The speech, participation and well-being of toddlers with cleft palate
Cleft lip and palate is one of the most common congenital childhood conditions and it occurs in 1 in 500-700 live births, but varies considerably depending on ethnic group and geographical area (Murray, 2002). Cleft palate may impact children's speech, hearing, occlusion (alignment of the teeth), and their educational and psychosocial outcomes (Peterson-Falzone, Hardin-Jones, & Karnell, 2010). Speech development and production are some of the domains most affected by a person having a cleft palate, and speech difficulties may even persist into adulthood for a small number of individuals (e.g., Morén, Mani, Stålhammar, Lindestad, & Holmström, 2017). Early intervention for speech difficulties may lessen the long-term outcomes for people with cleft palate. Current research focuses on speech development of young children with cleft palate, and the impact of cleft palate on the well-being of older children with cleft palate. However, there has not been a focus on the impact of cleft palate on toddlers' lives from their perspective and those around them. My PhD will explore the experiences of toddlers with cleft palate and those of their families. My research will investigate the speech development of Australian toddlers with cleft palate, the experiences of parents, carers, educators and extended family members of toddlers with cleft palate, and international experts' aspirations for support for toddlers with cleft palate.
I chose Charles Sturt because I felt it was the best place to do the research I wanted to do, and to make a difference in young children's lives. I liked Charles Sturt's holistic view of children's speech, education and social development. Further, I was impressed by Charles Sturt's international, collaborative approach to research. My previous experience completing a research project as part of my honours degree, and being a member of the Cleft Palate Team at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, developed my interest in research and working with toddlers with cleft palate and their families. Further to this, in 2015 I applied for a Churchill Fellowship to meet with world expert researchers and clinicians working with young children with cleft palate. I was successful in my application, and completed my project in 2016. This process encouraged me to think about starting a PhD to maintain the momentum generated by my project. Professor McLeod helped me apply for an APA PhD scholarship in 2016, and I was successful in this. I started my PhD full-time in September 2016 with Professor McLeod and Dr Sarah Verdon as my supervisors and I hope my research will make a difference in the lives of toddlers with cleft palate, and their families, as well as the clinicians working with them.