Highlights and reflections from the Australia & New Zealand Speech Pathology Conference

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Shaun Ziegenfusz | Manager, Research & Advocacy


Each year, speech pathologists from all over Australia converge on a major city for the national speech pathology conference. It is an opportunity to update our knowledge, hear about cutting edge research and connect with old and new colleagues to build a stronger professional community. This year we were fortunate to be joined in Brisbane by our friends “across the ditch” in New Zealand, which added a new dimension to the mix.

The diversity of topics at this conference ranged from telepractice to trans and gender diverse people, clinical education to consumer panels, and service delivery to school aged students. The breadth of practice in speech pathology is astounding with new and emerging topics added every year. This conference is too large to attend every session even though nearly all SALDA speech pathologists attended. However through the joys of Twitter, I hope to bring you a snap shot of what I learnt.

Beware the hype

Over the past 20 years there has been an increased interest in neuroplasticity, but the clinical implications are unclear. Neurobiological may improve accuracy of predicting recovery, provide new treatments and guide current therapy practices. Professor David Copland (University of Queensland, Australia) advised us to “beware of the hype” cycle with new approaches, technology and information, there is a steep slope from the “peak of inflated expectations” to the “trough of disillusionment”. When applied in a clinical setting, there are challenges in predicting progress or recovery. Severity is not necessarily a good predictor and there are many factors involved. It’s important to take the findings with a grain of salt and look to the evidence.

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

Speech pathologists are predominantly a monolingual profession in Australia, however we provide services and support for people from many different cultures and languages. This is a well-known issue in practice, so I was looking forward to learning more about working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) populations. Dr Jae-Hyun Kim (Macquarie University, Australia) outlined how multilingual speech pathologists have additional professional pressure placed on them to be an “expert” in delivering multilingual services for people who speak the same languages. Throughout the presentations it came up time and time again that speech pathologists didn’t feel their university training was adequate to work with this population. I hope to see changes in the coming years to enable better speech pathology services for all Australians.


Technology was a recurring theme throughout the conference, particularly in the way it can support treatment. Nobody claimed that technology could cure all. Professor Susan Rvachew (McGill University, Canada) outlined research on the differences between paper books and Ebooks. Many may immediately assume Ebooks are good for kids as learning is supported and they match the child’s interest (i.e. technology!). However, we need to consider the aim of the activity. Ebooks aren’t good or bad, but it depends on how they’re designed for interaction. You can read more about Susan’s research IF you can get behind the paywall: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212868916300472.

Clinical Education

Training the future of the speech pathology profession is a major component of university programs. This comes with its own idiosyncrasies, including placing student therapists with experienced speech pathologists in the workforce aka clinical education.
Dr Anne Hill (University of Queensland, Australia) presented on simulation research in speech pathology. This is a rapidly developing method, which uses manufactured scenarios and settings to enhance the learning experience. This has been found to promote positive engagement in learning, but should not replace clinical placement. Simulation was found to have a positive impact on student learning and there will be a strong focus on future prospects of the simulation project. Multiple studies also presented on the clinical education process from the perspective of the speech pathology and student. Rachel Davenport (La Trobe University, Australia) presented strong evidence on the struggle and failure of clinical placement, but acknowledged the gap in student voice and lived experience in the literature. Australia is certainly leading the way in filling this gap in clinical education research!

Person centred practice

Professor Suzanne Purdy (University of Auckland, New Zealand) presented on ‘Te Whare Tapa Wha’ – a model for understanding Maori health within the four dimensions of physical health, spiritual health, family health and mental health. You can read more about this approach here: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/populations/maori-health/maori-health-models/maori-health-models-te-whare-tapa-wha. Suzanne reminded us the people we support exist within a personal context and community – never in isolation. This linked strongly in the early intervention sessions I attended, but I believe this has applications all across our lifespan.

Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ke ora ai te iwi

With your basket, and my basket, the people will prosper

Overall, the national speech pathology conference provided an important opportunity to learn from experts in the field, which provided resources for staff to upskill, look at cutting edge research and provide excellent network opportunities to allow organisational growth in both reputation and advocacy. It is always a pleasure to represent Speech & Language Development Australia and learn from others to better support our staff, families and students.

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