Master thesis by Tara Lewis – The University of Queensland
Tara’s project was to determine what communication means to Aboriginal people and compare that to what communication means to speech pathologists. Her research is the result of an increasing awareness of the importance of using culturally responsive assessments to inform diagnoses and intervention for Aboriginal children, for which there is only a small amount of literature. Although speech pathologists are aware of issues surrounding the perceived efficacy of standardised assessments they continue to be used. Their use has implications for the assessment of Aboriginal children, as neither cultural differences nor Aboriginal English is taken into consideration and this may invalidate results and lead to poor assessments.
Tara’s research aims to bridge the gap in awareness about communication differences and Aboriginal English. She will address the notion that some Aboriginal languages are thought to be a ‘heavier’ variety, which sounds similar to a Traditional Aboriginal Language and other varieties being at the ‘lighter’ end of the continuum, which sound similar to standard Australian English. This lack of understanding can lead to incorrect assessment and children being placed in a special needs category of ‘speech language impairment’.
Her research methodology was informed by Aboriginal ways of communicating, thus advocating for culturally responsive assessment practices. Tara’s research developed an evidence-based model for culturally responsive assessment of the communication abilities of Aboriginal children and validate its use for the assessment of Aboriginal children aged five years to eleven years.
Tara Lewis is an Iman woman from the Taroom Country of Western Queensland. She grew up in Brisbane and graduated with a Bachelor of Speech Pathology. Tara has a passion for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and has been working in that area for 12 years. Tara currently works with the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health in Brisbane where she is the clinical lead in speech pathology and provides clinical speech pathology services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. She also provides supervision to students on practicum placements and is a guest lecturer at the University of Queensland. She remembers, as a child, following her older cousins around and listening to her Yaboo, brothers and cousins singing around an open fire. This gave Tara the inspiration to turn her childhood memories into an illustrative, expressive and receptive language assessment that contributes to Aboriginal children receiving ethical assessments as well as appropriate language and literacy support.