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Dr. Jane McCormack, Charles Sturt University, Australia

Dr. Jane McCormack won the 2nd place Pursuit Award on May 15th, 2013.
Her research presentation, titled “The extent and experience of childhood speech impairment” focused on children with speech impairments and examined the implications of those disabilities on their development.  She also looked at how those speech impairments affected their families.

Dr. McCormack’s research acknowledge the existing body of knowledge surrounding pediatric speech impairment that assessed treatments and body functions of the children, and instead set out to learn how a speech impairment affected a child’s social and educational development, outside of the healthcare environment.  Her research found that speech impairments did lead to developmental delays in socialization, as well as reading and writing. 

Dr. McCormack is using her research to inform the Australian government and healthcare system that even mild speech impairments, which currently do not qualify for treatment options, can lead to problems with development and influence their everyday participation.

Biography

Jane McCormack graduated as a speech pathologist in 2003, and worked clinically in a range of health and educational settings in Australia and in the UK for four years. In 2007, she commenced work as a project officer on a large Australian research project investigating speech impairment among preschool children, and service provision to this population. At the same time, she commenced her PhD investigating the experiences of individuals with speech impairment and their families, and long-term difficulties associated with speech impairment in childhood.

Jane was awarded her PhD in April 2011. Her PhD was awarded the Outstanding Thesis Prize in the Faculty of Education at Charles Sturt University, and in 2011, she was awarded the SCOPUS Australian Young Researcher of the Year for Humanities and Social Sciences. This is a national award that reflects research quality and the impact of research at a national and international level.

Jane commenced as a permanent lecturer within the speech pathology program at CSU in 2011. Her current position involves teaching and research. In 2012, she was awarded an Early Career Research Fellowship at CSU for researching issues related to early childhood education and development. She is also one of the chief investigators on an Australian government-funded research project investigating links between speech impairment and literacy development.

Jane is currently researching service provision for children with communication difficulties; in particular, the development of models of collaborative practice between speech pathologists and early childhood professionals to ensure all children are supported in their preschool years.

Abstract

The extent and experience of childhood speech impairment

Communication impairment is a high prevalence condition in preschool children, and speech impairment (also called articulation/phonological/speech sound disorder) is one of the most common forms of communication impairment among this age group. Early intervention is recommended for children with speech impairment due to growing awareness of the potential long-term consequences of unresolved speech impairment (e.g., poorer school achievement, unemployment).

Intervention for speech impairment has traditionally focused on correcting children’s production of sounds/words, which may not address the full impact of speech impairment on a child’s life, or the priorities of the child and family. In recent years there has been a shift to consider health (including communication) in a more holistic manner, with the development of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF; World Health Organization (WHO), 2001) and the ICF-Children and Youth version (ICF-CY; WHO, 2007). There has also been a shift to incorporate the views of clients (children and adults) in health intervention. In particular, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC; UNICEF, 1989) stipulated the rights of children to express their views in all matters affecting them. Both the ICF-CY and the UNCROC have been recommended by speech-language pathology professional associations as important considerations to guide speech-language pathology research and practice.

To date, no studies have investigated the views of individuals with speech impairment regarding their experience of the impairment and the association between the impairment and limitations to life activities. The research undertaken through this doctoral research aimed to develop an understanding of childhood speech impairment as perceived by those who experience speech impairment and their communication partners. Specifically, the research aimed to fulfil two objectives: 1) to investigate the link between childhood speech impairment and limitations to life activities, and 2) to describe the experience of living with childhood speech impairment. In order to fulfil these objectives, a series of reviews and research studies were conducted, the results of which have been published (or submitted for publication) in Australia and internationally.

This doctoral research contains nine papers which present the reviews and research studies. The three review papers provide information about: (1) the prevalence of communication impairment in Australian children, (2) the theoretical framework used to guide the research (the ICF and ICF-CY), and (3) the application of the ICF-CY to children with speech impairment. The six subsequent research papers have unique aims and methodologies; however, all use the ICF and ICF-CY as a theoretical lens to provide an overarching perspective.

The first three research papers investigate the link between speech impairment and limitations to life activities: (1) a systematic review of 57 research studies, (2) analysis of parents’ (n=86) and SLPs’ (n=205) responses to questionnaires about the impact of speech impairment on life activities and participation, and (3) analysis of child, parent and teacher reports gathered (and made available to the researcher) in the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (n=4,329). In these three research studies, activities limited by speech impairment extend beyond communication-based activities, and include interpersonal interactions (e.g., relating to persons in authority, informal relationships with friends/peers, parent-child relationships, sibling relationships), learning activities (reading, writing, attention and thinking, calculating), and handling stress and other psychosocial demands. Furthermore, the difficulties associated with childhood speech impairment extend beyond early childhood into the school years and later.

The experience of living with childhood speech impairment is investigated through three additional research studies: (1) a meaning-making analysis of children’s drawings (n=13), (2) a phenomenological analysis of interviews conducted with preschool children (n=13) and their families (n=21), and (3) a phenomenological analysis of two young adults with a history of childhood speech impairment and their mothers. Again, difficulty with speech is not the only difficulty identified, nor is it always the priority for intervention. Children and their families recognise difficulties with communication relate to the speech skills of the child, but also to the ability of communication partners to understand the child’s message, and frustration resulting from communication breakdowns. Individuals with speech impairment and their mothers reveal the difficulties associated with speech impairment continue throughout the lifespan, affecting social interactions, academic skills, and career progression for individuals and causing distress, isolation or guilt for parents.

This doctoral research expands current understanding of the extent and experience of childhood speech impairment across the lifespan, and reveals the unique and valuable insights about speech impairment that children and their families provide. As a series of papers, this research forms a body of evidence that could be drawn upon by policy-makers, speech-language pathologists, and educators to provide direction for timely and holistic intervention services for individuals with speech impairment and their families.

Dr. Jane McCormack