Innovative partnerships: how Pearson Clinical is shaping Speech and Language Assessments

Australian Hearing, the nation's leading hearing specialist, is funded by the Australian Government to provide hearing services to all Australians under 26 years of age who have a hearing loss. Across the Tasman, New Zealand’s University of Canterbury has the longest running speech and language therapy programme, and they educate most of the Speech and Language professionals in the country. What’s the link you’re wondering?

Pearson Clinical collaborated with both of these highly reputable organisations on a research study to help Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) improve intervention strategies for children with speech and language difficulties in Australia and New Zealand.

As we were gearing up for the local adaptation and release the newest fifth edition known as CELF-5A&NZ, our Australian Research and Development (R&D) team saw a great opportunity to partner with some key organisations like Australian Hearing and the University of Canterbury to help them adapt the USA authored clinical resource specifically to cater to our Australian and New Zealand children.

Earlier editions of CELF had focused on specialised groups — such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and vision impairment. — however, there was now a need to specifically include students with hearing impairment, as well as localising content to match with language and communication norms in Australia and New Zealand.

Clinicians recognise that delays in speech and language are less likely when hearing loss is diagnosed early, allowing for appropriate intervention strategies to be put in place. Recent studies have found that “many children identified with hearing loss who receive intervention before six months old develop language (spoken or signed) on par with their hearing peers.”

Thanks to advances in technology and changes in government health policies, children with hearing loss are identified much earlier today than they previously had been.

Today, babies are screened for hearing impairment within a few days after they’re born. This means they can start receiving treatment much earlier,” says Dr Teresa Ching, senior research scientist at the National Acoustics Laboratory (NAL) — the research division of Australian Hearing. “Because of this, we’re seeing a new population of children receiving early treatment.”

In New Zealand, Kate Cook from the University of Canterbury’s Department of Communication Disorders says that prior to CELF-5A&NZ they “didn’t have any standardised assessments from the New Zealand context for language, so it was great to be involved in collecting New Zealand sample data for the study.” In terms of the practical differences between the US CELF-5 and CELF-5A&NZ, “There were a couple of American language phrases like ketchup or trash that we always thought didn’t really fit with vocabulary that our children regularly use, which meant that our kids’ scores might sometimes be penalised by this”.

 

Why do we need specialised data for our local students?

There are a few reasons why it’s important:

  1. To score students with learning difficulties against their school peers, with an Australian and New Zealand context.
  2. To give better guidance to SLPs when administering the test to students with hearing impairment.
  3. To help SLPs more accurately diagnose the language difficulties of children with hearing loss and plan effective intervention strategies.

 

What was involved in the study?

Once funding was approved by Pearson in the USA, our R&D team in Australia worked closely with the team at Australian Hearing to test the draft version of CELF-5.

The sample study tested 30 children diagnosed with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe degrees who were first fitted with hearing aids before six months old; and 30 children with severe to profound hearing loss who first received a cochlear implant before they were two years old.

Kate’s team from the University of Canterbury completed language assessments with a large number of children who had a language or communication disorder as well as those who were typically developing, which in turn contributed to proposed research findings that informed the adaptation process. Kate says that “it was also a great way to offer a free service to the community to learn more about children’s language strengths and areas of development”.

 

Why were these partnerships important?

Australian Hearing is a national government-funded body that ensures every child with hearing impairment has access to the same level of service and technology, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status.

We’re in a unique position to undertake a study on children diagnosed with hearing loss, as all Australian children with a hearing loss received hearing services from Australian Hearing,” says Teresa Ching.

But it’s not all about having access to the best sample of children to test. “Very few SLPs are highly skilled in working specifically with children diagnosed with hearing loss,” says Teresa, “but at Australian Hearing we have a highly qualified team with this experience.” The research team saw this partnership as “a contribution to the community of children with hearing loss so that their strengths and weakness can be accurately diagnosed and remediated by the professionals who work with them.”

The University of Canterbury’s Department of Communication Disorders (Te Tari Matai Hauora Reo) educates most of the Speech and Language professionals in New Zealand, and provide clinical and research training in the field of audiology. They were instrumental in gathering New Zealand data for this project.

We wanted to ensure that results are representative of the language skills of children in New Zealand” says Kate Cook. The University saw this partnership as a “a great way to gain a snapshot of children’s language abilities, and be able to test these areas of strength and weakness in the classroom environment - to see how we can best support them in their learning, engagement and social activities.”

 

What was achieved from the partnership study?

CELF-5A&NZ has specific guidelines for testing students with hearing impairment. Instructions like checking hearing aid batteries are working, the tester’s face isn’t obscured, and remembering to make sure a student is paying attention before starting are now included.

These instructions might seem obvious, but if the actions aren’t second nature they can accidentally be missed in a test environment, which can have an impact on how children score. Results of the study were also a benchmark for CELF-5A&NZ, proving that it is an effective tool to assess and create intervention strategies for children diagnosed with hearing loss.

And of course, the normative data gathered from across Australia and New Zealand means that children are able to be scored against their peers, reflecting the similar levels of local language and curriculum.

Pearson wishes to thank all of the organisations, speech language pathologists, parents, and children involved in the study. Without their contributions, this localisation programme would not have been possible. Our Clinical R&D team continue in their dedication to bringing localised assessments to Australia and New Zealand, and are passionate about helping provide children with the opportunity thrive in their learning environments. 

 

For more information contact:

Nicki Joshua - Research Director, Pearson Clinical Assessment

Email: nicki.joshua@pearson.com

 

Angela Kinsella-Ritter - Consultant Speech Pathologist, Pearson Clinical Assessment

Email: angela.kinsella-ritter@pearson.com


Next article > Two years in the making: How we developed CELF-5 for Australia & New Zealand