RtR #1 Lost for Words

In the Read the Research series, I’m putting together bite-sized overviews of new research, aimed at practitioners and researchers working with young people on language, literacy, and learning.

Winstanley et al. (2019)

A very accomplished colleague of mine from the UK (Dr Maxine Winstanley) has just published new research with her UK colleagues.

Maxine had a career as a police officer before training as a speech-language pathologist and undertaking a PhD. Like me, she was shocked by the high rates of communication difficulties in youth justice. Around 50-60% of young people in contact with the justice system have Development Language Disorder - this is a condition where people have severe difficulties understanding or expressing themselves using spoken language.

This new paper is based on her work with young people in the north of England – mostly as they first make contact with the youth justice system. Here’s a brief overview, relevant for all working (or interested) in the youth justice space.

PhD Completion Seminar

PhD Completion Seminar

Today I present my PhD Research at the Completion Seminar.

I conducted a yearlong study in a youth justice facility in Victoria, Australia. Along with an assessment study (n = 27), I conducted a phase one language intervention trial using a series of six empirical single case studies. This evaluated the extent to which intensive, one-to-one language  intervention improved the language skills of male young offenders. I also investigated the feasibility of delivering SLP services using quantitative and qualitative data, including service efficiency data, qualitative field notes, and a staff focus group.

Teenage Crime. Making sense of it

Teenage Crime. Making sense of it

Nathaniel Swain is the WINNER of the University of Melbourne Three Minute Thesis Competition 2016, and RUNNER-UP at the Asia Pacific Competition 2016 out of 50 Universities in the region. 


Teenage criminals. Juvenile delinquents. What comes to mind when you think of the typical young offender? You’re probably imagining a male, between 15 and 18, disadvantaged, possibly maltreated, and more likely to be indigenous. But that’s only part of the story. 

What you might not have heard is that typical young male offenders have severe problems with their communication skills, 50% of these boys have what’s called “language impairment”. This means they can’t understand or express themselves with spoken language, as we would be able to.

So that’s where I come in. As a Speech-Language therapist I help all kinds of people with language impairments and other communication problems.

I was interested in these troubled boys in youth justice. These young men struggle to understand the complex language of police interviews, court appearances, or psychological intervention. The problem is their language impairments are hidden disabilities – masquerading as disinterest, or defiance.

Intervention for young offenders

Intervention for young offenders

My PhD research with young offenders, in Melbourne, Australia.

It is well-established that oral language skills are crucial for the development of literacy, social, and interpersonal skills. 

Research (Australian and international) has shown that approximately 50-60% of male young offenders have a clinically significant, yet previously undetected oral language impairment (i.e. problems coping with the demands of everyday talking and listening tasks).

Language difficulties contribute substantially to a young person’s ability to engage with youth justice services and in turn to transition back into the community. Unfortunately, language difficulties are often unrecognised and may be misinterpreted as disinterest, rudeness, or poor engagement. 

This applied research will evaluate the extent to which intensive, one-to-one speech pathology intervention produces improvements in the language skills of young people with language impairment. It is expected that the results from this research project will demonstrate the benefits of speech pathology intervention within a youth justice setting. 

A mixed methods design will also be utilised to further characterise the communication skills and deficits of young offenders, and to understand their lived experience with regards to communication impairment. 

Get in contact for more information.