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The Importance Of Communication

Posted on 05 Aug 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to Victoria University Research Luncheon on Early Childhood Communication Issues; Wellesley Hotel, Wellington; Wednesday August 5 2009.

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. My thanks to Vice Chancellor of Research Neil Quigley for the invitation. I am looking forward to your Research Luncheon on 'Early Childhood Communication Issues'.

A warm welcome to everyone, especially our speakers today: Professor Jeff Sigafoos, Professor Vanessa Green and Dr Karen Salmon.

Early childhood communication issues are close to the heart of all parents. Communicating with one's children can be a fraught business at the best of times - my husband recently showed me a book he was reading titled 'How to talk so that your children will listen and how to listen so that your children will talk'.

He found it very useful and we have five healthy children. I know from looking at the research interests of our speakers that they are dealing with problems much more serious than the difficulty of dealing with a taciturn teenager.

In my previous life I was a physiotherapist and my particular interest was in neurology. I had contact with many disabled children and, although my focus tended to be on motor problems, those of communication were always important.

These communication issues have assumed a new and significant importance to me in my position of Associate Minister of Education where they impact on the education and development of those children with special needs.

I don't need to emphasise to this audience how important speech, language and communication are in early childhood. I'm sure you, like me, are looking forward to hearing from the experts about the impact communication has on a wide range of areas in a child's life - including wellbeing, peer relationships, and living with a disability.

When I was doing my physio training, many conditions - with autism foremost amongst them - were regarded as having a poor prognosis. I am very encouraged to see now the optimistic way interventions are described for those who are struggling with language. I was pleased to hear there is now a great deal of evidence that targeted and evidence-based interventions can improve outcomes for children.

I was also pleased to learn that the university is looking at commercial collaboration with its research. The tertiary sector is outside my brief but I was aware that public/private partnerships were being encouraged.

I assumed that most partnerships would be in the technology fields but I appreciate that treatments for disease are a valuable commodity.

As parents, we know that support for communication can contribute to educational success, but it is equally important to our children being happy about themselves and their relationships - we don't want our children to be bullied and isolated.

As Associate Education Minister, I am also concerned with the long-range effects and what needs to be in place in the sector. We need competent and confident early childhood educators who can apply understandings of children's communication development in their interactions with children. We also need to listen to parents when they are concerned about their child's development. Parents know their children best and my experience with parents of children with special needs is they will always go the extra mile to support them.

There must surely be no greater compliment to a researcher than for their work to influence and be put into practise in such a way that it makes a real difference to the lives of those who struggle with situations most of us take for granted. I want to congratulate Victoria University for focussing on the important task of how to practically apply research to its full benefit.

I look forward to hearing from our speakers.


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