Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Centre for Health and Clinical Research Conference

On the 5th of November the University of the West of England Centre for Health and Clinical Research (CHCR) hosted a half day conference titled Health research for impact. The conference covered a wide range of talks on topics including patient public involvement, emergency and critical care, long term conditions, child health, health technology and ethics, and evaluation. It was fantastic to see people from diverse health related disciplines come together to discuss the impact of research.
Conference opening!

The Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit (BSLTRU) was fortunate to have a strong presence of the conference with 5 members of staff from BSLTRU giving oral presentations, in addition to PhD student Anna Blackwell having a poster at the conference.

Three presentations from BLSTRU were on findings from the NIHR funded programme ‘Child Talk’ which focused on the development of interventions for primary school children with primary speech and language impairment (PSLI). Lydia Morgan gave a brief overview of the 3 year programme, describing a typology of practice that has emerged from the research. The typology aims to represent the aims of therapy for preschool with PSLI children, and will be hosted on a website, with associated evidence. Part of the evidence for the typology includes a systematic review which our senior researcher on the Child Talk programme, Sam Harding, presented on.  Sam provided a really valuable talk regarding the lessons that can be taken from the review, including advice to all researchers on enhancing the quality and usefulness of research.

Lydia Morgan presenting at the conference
The project manager for Child Talk, Rebecca Coad spoke about the involvement of parents as partners in the Child Talk project. This talk was particularly praised by a champion of patient involvement in research who were encouraged to see a real success story in terms of patient involvement, with useful ideas about engaging and supporting patients to be involved.

Yvonne Wren gave a really engaging talk on her exploration of data from the Avon Longitudinal study. Patterns of speech production of children with persistent speech disorder and children who were typically developing, at 8 years old, were compared and discussed and the clinical implication considered.

The director of the unit, Karen Sage, gave a talk on the use of research outcome measures for participants with aphasia. This work highlighted the value in including and consulting those with health conditions in the development of outcomes. She discussed findings from participants with aphasia in  terms of where they would most like to see change in their communication,  as well as and how aphasia affects their lives.

The conference provided an excellent forum to engage with others in related disciplines, to disseminate our research and to learn lessons about how health research can have impact. It was great to see the BSLTRU’s research so well represented, indicating the important role we have for health research in the region.  

Monday, 6 October 2014

New free Aphasia Awareness Video - PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD

Working with people who have aphasia, it is all too well understood that they can have great communication difficulties.  The challenge is always how health care professionals share this knowledge with other health professionals and members of the community, so they understand the impact it can have on the lives of the individual and those close to them.

This free video resource was designed to help everyone get this message across in a visually dynamic way.  It can be used as part of a training package with other health professionals, with students, or even as a challenge to the health care profession.

We would like to encourage you to watch the video, share the link with friends, family and colleagues.

This is the long version of the video, but a shorter one is available from

Other interesting information and insights can be found at:

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'Mind the Gap' RCSLT conference 2014

Every other year the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists hold a two day conference. It is attended by practitioners and academics from the United Kingdom and internationally. This event more than all others in the portfolio of RCSLT events, focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing the profession and provides a platform for dissemination of new innovations for evidence-based practice.

BSLTRU likes to support this event and is passionate about bridging the gap between research and practice, so it was a great pleasure to have a number of opportunities to present and be represented at the conference. 

Karen Davies, a PhD student associated with the 'Child Talk' programme presented findings from one element of her thesis - 'Partnership with parents: Speech and language therapists' role in changing behaviours and conceptions'.
Karen Davies presenting some of her PhD findings
Dr Ros Merrick gave an oral presentation of work from her PhD, and Dr Rena Lyons presented a poster outlining some of her PhD findings. Both of these programmes of work had been supervised by Prof Roulstone. Lastly Prof Roulstone also represented the unit as a co-author on a presentation about language and behaviour which used ALSPAC data.

With a lot to fit in over the course of the two days, it is a challenge to make the most of the networking opportunities.  However, the unit members are not shy in engaging with people, so we caught up with old friends (See photo of Profs Sue Roulstone and Pam Enderby) and made new ones at the conference social. 
Left - Pam Enderby, Right - Sue Roulstone
Last Dance at the Conference Social

As the past chair 'Bryony Simpson' of the RCSLT said 'you can't be a great therapist if you can't have fun!'

We hope that everyone we talked to had a wonderful time and learnt a lot. We know that the unit benefited from our discussions.  If you are interested the RCSLT is having a post conference round up using webinar technology which you can register for here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Blaire Hannan - My experience at Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the research unit. I felt very welcomed and supported, and all the colleagues were keen to ensure my needs were met.

ALSPAC and Children of
the 90's logo
During my time with them I was involved in organising, labelling and batching ALSPAC files to be sent off. This was a big task, as thousands of audio files had to be organised appropriately. Although, there were time limits, I did not feel any pressure, more a drive to finish the task. Colleagues were happy for me to approach the task in my own way.  This project took up most of my time with BSLTRU, but I also input feedback forms, did a reliability check on a research project, and read and summarised various research papers for a grant application.

The experiences widened my eyes as to what is involved in this sector of Speech & Language Therapy. I was made aware of the vast amount of data that are collected from population target groups, and how the same data are shared between different researchers to be used in their research – whilst maintaining confidentially procedures (i.e. saved onto special drives, password e-mails etc.). My understanding of the different roles within a research project increased i.e. it's good to get statisticians involved early, and good co-authors are vital to improve the credibility of your project. Also, the amount of work and procedures involved in accessing grants for various projects impressed and awed me. It seems that you could have someone doing a full-time job just to identify and access grants. I was made aware that despite the effort in applying for grants, it is a highly competitive task and even once funding is secured and the research undertaken, the research findings may not published anyway and if it is, then it may not be in the journal desired by the research team.
BSLTRU is currently still based on the Frenchay hospital campus,
part of North Bristol Hospital Trust 
The staff and their dedication were very impressive. They were very happy to answer any questions ad meet any goals you may have had.  I really value my experience with them and hope that I will work with them I the future.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Joe Leeder talks about his internship with BSLTRU

The University of the West of England advertised for students interested in undertaking a sponsored internship at a number of possible research facilities.  I applied for one of these internships at BSTLRU to get experience in a field of research that I found interesting, as well as boosting the credentials on my CV.  I was fortunate enough to be successful at interview and began my placement in August.  The hope was that I would experience many different aspects of research and working with different people during my time at the unit.

For the first two weeks I worked on a research technique called systematic reviewing - a way to gain an overview of all the research evidence into a particular topic.  After hundreds of papers from various resources are collected, it was my job to match each paper against carefully selected criteria. The systematic reviewing process is very time consuming and laborious. However it is worthwhile as the results allow researchers to understand what is already ‘out there’ in terms of evidence. It helps to determine what is missing and whether the research proposed is relevant. It was beneficial for me to see how this process of highlighting and understanding previous research is conducted in an academic environment.

LENA recording unit. This is worn in a vest/top by the child.
For the second two weeks I assisted Anna Blackwell, a student who is carrying out her PhD at the unit. Anna’s longitudinal study is looking at four language delayed children and aims to better understand the dynamic relationship between the child and the parents’ language. Whilst working with Anna, one of my tasks was to undertake a reliability check on some of the data she had collected from the children. This involved using a device called LENA (Language Environment Analysis) which captures audio for 16 hours and is worn by participants.

This audio was analysed using software which determines high conversational counts in 5 minute segments. I transcribed ten, five minute segments from the four different children and applied a series of codes which provided a range of linguistic data. Anna then checked ten percent of the analysis and I did the same for a transcript that she had completed.  This allowed her to obtain reliability statistics for this element of her study.

Working for Anna was particularly interesting; the coding process relied on my linguistic knowledge and helped to develop it, and it was really exciting to be working on a longitudinal project with speech delayed children. I think it’s really interesting to see how speech and language can develop over time and whether a change in the way adults engage with their children effects this development.
The research unit relies solely on grants and charities to fund projects. The third part of my placement was to read over and review a grant that was being processed to fund future research. Part of the skill of writing a grant application skill is to be able to write in clear, simple language. With this in mind, during my placement I was asked to summarise abstracts of papers in lay English. This enables a non-expert audience to understand more about the research which is undertaken, without having to worry about complex vocabulary. These lay summaries are then included in grant applications and on the unit web-site. Writing lay summaries wasn't my favourite task, although it was useful and interesting to be able to read some of the research that has already been written in the unit. It also improved my writing skills as I found it particularly hard to adjust the complex concepts to make them accurate.

Throughout the placement I learnt skills that will be invaluable to future work. Systematic reviewing has enabled me to develop a methodological approach to literature reviewing, and to be rigorous in critically assessing the evidence available. Reliability checking has taught me to be thorough, has improved my concentration skills and has allowed me to see how linguistics can be applied in the working world. Such skills will be transferable to any future career and I will use this experience of research to decide whether I want to go on to do study at postgraduate level.

Joe Leeder giving a presentation to the team at BSLTRU about his time there.
I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked in such a friendly, yet professional environment. The work that is undertaken in the unit is designed to provide speech and language therapists with up to date evidence and methods to help those who are speech and or language impaired.  Providing methods and solutions to help others is the underlying theme at the research unit and is what makes such an enjoyable and rewarding environment to work in. I have really enjoyed learning about research and speech and language therapy and hope to further improve my knowledge in the area by conducting my third year thesis at the unit.

Friday, 5 September 2014

My placement has been what could be called ‘eventful’ - Will Dance on his time with the Unit

Will Dance
When I first sent out an email to the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit detailing my interests in Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) and that I would like to partake in some voluntary work experience, it was very daunting. Having visited the website beforehand and looked at the Research Team it was almost as if I were daring to ask to be placed amongst a team of such experienced people who between them seemed to have this massive expanse of knowledge.

Of course this sense of nervousness soon left when my email was replied to and I was told that there was an opportunity for work experience at the research unit. Immediately I felt a sense of excitement at the prospect of being able to gain work experience in a professional research environment that also has close links to my university.

I think of my three months of work experience as being split into two sections: pre and post my two week holiday/visit to Thailand in July.

View of central Bangkok from a bar I visited on the roof of a 63 story high hotel called the ‘Sky Bar’
Pre Thailand
Something that struck me on beginning my placement at the research unit was how female dominated SLT is. Having done research into SLT as a profession prior to my placement I had read that over 82% of speech and language therapists are female. To be completely honest this made for a nice break as having grown up with two brothers it was nice to move away from such a competitive environment to one where everyone was so welcoming and treated each other with such approbation.

My first task was checking pairs of transcripts of the same audio transcribed by different people for reliability and working out the percentage of same or equivalent phonemes transcribed and also working out a percentage for the difference between the transcripts. This work introduced me to the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ‘ALSPAC’.  Having grown up in Bristol my whole life and being (along with all my friends) ‘Children of the 90s’ it was incredibly interesting to learn of such a world-leading study in my own city.  ALSPAC is one of the most in depth studies of its kind and holds a wealth of information about the environmental and genetic factors that affect health and development and so to be involved  in anything to do with it was a privilege.

After checking the reliability of 48 pairs of transcripts,  I moved on to a data management and processing task which involved using a computer to locate, identify and relocate ALSPAC audio files to then be later sent off to America. In this task, I managed to successfully move or ‘batch’ 322 sets of three audio files.

These data management and processing tasks were quite laborious and required considerable time and effort but the knowledge I gained made that irrelevant as I know I have learnt so much from working on them whether it was honing my phonetic skills or researching about ALSPAC in my own time. At times it was challenging to do quite repetitive work but the pros far outweighed any cons. I completed the ALSPAC work the day before I left for Thailand (4th July).
View from the port of an island in the south of Thailand I visited for two days called Koh Larn

Post Thailand
On my return on the 23rd July I immediately began work on transcribing audio of an aphasia discussion group where interviewers were asking four people who had aphasia following a stroke ‘If you could change one thing about your communication, what would it be?’. I found myself learning a vast amount from the task as it introduced aphasia to me, something which I knew little about previously and is greatly focused upon within SLT and psycholinguistics.

Upon completing the transcription task, I started writing lay summaries for published journal articles written by members of the research team. I managed to complete six lay summaries, ranging in focus from what it is like living with a a person with semantic dementia to defining communication disability response to the World Report on Disability. This writing not only taught me a huge amount regarding speech and language therapy but also aided me in developing my skills for both academic writing and writing for a lay audience.

When I finally completed all the work I was asked to do (and more as I completed much of it ahead of schedule) I felt a sense of achievement I had not experienced before. The reason for this was because at university it is very straight forward: you study hard and as a result you get a good grade and whilst you are happy with that good grade you are not surprised as it is the result of the effort you put in; similarly if you achieve a poor grade it is because of the effort that was not put in. Whereas when I completed a large piece of work the result was that I felt I had accomplished something more because I was in a professional environment completing work that had importance. Completing a task to a high standard in such an environment was very rewarding as I had to use not only knowledge but apply intuition, use professional skills and even judge and identify problems, aspects that are rarely tested at university and therefore to be told I had excelled in such a task which tested me beyond anything I had done before was incredibly fulfilling.

Interesting life events
My placement has also been what could be called ‘eventful’. Just five days after I started I was driving to the unit through Frenchay with my windows open and a low flying (what some may call suicidal) pigeon flew into my driver’s side window managing to hit me in the side of the head and tumble down into my foot well and become trapped underneath my pedals. I of course immediately slammed on my breaks narrowly missing crashing into the wall that ran alongside the road; I had the rest of the day off and written on the whiteboard my absence was noted as plain and simply ‘hit by pigeon’. Just over a fortnight later I finished work to come out to my car to see my off-side mirror had been what can only be described as destroyed, presumably by someone who decided to drive just a few inches to close. I am pleased to say after these two ‘events’ my placement went without any more major problems.

Summary & Looking ahead
My time at the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit gave me an invaluable insight into both what it is like to work in a professional environment and also what it is like to work in a research based environment. I was able to talk about speech and language therapy as a career with members of the research team and I really do feel I have gained a wide understanding of speech and language therapy and many of the different aspects it covers. 

Looking ahead to the future, this work experience has allowed me to acquire transferable skills and the experience to enable me to hit the ground running when I start my first 'proper' job after my studies, something which not many students can say.  The experience I gained from my placement was not only academic and professional but also personal. I have gained a lot of confidence throughout my placement and also I proved to myself that I am an able and capable person that can rise to the occasion.

I am very thankful to have worked at the research unit and to have completed my time there with such ease and I am indebted to everyone there for helping me learn so much and develop myself on both a knowledge and personal level.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Mind the Gap: Putting research into practice

It is nearly time for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) Conference 2014. Titled: Mind the Gap: Putting research into practice, the conference has a number of aims for attending therapists:
  • Improve their services to users
    RCSLT Logo
  • Inform and enhance their clinical practice with the most current and robust evidence
  • Apply understanding of the emerging commissioning and provision environment to identify opportunities for service development
  • Understand how work around the development of outcome measures and the evidence base is essential to supporting the effective commissioning and provision of services
  • Discuss ways of developing the existing evidence base to support commissioning and provision of needs 
  • Develop a business case based on existing evidence-based practice and in the context of financial pressures and the changing national and local priorities
  • Share emerging innovations and approaches to client management and service delivery
  • Develop a business case for innovative and emerging practice that informs service redesign
  • Develop the business case for new models of employment
  • Inform, appraise and share knowledge of the evidence base – in order to apply to their own practice and disseminate wider
  • Develop their roles as advocates for their clients and families, and the wider profession
  • Identify new partnerships and collaborations and enhanced ways of working with others to meet the needs of our service users
As part of this event Prof Sue Roulstone will be leading a team facilitating a workshop: 'Understanding the evidence for speech and language therapy interventions for preschool children with speech and language impairment'.  

By attending this workshop, delegates will:
  • Understand the relevance of the ‘Child Talk’ framework for their own practice
  • Have knowledge of the evidence base of key components of intervention for preschool children with primary speech and language impairment
  • Have an awareness of the perspectives of parents and children about typical interventions
  • Be able to identify assessments and outcomes related to key therapy components

So if you want to find out more about the 'Child Talk' framework, and evidence based practice, consider attending this conference. It is taking place on 17-18 September 2014, at the University of Leeds (Leeds, LS2 9JT).  Booking Costs and forms can be found at the conference website:

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Double Graduation

On Monday 21st July the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit was very proud to see two of our affiliated researchers; Dr Rena Lyons & Dr Helen Hambly graduated from the University of the West of England.
Left to Right: Dr Helen Hambly, Dr Rena Lyons and Professor Sue Roulstone

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Child Health Research from the University of the West of England

On July 11th Anna Blackwell represented the Bristol Speech and Language Research Unit at a local (Bristol) event which was conceived to engage the public with the research and knowledge exchange activities of the University of the West of England' Child Health Researchers.

Brasserie Blanc as people started to arrive.

The event was set at Brasserie Blanc and cream teas were provided for everyone to partake of.  Interesting conversations were had with all the attendees, with some of the members of public offering challenging interpretations of research findings and inspiring furutre research questions.

Hopefully this is the first of many future events.  If you want to follow UWE's child health research the their twitter name is @CHCR_UWE

Interesting conversations being had round the room

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Raising Awareness: A video for speech, language and communication needs

Vikki Greenhalgh spent some time working with us at BSLTRU (, and has now been part of the team of speech and language therapy students that spent an incredible day with children from Dawn House ICAN school.

This video is an outcome from that meeting and allows teenagers with communication difficulties to provide insight into what they find difficult when communicating and how people can help them. 

Well done all involved!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A CleftCollective study needs parents of 12 month old babies born with cleft palate to test process for recording speech at home.

Dr Yvonne Wren is looking for families who can help her pilot the collection of speech samples for the Cleft Collective study.

Families who want to participate will be given a recording device for their baby to wear in customised clothing for one day. The recording device will record all the speech used by the baby and sounds heard in their environment. Dr Wren is interested to know what this experience is like for families and any problems that they encounter.

If you would like to know more about this pilot study and have a baby born with a cleft palate who will be aged 11 to 12 months between July and August 2014, please contact Yvonne at or 0117 340 6529

Friday, 27 June 2014

Congratulations to Sam Harding

One of the units research assistants 'Sam Harding' was awarded 'Best Oral Presentation' at the University of the West of England's Faculty for Health and Applied Science Postgraduate Research Conference on Friday 27th June.

Sam presented on her work looking at the impact of treatment for head and neck cancer on post traumatic growth.

The brief for the conference was to present the work to an 'educated lay' audience. A challenge for all academic who are more use to talking to people who are already familiar with the area of research.

Sam said that 'Communicating complex issues clearly is a very important skill that all researchers need to obtain and practice. Hopefully this award shows I am moving in the right direction'.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Dr Yvonne Wren presents at the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association annual conference

From right to left: Prof Sharynne McLeod, Ms Sarah Masso & Dr Yvonne Wren
This month Dr Yvonne Wren attended the 15th International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association (ICPLA) conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  While there she presented data from her research on Speech Characteristics of 5 year olds and Babbling in Infants.  

Whilst in Stockholm at ICPLA, Dr Wren joined colleagues Prof Sharynne Mcleod and Sarah Masso from Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia. This provided the opportunity to discuss data from the Sound Start study which is currently running in Sydney. The Sound Start study will evaluate the impact of using software to help children with speech sound disorders. The software, Phoneme Factory Sound Sorter, was developed at the Bristol Speech & Language therapy Research Unit.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Dr Yvonne Wren and Dr Karen Sage welcome applications for an opportunity to work with the research unit.

This undergraduate placement is open to University of the West of England (UWE) students only.

Applications can be made by clicking here.

Research Placement Specifications:

Employer: UWE

Position title: Undergraduate Research Placement - Speech & Language Development in Children
Application close: 13-June-2014 Friday
Commences: To be confirmed
Employment type: Student Intern-ship/Placement
Remuneration/ Pay rate: £1400
Location: Bristol

Project Description: 
This research project aims to introduce the student to the field of children’s speech and language development. It will use audio and video recordings of children talking to investigate patterns in both typically developing children and those who are showing delay or disorder in their speech and language.

Project Objectives:
·         Appraised production of a literature review on the theme of children’s early speech and language development.
·         Production of coded data sets, preparation and analysis.

Tasks you will undertake:
You will receive comprehensive support and will have the opportunity to:
·         Code video and audio samples and transcribe children’s speech.
·         Undertake a comprehensive literature analysis.
·         Participate in a wide range of data processing and analysis tasks including labelling, transcription, coding and reliability checking.

Skills Required:
·         Excellent organisational skills and confidence adopting systematic data management processes.
·         Ability to work independently and concentrate for long periods of time.
·         Excellent attention to detail skills.
·         Ability to work collaboratively as part of a team.

Funding & Location:
The research placements are paid and successful students will receive a bursary of £1400 for their placement. The placements will last for a period of 6-weeks and start dates will be agreed with the research supervisor. Successful students will be required to work full time at UWE or within the local area. Please note the payment offered will not cover any additional research or travel expenses. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Conversation Therapy Research Group

The Conversation Therapy Research Group (CTRG) held a one day meeting at the unit on May 12th at the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy research Unit.
Left to right: Madeline Cruice (City university), Simon Horton (University of East Anglia), Sandra Wielaert (Rijndam Revalidatie), Rotterdam and the University of the West of England/BSLTRU), Wendy Best,  Firle Berkley and Suzanne Beeke (all from University College, London). Behind the camera Karen Sage (University of the West of England/BSLTRU).
The group meets regularly (usually on Skype) to share ideas and collaborate on research which aims to enable conversation assessment and therapy to become a clinical reality for speech and language therapists. What a treat to meet up face-to-face!

For more information about conversation therapy, this group and how to get involved in research linked to this, contact Firle Berkley via the Better Conversations with Aphasia website:

Filming at the Unit for the Aphasia Software Finder

Monday 12th May, Giles Edwards  and Chris Barber kindly gave up their day off to work with actress Jenny Rainsford  to help improve accessibility for the Aphasia Software Finder

Look out for the forthcoming videos on the site. What a team effort from Jenny, Giles, Chris, Sarah Woodwood, Julie Ward and Brian Petheram! 

The aphasia software finder website is funded by the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia.

Left: Chris Barber, Right Giles Edwards (

Friday, 16 May 2014

Prof Sue Roulstone visits the Sound Start team in Sydney, Australia

This week Prof Sue Roulstone visited the Sound Start team in Sydney, Australia.

Sound Start is a project funded by the Australian Research Council. The project is a randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of Phoneme Factory software which provides interactive games to improve children’s phonological awareness. The project is into its second round of recruitment.

Pictured are the team from Charles Sturt University, led by Prof Sharynne McLeod and Dr Elise Baker from University of Sydney.

Clockwise from the left: Sarah Masso, Sue Roulstone, Kate Crowe, Elise Baker, Sharynne McLeod, Tamara Cumming, Charlotte Howland, Jane McCormack Also on the team but missing from the photo is Dr Yvonne Wren from Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit

Monday, 28 April 2014

Prof Sue Roulstone writes about her research in UWE's 'Research with Impact' website

Helping children with impaired communication skills

 Two girls talking in a classroom
Research at the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol has reassessed services for children with speech, language and communication impairment, emphasising the perspectives of the children themselves and their families. The findings have directly influenced major policy reports, a National Year of Communication, and have improved therapy practice.

Evidence from research

Language skills are crucial to children’s development, yet impairments in these skills affect around 7% of children of primary-school age. What are the best ways to help their language development skills, and what are the priorities of their families and of the affected children themselves? Research led by Professor Sue Roulstone has provided evidence that helps answer these questions.

Perspectives of children and parents

There was already a consensus that services for children were likely to improve if their perspective is listened to. This is a particular challenge in the case of children with speech, language and communication impairment. Using non-verbal activities such as drawing, taking photographs and compiling a scrapbook, the UWE Bristol team created a supportive environment within which the children could express themselves. This made their own thoughts on their impairment explicit for the first time.

In 2007, the UK’s then Secretaries of State for Health and for Children, Schools and Families asked John Bercow MP (later the Speaker of the House of Commons) to lead a review of the services provided for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. This review commissioned Roulstone to undertake independent research on the views of children and parents.

Roulstone’s team found that parents saw communication as central to their child’s development. They wanted well-signposted services, access to specialist resources, and a timely diagnostic process in which professionals worked in partnership with parents.

Finding the factors influencing development

How do parents’ activities with their children affect their language development? In 2011, working with colleagues from the Universities of Bristol, Newcastle and Sheffield, the UWE Bristol team analysed data from a large-population study (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) with which they had been involved. They found a significant link between the child’s language abilities at age two and the parents’ activities with them when they were younger. This ability level was in turn significantly linked to their performance in school entry assessments, suggesting children who develop their language early are at an important advantage.
Four children interacting in the playgroundThe research also looked in 2012 at current practice in programmes designed to support the development of children’s communication. In collaboration with the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle, Roulstone and Dr Yvonne Wren from UWE Bristol found that only 5% of these programmes were based on strong evidence; 56% had evidence from at least one trial and 39% had only face validity or were based solely on case studies.

Influencing public policy and guidance

The research had a direct influence on the report of the Bercow Review, published in 2008. As well as acknowledging and quoting from the research directly, the headings of four out of its five key conclusions reflect the findings on parents’ priorities:
  • Communication is crucial
  • Early identification and intervention are essential
  • A continuum of services, designed around the family, is needed
  • Joint working is critical
In response to the Bercow Review, the Government established a ‘Better Communication Action Plan’. As part of this, the UK national Commissioning Support Programme published in 2011 a guidance document for professionals such as those who commission services for children with communication impairments. This included, as a substantial appendix, the materials and guidance tools developed by Roulstone and her team to help the children express their perspectives. The document encouraged care professionals to use these tools to involve the children in planning their care.

The Government announced that 2011 would be a National Year of Communication. This was recommended in the Bercow Report, which had picked up Roulstone’s finding emphasising the central role of communication in children’s lives. The National Year highlighted the findings linking parents’ activities with their children in their first two years with their subsequent language skills, inviting Roulstone to present them to relevant professionals including speech and language therapists.

Several other policy documents that recommend the development of services to identify and help children with communication impairments draw evidence from Roulstone’s research. Examples at the UK national level include the Nutbrown Review (2012) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties (2013). Similarly, at the regional level in South Wales, the Aneurin Bevan Health Board ‘Flying Start’ Speech, Language and Communication Development Service drew on the research in drawing up their ‘Strategy for the Prevention, Early Identification and Intervention for Speech, Language and Communication Needs for Children’.

Influencing practice

All this has had a direct bearing on practice on the ground. Feedback confirms that speech and language therapists have introduced children’s views into their auditing process as a result of hearing about Roulstone’s research findings in this area.

The findings on the level of evidence that underpinned current therapy programmes have stimulated moves towards better evidence-based practice. The Communication Trust, a coalition of voluntary-sector organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication, commissioned Roulstone to help develop a database called ‘What Works’.

The database provides information to care commissioners, managers and practitioners on the level of evidence underpinning particular programmes and interventions, so that they can take this into account in making their selections. The site was launched in March 2013. By the end of July, there had already been over 5,000 individual registrants.

Relevant, rigorous research at UWE Bristol, via engagement with policymakers and practitioners, is helping to bring about real changes in the help that is offered to children with communication difficulties.

There are more impact stories from research undertaken at UWE available online.

This blog post is copied from UWE's website.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dr Yvonne Wren on ALSPAC and the Cleft Collective

Dr Yvonne Wren has been on the road this week speaking at a number of events. She was joined by delegates from the US, Finland, Sweden, Greece and throughout the UK at the recent LSCD Workshop on ‘Late Stages in Speech and Communication Development’.  Discussion was focused on s issues relating to the development of speech and communication skills in older children. Dr Wren gave a presentation on the findings from ALSPAC, a large scale longitudinal population study, and data on speech production in 8-year-olds.

Keble College, Parks Road, Oxford, UK

Dr Wren then spoke on the Cleft Collective Speech and Language Study and the plans for recruitment and data collection, to speech and language therapists from the UK and Ireland who specialise in children with cleft palate and cranio- facial disorders, at the Craniofacial Society of Great Britain and Ireland Annual Scientific conference.

For more information on these projects contact Dr Wren:

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Welcome Karen Sage - New director of BSLTRU

The Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit is delighted to welcome Karen Sage as the new Director of the Unit. Karen will take over as the Underwood Trust Professor of Language and Communication Impairment at the University of the West of England, Bristol, leading the programme of research. Karen will join the thriving research team in Bristol and will lead a programme of research on acquired language disorders. One of her first tasks in February will be to seek out a senior research fellow to help shape the programme.
Karen Sage (Left) & Sue Roulstone (right) outside the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit
Sue Roulstone, who currently leads the children’s research programme will become the emeritus professor of speech and language therapy associated with the Unit and will continue her work alongside Senior Research Fellow Dr Yvonne Wren, currently working on longitudinal studies of children’s speech development.

What a good start to the UK’s commitment to the International Communication Project 2014!

To follow the research of Professor Karen Sage follow the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit on Twitter or on their website