UOW researchers awarded NHMRC funding to recognise language issues in children 
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > UOW researchers awarded NHMRC funding to recognise language issues in children 

UOW researchers awarded NHMRC funding to recognise language issues in children 

by Freya Lucas

December 17, 2020

A University of Wollongong (UOW) project to develop a tool to help carers recognise language disorders and delays in young children has been awarded funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grants scheme.


The project is one of two UOW led initiatives to be financed by the Grants, which were announced earlier this week by Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt, and will be led by Associate Professor Steven Howard from UOW’s Early Start.


At the conclusion of the project Professor Howard, who will work with fellow Early Start researchers Associate Professor Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett and Professor Marc de Rosnay as well as researchers from the University of Oxford, Macquarie University, University of Sydney and South Western Sydney Local Health District, hopes to have developed and evaluated a novel early language assessment tool that can be used by carers to identify vulnerable children who would benefit from referral to allied health pathways. 


The project was awarded $554,388 over three years under the Ideas Grant scheme, which supports a broad range of innovative and creative projects in all areas of health and medical research from discovery science through to clinical research, health services and public health research.


“Language disorder or delay are best addressed through allied health pathways. However, referral to such services requires a child’s carers being able to differentiate typical and atypical development, causing high levels of over- and under-referral,” Professor Howard said.


“We will develop and evaluate a novel language and communication tool that can be used by those who provide care for children from pre-school to early primary school (ages three to seven years) – a stage of development when accurate measures can be taken and intervention can be particularly advantageous – to derive sensitive pre-diagnostic information that can inform their referral discussions and decisions.”


Variation in children’s language development by start of school, including language delay, is one of the strongest predictors of developmental risk and outcomes, he added.


While childhood language disorders and delays are most effectively addressed through clinical and allied health pathways, referral to those services hinges on a child’s carers having adequate information to understand the language development progress and needs of the child.


“A scalable and supported language and communication tool with pre-diagnostic utility would initiate a paradigm shift in early assessment, empowering those who spend the most time with young children to seek appropriate and timely referral.” 


“This would reduce the burden on allied health pathways and services that derive from current high levels of false-positive referral, and also reduce the long-term societal costs of children who would benefit from these services missing out on referrals.”


UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Jennifer L Martin AC congratulated the researchers involved, saying the selected projects are both “fascinating and important”.


“I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those applicants who were not funded in this round of NHMRC Ideas Grants. I thank them for their research passion, and for the time and effort they put into their grant submission.”


Further information about the Grants may be accessed here

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