Sarah Verdon and I were her proud supervisors as she presented her research to an expert panel. In true CSU style, Anna was in Brisbane, Sarah was in Albury, and the panel and myself in Bathurst, with other members of the audience dialing in from across Australia. Her reviewers were Professor Jennifer Sumsion and A/Professor Sandie Wong.
Abstract: Toddlers with cleft palate are at risk of speech, language, velopharyngeal and hearing difficulties. That is, having a cleft palate may impact on many areas of a child’s life. One model that has been used to holistically describe how a child may be affected by a cleft palate is the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health – Child and Youth version (ICF-CY). Previous studies have applied the ICF-CY to children with speech impairment, as an assessment framework for working with young children with cleft palate, and to older children with cleft palate speech; however, no studies have investigated the experiences of toddlers with cleft palate in the context of this framework. The research so far has shown the extensive impact of the difference in the Body Structure (i.e., cleft palate) on children’s Body Functions (e.g., speech), Activities and Participation (e.g., communication, relationships). What has not been investigated is the impact of cleft palate early in children’s lives, as they participate in their homes and early childhood education centres.
The proposed research consists of three studies. Study 1 will describe the speech and language characteristics of 2-year-olds with cleft palate, using direct assessment of the children’s speech and language as well as play-based observations. Study 2 will investigate the impact of cleft palate on the lives of toddlers and their families. It will investigate the Activities and Participation of toddlers with cleft palate, and the experiences of their families and educators in caring for a child with a cleft through semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with families and educators of children with cleft palate. It will make use of the ICF-CY as a theoretical framework for the initial organisation of qualitative data before new themes are generated within the components of the ICF-CY. Study 3 will examine the current practices and aspirations of speech-language pathologists working with young children with cleft palate through semi-structured interviews, with a focus on those themes described by the families and educators in Study 2. The findings of this work will contribute to the research on the speech characteristics of young children with cleft palate, understanding the experiences of families of children with cleft palate, and how this understanding may be applied to provide holistic care for children with cleft palate, and their families by health and education professionals.