Early childhood researcher in line for Life Scientist of the Year award
Dr Sarah Verdon, a researcher from Charles Sturt University (CSU), has been nominated for the national Prime Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year Prize. Dr Verdon is described as “a dynamic early childhood researcher and speech pathologist, passionate about creating equitable opportunities for supporting the communication development of children around the world”.
The Prime Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year Prize is part of “Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation, and excellence in science teaching,” recognising achievements across diverse disciplines and career stages. Recipients share $750,000 in prize money, and have the opportunity to showcase important work undertaken in their field.
Dr Verdon’s body of work has been adopted nationally and globally to benefit the language development of young children. She is a member of the CSU School of Community Health, and mother to two young children. In a statement about her nomination, a representative from CSU said her work is “devoted to supporting children to become competent communicators in the early years of life”.
“I believe that every child deserves to be able to effectively communicate to share their needs, personality, dreams and identity,” Dr Verdon said.
Dr Verdon’s PhD studies, completed with CSU in 2015, supported the communication development of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Her research spanned five continents and resulted in development of a holistic practice framework titled “The Principles of Culturally Competent Practice”. The thesis work was selected as one of the top three theses in the world for childhood disability by the Holland Bloorview Institute in Canada.
In 2015, Dr Verdon received the NSW/ACT Young Achiever of the Year award for Science Leadership, based on her PhD research, which resulted in nine refereed research papers and numerous presentations at international conferences.
In recent years, Dr Verdon continues to make substantial contributions through research on children’s speech and language development and developing a culturally responsive health workforce, a CSU spokesperson said.
“The opportunity to develop effective communication skills in the early years of life lays the foundation for lifelong social, academic and economic outcomes,” Dr Verdon said.
“I believe this opportunity should be available to every child, regardless of their cultural, linguistic, geographic or socioeconomic background.”
Dr Verodn has investigated the multilingualism of Australian, children and supports the maintenance of home languages by highlighting the cognitive, social, emotional, academic and economic benefits of multilingualism.
She is currently co-chair of the International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children’s Speech – a group of experts from over 40 countries, speaking over 30 languages, who develop research and guidelines to support the speech development of children across the globe.
Within Australia, Dr Verdon’s research has led to the development of national guidelines for “Working in a culturally and linguistically diverse society”, commissioned by Speech Pathology Australia as guidance for speech and language pathologists.
Dr Verdon and her colleagues were recently awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant to further develop the evidence-base for practice that will support the speech and language development of Vietnamese children living in Australia.
Findings from this project will develop a prototype for children speaking other languages, supporting the one in six Australian children who speak a language other than English when they start school.
Working with local volunteers, Dr Verdon has overseen research to develop the first language assessment in Vietnamese to identify children in need of intervention for language disorders. She has also successfully secured competitive grants to establish professional mentoring and ethics training for the speech therapy profession in Vietnam.