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UC research into autism, child sleep and brain injury wins $80,000

04 November 2020

Three University of Canterbury academics have won grants of over $80,000 to research autism, sleep problems, brain injuries and their impact on children and parents.


Good quality sleep health is fundamental for children’s optimal developmental outcomes.


Three University of Canterbury academics have won Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Activation grant funding of over $80,000 to research in the fields of autism, sleep problems and brain injuries and their impact on children and parents.

Establishing End-user Driven Autism Research Priorities in New Zealand – Senior Lecturer Lisa EmersonSchool of Health Sciences, UC College of Education, Health and Human Development, $29,615.

An increased demand for services that support the health and wellbeing of individuals on the autism spectrum necessitates investment in health delivery research. The proposed activation activities will i) develop relationships and ii) set priorities for health delivery research, driven by the needs of the autism community. We will establish a national partnership advisory group (PAG) of end-users, clinicians, and researchers, who will steer the project, determine appropriate methods and disseminate the findings. We will consult with the autism community via a series of virtual focus groups and an online survey to ask about autism research priorities. The PAG will bring together the findings to produce the first end-user driven autism research priorities for Aotearoa New Zealand will direct future health-delivery research. The partnership established through the activities will springboard a participatory research model for future projects.


Sleep Problems in Children with a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury – Senior Lecturer Jacki Henderson, School of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, UC College of Science, $23,810.

Good quality sleep health is fundamental for children’s optimal developmental outcomes. Children with a traumatic brain injury, one of the most common adverse outcomes in childhood affecting 1 in 5 by age 15-years, are at increased risk of experiencing sleep problems. Sleep problems in children adversely affect their behavioural and emotional adjustment, with elevated risks of educational under achievement, negative social outcomes, and increased parental stress impacting the child parent-relationship. There is limited research investigating the types of sleep problems experienced by these children, with the majority of research focused on adults. The proposed study will investigate the types and forms of sleep problems in children with a brain injury between ages 2 and 12-years alongside their psychosocial outcomes. There is an urgent need for understanding sleep problems following childhood brain injury in order to develop clinical interventions specifically targeted to improve the sleep health and behaviour of these children.


Impact of parental brain injury on their children’s quality of life and mood – Adjunct Professor Audrey McKinlaySchool of Psychology, Speech and Hearing, UC College of Science, $30,000.                

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs frequently during early adulthood resulting in problems with cognition, i.e. reduced memory and attention, and social function, including higher rates of fatigue, irritability, low mood and anxiety. However, little information exists regarding how parental TBI will affect the family, particularly children who may not understand the sudden and dramatic change following TBI. This research will investigate children’s understanding and perception of a parent's brain injury and the impact that this has on the child’s quality of life (QOL) and mood. Information gathered from children of parents who have TBI, using an interview and questionnaire format, will be used to identify the unique challenges that these children face, and the impact on their QOL and mood. The long-term goal of this research will be to increase understanding of challenges associated with TBI and to develop appropriate support programmes to improve the QOL for these children.

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