New study to help children with language problems

A study that helps children diagnosed with delays in talking has been boosted by a six figure sum. It will help round 160 families from Portsmouth and Southampton who have children aged two-three years old who have been clinically diagnosed with early language delay.

The £314,711 grant from the Nuffield Foundation was received by the Solent NHS Trust working in conjunction with specialist speech and language researchers from the University of Portsmouth. Together they will run a new treatment programme for pre-school children with speech and language needs. The programme will help parents understand their child’s needs and how best to interact with them, in order to encourage language development.

The unique study will involve children wearing small devices that records their communication throughout the day, which will provide a huge amount of linguistic data for the study team to analyse natural communication.

​The programme will target disadvantaged families because there is evidence that social disadvantage is associated with children’s communication needs, which researchers believe could be related reduced life experiences and exposure to a rich variety of language. The families participating in the programme will have access to a host of other support measures, including free crèche facilities.  ​

Dr Chris Markham, a qualified Speech and Language therapist and a researcher at the University of Portsmouth involved in the study. He said: “We know from the scientific evidence base that children’s communication needs can impact on their long term life experience, particularly if they go unresolved. There is evidence of lower educational achievement, starting at GCSE, lower employment rates throughout life and difficulties managing social relationships. There is also a body of evidence to show that there is a disproportionately higher level of speech and language needs in young offender and adult prison populations.​”

Dr Markham, who is jointly managing the programme, collecting the data with children and their families and supporting the research team. Dr Markham said: “The research will look at parental skills, attitude, and confidence and will evaluate how families engage with treatment and the outcomes for their children. We will equip parents with the skills to help their children overcome language challenges.”

A pilot study with a range of families in Portsmouth showed positive outcomes for the children and their families. The grant from the Nuffield Foundation will fund a more in-depth study, targeting hard to reach families.​

Dr Deborah Gibbard from the Solent NHS Trust is leading the study. She said the research will be valuable for socially disadvantaged communities, given the long lasting effects of children’s language delay on education, personality, employment and wider society.  She said: “Families will benefit from a reduction in health and social inequalities that impact on the individual, family and wider communities, and ensuring children have the best possible start in life.”

Families will be recruited through a speech and language therapist, following an initial assessment with the service.

The research trial, which will run from April 2017 to March 2020, will be led by Dr Gibbard. Other team members include Professor Sue Roulstone of University of West of England and Dr Clare Smith, speech and language therapist from Solent NHS Trust.

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