buffett Institute, with the goal of enhancing the early childhood systems and workforce. Dr. Gallagher is an educational psychologist and early childhood professional, with over 30 years experience teaching, home visiting and leading early childhood programs, including early intervention and inclusive preschool programs. She has taught in child development and early education programs in higher education for over twenty years. Her research and professional development focus on identifying, implementing and evaluating practices, programs and policies that support the development and well-being of young children, their families, and early childhood professionals -- particularly in the contexts of poverty, disability and cultural diversity.

Dr. Gallagher spent 13 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she taught in the School of Education, and served as a Research Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Her recent projects include: 1) an RCT intervention to support toddlers with autism and their families; 2) an evaluation of North Carolina’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge-Transformation Zone, a project designed to enhance implementation science and systems change capacities among early childhood systems in rural North Carolina, 3) and the Pennsylvania Head Start Staff Wellness Survey/Be Well project, designed to examine, and develop resources related to the well-being of the early childhood workforce. Dr. Gallagher graduated magna cum laude from Cardinal Stritch University in early childhood education/special education, received her Masters in Education at Marquette University, and her doctorate in Human Development and Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She has published numerous journal articles, book chapters and educational products on children’s early language and literacy, social-emotional development and early intervention. Dr. Gallagher’s ability to communicate and elevate the importance of high quality early care and education are manifest in her TEDxUNC talk, “The Healthy Child: Assembly Required” and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy Sulzberger Distinguished Lecture, “Transformative Early Childhood Programs.”

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Last modified on February 21, 2013.