Dr Roslyn Ward of Curtin University, 2019 WAHTN Early Career Fellowship in Translational Health Research.
Roslyn’s Fellowship project, “B2: I Can Communicate”, was the first longitudinal study evaluating the developmental profile of early vocalisations, speech, and language development of infants with or at risk of Cerebral Palsy (CP).
The ability to communicate is a basic human right, critical to forming and maintaining social relationships as well as educational and career opportunities. It is currently reported 60-85% of children with Cerebral Palsy have communication problems, with 1 in 4 children unable to talk. Early diagnosis is critical to minimising the cascading consequences of communication impairment.
In this study, 18 children with CP and 18 typically developing children were followed at 3-monthly intervals from 6 to 18 months of age. Researchers, clinicians and stakeholders were involved throughout the project, with recommended changes in clinician practice and clinical pathways evaluated.
Data analyses showed significant group differences in both the type of infant vocalisations and the developmental trajectory of early speech/language development. Typically developing children displayed an increasing developmental trajectory over time, while the trajectory of development for CP was decreasing, indicating increasing communication impairment compared to typically developing children.
A clinical audit, as part of the project, was undertaken to assess implementation and translation into clinical practice. Data showed a significant decrease in the age at which children were assessed and change in assessment practices. This project therefore made a contribution to addressing the significant evidence-practice gap in the early diagnosis and management of communication disorders associated with CP, contributed to a data-driven knowledge base for clinicians and facilitated dialogue on building clinical care pathways.
The project was conducted within an integrated knowledge translation framework, intended not only to generate knowledge but to do so within a clinical environment so it could be put into practice. “The data generated is being used in clinical care. I believe this indicates the success of this fellowship, given the literature reports a research-to-practice gap of 25 years”, Roslyn shared.
Consistent with WAHTN’s strategic goals and purpose, Roslyn has used the fellowship to build her research track record. As a result of the mentorship program offered through the fellowship, Roslyn secured a 12-month contract at the Institute of Health Research at The University of Notre Dame Australia to conduct the remainder of the project (including continuing data collection with the participants through to age 2), while she continues in her role as a Senior Research Fellow at the Curtin School of Allied Health.
Roslyn remains passionate about improving outcomes for children with communication impairment and has continued to build new and diverse research partnerships at a national and international level. The research partnerships include researchers from Curtin University, King Edward Memorial Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Calgary, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as Industry Partners (Telethon Speech and Hearing, and PROMPT Institute) and consumers. Funding has been secured through Industry grants as well as government grants that include the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund (Research Excellence Awards and WANMA) and a 2021 MRFF Chronic Neurological Conditions Grant. These grants are focused on enabling early and accurate detection of speech impairment through a novel web-based assessment application.
The WAHTN fellowship allowed Roslyn to fellowship focus on research full-time, “as opposed to conducting research on top of my workload responsibilities. As a result, I was able to build new research partnerships and build the necessary track record for grant success, focused on improving outcomes for children with communication impairment,” said Roslyn.
Roslyn can be found at Curtin University
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