Language and Speech Sciences Group

The Language and Speech Sciences Research Group is a vibrant group of speech pathologists, psychologists and educators exploring a range of different areas of normal and disordered speech, language and communication. Our research is focussed around the exploration of theories in typical and disordered populations across the lifespan, the study of at-risk populations, the development of robust assessment tools to diagnose and measure change following intervention, the evaluation of intervention strategies/programs for people with communication disorders, and the education of professionals to take these ideas forward. Our interests span specific language impairment, phonological and motor speech disorders, stuttering, aphasia, dementia and dysphagia.

Core research themes

1. Understanding Speech, Language and Cognitive Processing in Typical and Disordered Populations

Much of our research is focused around understanding how speech, language and cognition interplay in the development, impairment and dissolution of communication in child and adult populations.

Current projects include:

  • Assessment of phonological and motor speech disorders in children(Dr Mary Claessen, Dr Suze Leitao,A/Prof Anne Whitworth, with Prof Barbara Dodd)
  • The Great Australian Brain Training Challenge (Dr Frank Baughman, Dr Suze Leitao, A/Prof Anne Whitworth, Natalie Baughman). Funded by Curtin University.

2. Treatment Effectiveness for Speech and Language Disorders

Our interests span phonology, literacy and specific language impairment in children, aphasia, adult reading disorders, and dementia and progressive language disorders. Our work is focused on the evaluation of novel assessment and intervention practices for people with communication disorders.

Current projects include:

  • Is reading therapy effective for people who have reading difficulties related to impaired cognition and language after stroke? (Dr Naomi Cocks, Jade Cartwright)  Funded by the National Stroke Foundation.
  • Phonological intervention in 3 year old children (Dr Mary Claessen, Dr Suze Leitao, with Prof Barbara Dodd)
  • Towards evidence -based practice: Effectiveness of school-based intervention programmes for children with SLI (Dr Suze Leitao and Dr Karen Smith-Lock, Macquarie University)
  • Narrative intervention in aphasia: Exploring the interaction between levels of language in therapy in aphasia and TBI (A/Prof Anne Whitworth, Jade Cartwright, Dr Suze Leitao) Funded by the Neurotrauma Research Program, Harry Perkins Institute and Road Traffic Authority.

3. Early Development of Speech and Language Disorders in At-risk Populations

The broad aim of this research is to take a comprehensive look at the development of speech production, speech perception, language and cognition in typically developing infants as well as infants at risk of speech, language and/or reading disorders. The outcomes will be important for early identification and intervention of speech and language learning problems in children, as well as highlight factors that influence the emergence of speech and language abilities in typically developing infants.

Current projects include:

  • Exploring the verbal trait deficit hypothesis in at-risk infants (Dr Suze Leitao, Dr Neville Hennessey)

4. Stuttering

Curtin University is an international hub for research into the nature of and intervention of stuttering disorders. In addition to the highly successful Stuttering Clinic on campus, national and international collaborations have led to some exciting translational research projects.

Current projects include:

  • International Research Grant into the Genetics of Stuttering (Dr Janet Beilby with Professor Shelly Jo Kraft, Wayne State University, USA, Dr Jennifer Piper Below, Baylor University, USA). Funded by National Human Genome Research Institute.
  • Role of Attention and Cognitive Demand in Child and Adolescent Stuttering (Dr Janet Beilby, Dr Neville Hennessey)

5. Discourse Across the Lifespan

Exploring discourse patterns in the healthy population to then understand how disordered language and cognitive skills interplay and impact on everyday communication is a strong thread. Projects are underway with a range of clinical and non-clinical populations.

Current projects include:

  • Database across the Lifespan, involving healthy children and adults, aphasia, traumatic brain injury (TBI), right hemisphere injury (A/ Prof Anne Whitworth, Dr Suze Leitao, Dr Mary Claessen, Dr Naomi Cocks, Jade Cartwright, A/Prof Cori Williams). Funded by Curtin University.

6. Dementia and Communication

Developing our understanding of the nature of communication disorders in dementia underpins current studies being undertaken into intervention with this diverse population, including primary progressive aphasia and dementia.

Current projects include:

  • Communication Partnerships and Quality of Life in Aged Care: Translating the Ashby Memory Method (AMM)TM into Practice via a Sustainable Model of Care (Jade Cartwright, A/Prof Anne Whitworth, Brooke Sanderson with Prof. Barbara Horner , Elisabeth Oliver). Funded by Curtin University.

7. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Speech Pathology

Understanding the influences of cultural and linguistic diversity, especially in relation to the Australian indigenous population and attainment of academic and literacy abilities in school is a key area of interest and links to the vibrant Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin. Hearing impairment in the indigenous population is also a focus.

Current projects include:

  • Otitits media in Aboriginal children (A/Prof Cori Williams with Telethon Speech and Hearing Centre)
  • Language development in children with hearing impairment  (A/Prof Cori Williams with Telethon Speech and Hearing Centre)
  • Language disorder in children from multilingual backgrounds (A/Prof Cori Williams with Mala Fernandez, Catholic Education Office, Victoria)

8. Excellence in Clinical Education in Speech Pathology

Innovative practice in teaching and learning of our Speech Pathology and other allied health professional students is paramount to our activity. With our campus clinics located in the Health and Wellness Centre in Health Sciences, we are well placed to lead in this area.

Current projects include:

  • Virtual Learning Environments: Development and Application for the Health and Wellness Centre in Health Sciences (Dr Janet Beilby, Michelle Quail)
  • Promoting Quality Clinical Learning Environments in Aged Care: Developing a Suite of Clinical Supervisor Resources (Brooke Sanderson)
  • Preparing a future speech pathology workforce to meet the needs of an ageing population (Brooke Sanderson, Jade Cartwright, A/Prof Anne Whitworth)