March 31, 2012

What’s new in child language research

On Friday I attended a seminar held at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne titled: "What’s new in child language research: Implications for policy and practice". The very eminent speakers were:
  • Professor Bruce Tomblin, University of Iowa, USA
  • Professor James Law, University of Newcastle, UK
  • Professor Sheena Reilly, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne
  • Professor Cate Taylor, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth
  • Associate Professor Andrew Whitehouse, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth.
  • Professor Melissa Wake, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne
  • Dr Sharon Goldfeld from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne
The day began with an inspiring lecture by Prof Tomblin reflecting on his last 40 years of research into children's language. Prof Law outlined his latest Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis of interventions for children with speech and language impairment. Profs Reilly and Taylor described evidence of growth trajectories from longitudinal studies of children. A/Prof Whitehouse described some biological bases for language impairment. Prof Wake and Dr Goldfield outlined the results of population level intervention studies to support book reading and language stimulation in children from disadvantaged suburbs of Melbourne. Over 200 people attended this inspiring day.

Prof Bruce Tomblin
The new Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne - a space for children

International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology editorial board

I am the editor of the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology ( This week we had our annual editorial board meeting in Melbourne at the Speech Pathology Australia National Office. The executive board consists of:
  • Angela Morgan (Associate editor), Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Australia
  • Chris Code - University of Exeter, UK 
  • Fiona E. Gibbon - University College Cork, Ireland 
  • James Law - University of Newcastle, UK 
  • Suze Leitão - Curtin University of Technology, Australia 
  • Malcolm R. McNeil - University of Pittsburgh, USA 
  • Bruce E. Murdoch - The University of Queensland, Australia 
  • Mark Onslow - The University of Sydney, Australia 
  • Sheena Reilly - Royal Children’s Hospital, The University of Melbourne and Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Australia 
  • Edwin Yiu - University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
With the acceptance of IJSLP into the Web of Science Journal Citation Index, we have seen an increase in the number of submissions to the journal. One of our topics of discussion was how to support authors and reviewers to ensure the publication of high quality research and writing. Later in the day we met with the publisher of all of informahealthcare society journals (via teleconference to Sweden). It was pleasing to hear from him that IJSLP has continued to grow in subscribers and the number of downloads. He said that this was not typical in the current economic climate.
Sharynne (Editor of IJSLP), Gail Mulcair (CEO of Speech Pathology Australia), and Dr Angela Morgan (Associate Editor of IJSLP)

March 21, 2012

The research support crew

Quality research does not occur without a quality research support crew. This morning I drove to the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University to have meetings with:
  • Prof Ken Russell and Sharon Nielsen - Quantitative Consulting Unit
  • Gail Fuller - Spatial Analysis Network
about different research projects that are being undertaken as part of my Future Fellowship. One the way, I visited my PhD student's home, then arrived home to my family after 3 days away. By the time I had arrived home, I had received many emails from national and international colleagues. Colleagues, students, and family all make up the research support crew - and each contribute in their own important way.
The Rock: An important landmark between Albury and Wagga Wagga

March 20, 2012

Learning more about Australia's children via LSAC

Over the past two days I have worked with colleagues from Charles Sturt University, Queensland University of Technology, and Monash University. We all met in Albury as part of the Collaborative Research Network in Early Years Education to analyse data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. LSAC has collected 4 waves of data from 10,000 Australian children, so contains a wealth of information to help us understand more about Australia's children. My focus over the two days was to work with Sarah Verdon, Sue Walker, Donna Berthelsen and Linda Harrison (primarily) to consider the extent and impact of speaking languages other than English. For example, we found that there was a significant difference between the number of children who spoke a language other than English at 2 to 3 years of age, compared with 4 to 5 years of age. We will continue to work on these data in the coming weeks and hopefully submit papers to be considered for publication. It was a very productive and collaborative two days.
Members of the Early Years Education Collaborative Research Network in Albury
Sue Walker, Donna Berthelsen and Sharynne
beside the Murray River - the border between NSW and Victoria

Mapping Australian children's access to services

Today Sarah Verdon (my PhD student) and I spoke with Simon McDonald from the Spatial Analysis Network at Charles Sturt University about mapping Australian children's cultural and linguistic diversity and their access to appropriate services. Sarah and Simon have worked together previously on Sarah's honours thesis, so we know that this collaboration is going to be very successful.
Simon McDonald (SPAN, CSU) and Sarah Verdon
Here is the abstract of a publication that arose from Sarah's honours thesis:
The World Health Organization's equity objective states that there should be equal access to healthcare for equal need, regardless of location. Disparities between health services and challenges to achieving the equity objective have been documented both in Australia and around the world. However, little is known about the extent to which this objective has been met in the field of speech-language pathology in Australia. This study used structured interviews with 74 speech-language pathologists working in rural areas of New South Wales and Victoria. The data obtained were used to develop maps to describe the availability of paediatric speech-language pathology services through consideration of location and frequency. The findings show that 98.60% of localities are unserviced at the ideal frequency of weekly or more often. It is important to note that these percentages include all localities in the represented rural areas of New South Wales and Victoria, some of which are minimally populated. The maps also depict travel and distance as barriers to the accessibility of services and have been used to suggest a critical maximum distance for paediatric outpatient speech-language pathology services in rural New South Wales and Victoria. From the data collected, 50 kilometres was suggested as the critical maximum distance past which consumers become unable or unwilling to travel to access weekly rural speech-language pathology services in rural New South Wales and Victoria. Thus, people living in almost one third of rural localities in rural New South Wales and Victoria lie beyond what is considered by rural speech-language pathologists to be a reasonable travel distance to weekly speech-language pathology services. These results highlight barriers to the achievement of equitable services in rural areas. The results also provide an essential foundation to inform policy development and assist health service planning to meet the needs of rural consumers.

Read More:

March 19, 2012

The popularity of informal speech assessments: A taboo subject

The topic of the wide-spread use of unpublished/home-made/informal speech assessments is rarely discussed (or disclosed) within research literature. Most literature contains reports of the use of gold-standard assessment tools for diagnosis of children with speech difficulties and identification of appropriate intervention goals. However, recent reports using questionnaire data indicate that many speech pathologists are using unpublished/home-made/informal speech assessments. Nicole Limbrick is undertaking an analysis of the conceptualisation and operationalisation of informal speech assessments. It is interesting to see what they look like and to discover some very innovative design features in some of the assessments. Jane McCormack and I are very fortunate to be co-supervising Nicole's honours thesis. She will be presenting data from her thesis at the Speech Pathology Australia National Conference in Hobart in June.

Jane McCormack and Nicole Limbrick
considering informal speech assessments

March 9, 2012

Supporting children's speech and language development

Last night I spoke to 404 parents and teachers at 30 rural and remote schools throughout the state of New South Wales (NSW) as part of the Department of Education and Communities' NSW Country Areas Program's RDE RELATE:
"RDE RELATE  began in 2010 as a community education initiative aimed at supporting parents and community members in rural and remote areas of NSW. The aim is to support sustainability in rural and remote communities through providing access to high quality persons and topics of interest via video conferencing. Issues covered to date have canvassed a broad range of topical issues from internet safety, sexting,  to assisting your child with literacy."

The title of my presentation was: "Supporting children's speech and language development" (not quite as controversial as some of the other topics above!). I covered how children acquire speech and language from birth into the school years. Then I talked about what parents and teachers can do to assist children's communication.

Thank you flowers!
To end my presentation I showed a video from the UK's 2011 Hello campaign:


March 2, 2012

January-February 2012 summary

‘Speaking my language: International speech acquisition in Australia’
Written by Kim Woodland, Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education for the February 2012 RIPPLE Update

Sharynne has spent time over the last few months continuing her Future Fellowship research, collaborating on other research and publication projects, and working with speech pathology students and the three doctoral students and two honours students she is supervising this year. She was recently interviewed by ABC Science online for her opinion on results from a new study that examined the ability of adults and toddlers (aged 2 and 4) to change their vowel productions based on how they perceived their own speech output. A range of media coverage has also resulted from the completion of the ‘Infants’ lives in childcare’ project, funded by the ARC, which a number of RIPPLE members were part of. Further information on the international interest this project has garnered appears in the ‘Awards and Success Stories’ section of this Update (p. 6). A project Sharynne is currently collecting data for is ‘Talking about talking: Children’s perspectives’, a project which explores typically developing young children’s perspectives about their talking and listening, with the aim of facilitating educational transition between early childhood and school settings. She also recently gave an online lecture—‘Cross-linguistic aspects of communication development’—which was appropriately broadcast across 3 continents, in 5 different time zones, and in 2 languages (it was translated into Portuguese at one of the sites). Finally, in the last RIPPLE Update, I wrote about a book that Sharynne was finalising with Brian Goldstein. The book, Multilingual aspects of speech sound disorders in children, has just been published by Multilingual Matters in the United Kingdom. For more information, please visit Sharynne’s blog: Speaking my languages.